Years ago, after reading Seth Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick), I realised I’ve been holding my breath for decades without even knowing it! And I was, in fact, starting to turn slightly blue from the lack of oxygen, metaphorically speaking.

Allow me to explain.

You see, that book sparked a whole series of questions about which goals, which dreams I needed to quit chasing because it was not what I actually wanted. Let’s start with a simple example. Growing up, I was an outstanding student, and so naturally had to become a doctor. Unquestioningly, I personified the inevitability of Dr. Roslina Chai, that is until I got rejected from medical school! By some mysterious saving grace, I did not “try even harder” as any self-respecting Asian kid would have done.

I was young and didn’t think twice about that event, and so plunged wholeheartedly into pursuing what “I wanted to want”. Which in many instances, is based on embodying what others think I should be doing. Though in hindsight, I don’t recall ever been explicitly told what “that” was. That didn’t stop me though from getting real busy making decisions I thought would impress “them”, including:

  • Pursuing a high-flying lifestyle as a corporate minion (the minion part only became clear at the height of cost-cutting measures)
  • Starting businesses that were supposed to allow me to retire by 40 (that “strangely” didn’t happen)
  • Cultivating the reputation as “the gal who can drink any man under the table” (wondering how many brain cells I sacrificed for that?!?!)

Nett nett impact?

Slowly but surely, I began to suffer from a paralysing sense of under-achievement in my 30’s because I wasn’t on my way to becoming neither a corporate behemoth, nor a millionaire entrepreneur, nor a whiskey connoisseur. This led to bouts of self-doubt that manifested in passive-aggressive acts of anger, for which my family was the unfortunate punching bag. I was trying to make sense of it all, but I was so disconnected from who I am that every attempt to re-discover “myself” felt like a dog chasing its own tail – minus the silly grin!

What is the difference between that “you really want”, and that which is masquerading as “something you want to want”?

As much as I know I don’t have the answers, I know that you will have to wrestle with your self to arrive somewhere that makes sense to you. What I can offer is to share the 3 questions I’ve learned to ask myself to differentiate these two types of goals.

Q1: In a moment of rest, does this goal still excite you?

If this is a goal / dream you really want, chances are that you will be going all out to achieve it, and chances are you will get overwhelmed and begin to question your own sanity. That’s completely normal, and everyone experiences those moments. What happens next is not what everyone does.

And it is to REST, no matter how briefly. This is critical because only the surface of still water reflects truly. And in that moment of rest, if the ember of the flame that propelled you into pursuing this goal still glows, then chances are that it is a goal you really want … and some oxygen is all that’s needed.

If you’re curious to discover how much more amazing you can be when you’re adequately rested, try a sleep vacation as prescribed by Dr. Sigrid Veasey.

I apply this to my daily to-do list as well. If there is one item that had been brought forward more than 3 times, I take a break from it for a while. And if that pattern persists after the break, it’s time for a deeper conversation with myself.

Q2: Have you experienced flow, even if for a brief moment?

If this goal / dream is meant for you to achieve, chances are that it is aligned with your core strengths (whether you are aware or not). And if you’ve been chipping hard and long enough at it, you will be rewarded with that moment where everything seemed “right” and time disappeared! The trick here is knowing how “hard and long enough” is enough?

The only yardstick to arrive at any kind of answer to this question is the rhythm of life’s seasons, i.e. there is a time for every season, and through it all “that thing” is always beckoning, at times keenly, at times barely a whisper. In my case, the beckoning took the form of verses and sentences that dance in my consciousness, fully formed.

And so I suspected I was a poet and a writer, and made half-hearted attempts at writing for over 20 years – blogs, articles, essays, poems, books etc. But everytime, it went nowhere because it was either “turns out I’m not that interested in the topic” or “it wasn’t the right platform” or “wrong audience” or “sorry, I’m too busy” etc.

Fast forward some years. Today in my 40’s, running out of excuses, I just got on with it. And lo & behold, what do you know? Maybe my suspicion was right after all, because when I just got on with it, time disappears, and I experienced moments of being in service of something greater than myself.

This by the way, has no correlation (as yet) to the quality of my work, but I know that it will come with dedication and discipline to the craft.

Q3: Tears, sweat & sleepless nights aside, when you achieve a milestone, do you experience a deep sense of homecoming?

If this goal / dream has your name on it, chances are that as you scale your Mount Everest, head down, one laborious step after another, at that moment when you reach a milestone and raise your head to inhale deeply, there will be a sense of “this is where I belong”.

Yes, your whole body is beyond aching, you don’t know if you can make it through the next phase, and all you want to do is call in the rescue helicopter. But you keep going, because you feel home is calling.

It is a deep intimate knowing that is often impossible to truly describe to anyone else.

When you are doing what you’re meant to be doing, you may be mentally, physically, emotionally tired, but your soul is not.

Or in Elizabeth Gilbert‘s words (paraphrased) “that which you love more than yourself is your home“, and for her, writing is her home. For me, home is that place where two souls connect, essence to essence, and realise that they are same same but different.

Honing the craft of creating spaces where people feel safe to share their most intimate self is simultaneously the scariest and most exciting thing I’ve done to date. Because it demands that I first show-up, authentically. And there are moments when I feel overwhelmed at how much shame, guilt, fear I need to deal with in order to “just” show-up. So I try to keep my focus on “what is one truth I can say, do, be … at this very moment?” No grand visions, just one action at a time. I keep going, because I sense home calling, and I want to be home.

Where is your home?

Parting Words

Rumi says it best, “… what I want also wants me, is looking for me and attracting me.”

That means I need to get real good at listening, paying attention, being present … and surrender to the pull of that which I truly love. Does this quicken your heart? If it does, even for a moment, allow yourself to be drawn by it, and see where it takes you.

In parting, it is important to understand that this is not an exact science, and there is no hard and fast measure of right/wrong. So prepare yourself to enjoy the ride, appreciate the scenery along the way, and don’t forget to seize the opportunity to make new friends!

If this article resonated with you, I would love to hear about your journey. So connect with me to share your experience of the three questions, and what other questions helped you on your journey of discovering that which wants you too ?


  • Roslina

    Curating beauty in the cadence of the human voice

    Who am I? I wish I knew too. Perhaps here in the virtual space of our interconnectedness will I return unto myself, in ways beyond imagination. Until such time, I am ... a seeker of beauty, curious about presence; a convener of circles, of poetic sensibilities; an alchemist of soul surrendering to the mystery of the human voice; a guardian of hope, camping out at the frontiers of consciousness.