A Birthday Look Back: My 24th Year

Jenny Chang The Lilac Road
Feeling at home away from home

This year has been my most fruitful, rewarding year to date.

Many of the goals I have worked hard toward came into fruition this year and every single day I wake up full of gratitude that I am living my own personal version of happiness and success.

After travelling solo around the world non-stop for four months, I realized soon after that I wanted to make it a lifestyle. I made the decision to move to Bangkok, one of my favourite cities in the world and a city that I feel deeply connected to beyond reason. I decided that I wanted to teach English, build my freelance travel writing portfolio and one day work for an NGO organization dedicated to empowering women (specifically, NightLight). I worked, saved and studied hard for 6 months, doing everything that I could to set up as many safety nets as possible before I embarked on my new chapter. I was, of course, afraid. It was that exhilarating feeling similar to what I felt when I skydived for the first time; standing before an open door in front of a wide, endless expanse of sky, knowing you have to jump but having that slight hesitation right before, like, “What the hell am I doing?”

Railay Beach Krabi long-tail boats
Picture perfect Thailand at Railay Beach, Krabi

But, like the feeling I got from falling through the clouds in the sky, this year in living alone in Bangkok has given me some of the greatest joys and privileges I have had the honor of experiencing. Not only is Bangkok a place welcoming to those who are creative, forward-thinking and entrepreneurial, I have found Thai people to be extremely thoughtful, funny and kind. They have taught me what it means to be respectful and sincere which I have found to be lacking in some Western countries. This chaotic city has stolen my heart and every day I think about how cool it is that I get to live in a city that embraces the weird and different with open arms.

Chaotic streets traffic Bangkok Thailand black and white
Chaotic streets and traffic in Bangkok

Of course, there have been a decent share of challenges I have had to face while adapting to an entirely different culture, country and city. It has ranged from simple things like knowing which train station takes me where, how to shop at foreign stores like Ikea and Tesco and getting stalked by a Thai lesbian (true) to more complex things like finding a GP who speaks English, explaining directions to taxi drivers in terrible Thai and trying to establish connections and relationships with people through a language barrier. This has led me to teach myself Thai in my spare time, something I have enjoyed using thoroughly, especially because I get mistaken for a Thai all the time!

As well as writing about travel for different blogs (I have to pinch myself every time a client wants to pay me to write about travel), I have had the privilege to teach English to all kinds of Thais; business professionals who are surprisingly humorous (I had a class where I had to teach likes and dislikes, and one young man stood up and said, “I like smoking weed everyday,” bowed and sat down to everyone’s laughter), teenagers who I have bonded with over Led Zeppelin and kids who light up my heart and never fail to make me smile, even on days when I go into work sad.

Teaching English kids children Bangkok Thailand Jenny Chang
With some of my magical kids

My well-being has also never been so strong and I have found that all those laborious years of self-love and care has given me the strength I need to meet and overcome challenges with more ease. It is literally like having a superpower to use whenever I need it. People remark that it must be hard for me to move to a new country alone, and while initially it was, it isn’t as terrifying as people think it may be, simply because I have never been so sure of myself and what I want in life.

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar Jenny Chang
At the exquisite Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

I think none of this would have been possible with the understanding and support that I have received from my close-knit friends and family. I would not have taken this risk if it weren’t for them, nor would I have survived so long in a unpredictable place like Thailand for so long. In times when I felt lonely, scared or sad, they have been there to spur me on and somehow make me feel overwhelmingly loved even from thousands and thousands of miles away. I can’t stress how important it is to have a tribe by your side who see the best in you, water you with encouragements and motivate you to live your best life everyday.

Jenny Chang The Lilac Road mother Queenstown New Zealand
My dear mother, who has been incredibly supportive of my nomadic lifestyle

It’s hard to believe that five years ago I was living in a deep depression, contemplating taking my own life to rid myself of the unbearable pain I was carrying. This year has led me to believe that grace will get you so far, but at some point you need to help yourself and be responsible for the life you create for yourself. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable and safe, but if you are stagnating and living without purpose, my advice is to keep making daily choices to get you where you want to be. With persistence, even in the midst of setbacks, ridicule and isolation (which I faced plenty of), you will quite suddenly find that you have made it; you have carved out your own success, your own happiness, and nothing and no one can take that joy and pride away from you.

Wat Pho Bangkok Thailand golden Buddha statues
Exploring Wat Pho temple with my friend Luke in Bangkok

I am in that space. How blessed I feel to be able to love what I do and get paid to do it, encourage and promote mental well-being in women through The Lilac Road, live in an endlessly inspiring city, have a loving circle of friends and family who are also my biggest cheerleaders and travel constantly (my most recent adventures involve journeying up a snow mountain in Queenstown, traversing through jungles on a peninsula in Krabi and walking through serene temples amongst monks in Myanmar). My 24th year has been at times challenging but mostly amazing, and it is an understatement to say that I am so excited to see what surprises and adventures my mid-twenties will bring me next.

Queenstown New Zealand Jenny Chang
Admiring the view in Queenstown, New Zealand. I am lucky to call this country my home.

All photos my own

Live Your Life On Your Own Terms

Hand woman flowers lily pads water

It took me a long time to realize that you can do everything right and still end up unhappy. You can say all of the right things, do exactly as you are told, follow in the footsteps of all the people who swore by their success and their strategy surrounding it, and you can still end up displaced — because you didn’t ever choose to simply listen to yourself.
The best thing I ever did for myself was simply listen to what I actually wanted. I drowned out the guidelines, the advice, the ‘shoulds.’ And I messed up. I made mistakes that I’ll never forget. I hurt people I loved, and I got hurt.
See, self discovery isn’t this comfortable, miraculous thing. It can get ugly, it can get confusing. It’s gritty, it’s hard. It’s difficult to confront yourself sometimes, it’s difficult to be the person who does things differently, who doesn’t settle.
But it’s the greatest gift you will ever give yourself. It will push you towards figuring out what your own personal version of happiness looks like; and when you grow on your own terms, when you figure out what actually matters to you, and when you carve out your own path, you live on your own terms. You love on your own terms. You become the person you have always wanted to be, rather than the person you were always told to be, and that is beautiful. Because when it comes down to it — life is about making yourself proud on your own terms. It’s about finding a happiness that works for you.
Bianca Sparacino

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Curate Every Aspect Of Your Life

Woman red lips natural sunlight

Don’t settle for nice, for pleasant, for familiar. Keep looking until you find something that really moves you, that resonates with your core. And I mean this for people, for interests, for hobbies, for your possessions, clothes, music, books, art. Everything. Curate every aspect of your life, as much as you can. It’s in the things that deeply inspire us that we find ourselves. Surround yourself with truth, and you’ll have built yourself a heaven.

I’m in love with this quote.

Image via ThirtyFifty

Jump When It Feels Scary

You may not know exactly where you’re headed in life, but where ever that may be, keep going. Allow your heart to guide you in the right direction.

When it feels scary to jump, that’s exactly when you jump. Otherwise you end up staying the same place your whole life. And that I can’t do.
A Most Violent Year, J.C. Chandor

Image by Lençois Maranhenses

Tips For Getting What You Want Out Of Life

Get shit done

1. You need to begin by thinking about what you want your life to look like. It’s important to be concrete and specific here – not general and vague. Then, use that information to set clear goals for yourself.

2. Be confident and believe in yourself. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have what other people have, or should be that individual you’d really like to be. If you’re willing to work hard and to pay the price required, then you can have what you want and find the niche for you.

3. Keep your focus on your goal – don’t get sidetracked from your dream. You’ll have to keep on going and to push through trying times. Remember, the prize is worth the effort; you’ll be glad you persevered.

4. Don’t give into temptation to go for lesser goals or do something attractive that won’t lead anywhere. Don’t pretend that you’ll be happy if you give up on your dream. You’ll wish that you were stronger and looked at the “long-term”.

5. If you slip up – just get over it – and move on with your plan. It doesn’t mean it’s over. Get back on track again. The goal is too important to waste time on regrets. Your focus is the future and what will take you there.

6. Recognize your weaknesses – and then plan to manage them. That way, you won’t be taken by surprise and you’ll have some strategies.

7. Finish what you start, and don’t leave loose ends untied. You have to be committed, and thorough, to achieve. Being lazy or half-hearted will hamper your success.

Online Counselling College

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