“What do you think couchsurfing is?”
“it’s like staying with friends -“
“NOooOope it’s not. We’re not friends. It’s not staying with friends. It is two strangers meeting, maybe exchanging some stories, spending some time to cook and make good memories”
I got caught off guard and stared at him wide eyed.
I didn’t like that he cut me off and continued talking about himself for the next 10 minutes. I wanted to change my mind about staying 3 nights on this guy’s couch.
R is a driven, motivated guy, who came from humble beginnings but has done well for himself. He likes to cook, is invested in the travel industry and lives between 5 different cities.
This definitely sounds more “humble” than what he told me. “at 22 I started my own company, and had 400 employees, now I’ve just launched my own startup and we have received millions of funding from x. I have 5 different houses, and alot of friends who own big companies. In India I have 3 restaurants and they are the best in my village.”
For alot of us who come from an Asian background, we would think this guy is a showoff, and that he’s not humble. But I fact checked my judgmental thoughts and asked myself why I thought this way.
In Singapore, we are used to talking down ourselves. So much so that when we go for interviews sometimes, we find it hard to praise ourselves and need to take courses to portray ourselves better. When we cook for others, we always say “this is probably not very good, i forgot to add the xx, this could be better in this way etc etc.”
We learn this from our families, our society and our peers. In school if we do well and are proud of it, our peers will call us nerds or closet muggers. Parents often ask children why they didn’t do even better than they did, and would send them to more remedial classes. I’m sure we are all familiar with being compared to other cousins or neighbours.
In the society I grew up in, its extremely important and expected of us to be excellent in what we do, all that we do. We put so much pressure on ourselves to do well. Yet, when we actually have done well for ourselves, we hardly celebrate it! We might give ourselves a light pat on the back and then ask the question “But can I do better?”
I remember, in my 3rd year of work, doing better than ever. I had doubled my sales and my name was flashed on the projector for being top 50 in my rank in the entire company. I had worked hard for this. So hard!!! And yet I didn’t feel a single shread of joy. All I thought was how I could sustain this for the next year. I quit the next year.
Last year, I gave myself the task of figuring out how I can derive joy, and be proud of what I’m doing. To be really proud! I did a few jobs, from teaching babies to be water confident, working in a childcare centre taking care of fifteen children, to making cocktails in a bar. I started to understand how doing something you’re passionate about is so important.
When we have found a job that we like, that we are good at, we want to give it our all, and we want to know we’re good at it. If we are, we should praise ourselves for it.
Looking back at what R said, I don’t think he was being arrogant at all. He was confident and rode on a high for being extremely good at what he does. I now feel that I placed my conservative judgment on him. Every sentence he said was a fact, none of it was meant to boast. But I took it the wrong way because of the way I was conditioned to think.
If I had followed my first instincts, which is to decline his couchsurfing offer, I wouldn’t have known what a kind man he is. I spent 3 nights on his couch and 3 mornings listening to him talk to his employees. He was a good mentor, always ready to give good feedback to them, and he spent quality time listening to his team.
He shared with me his home, and cooked delicious meals for us. His homemade chicken masala was the best I ever tasted. We walked together through Old Town in split and talked about his ambitions and he listened to my dreams of studying art/design. We shared good moments together – 2 strangers from different parts of Asia, crossing paths in Croatia.
How we view others is so much a reflection of how we treat ourselves. Sometimes if we find it difficult to be proud of our own achievements, we think it’s haughty of others to be proud of theirs. We can be proud of them, but noooo they can’t boast about themselves.
I’m glad that i opened my own eyes to observe my reactions, and fact checked myself. Otherwise I would have missed out on a wonderful opportunity to meet dear R.
I’m learning that though people may rub us the wrong way at times, we can choose to question ourselves first, and see if we could think a little kinder of others. In putting kindness first, we also learn to be kind to ourselves. And that’s the most important, especially when we go through difficult times.
Till the next travel story!