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What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

“If I came to think about it again today and calculated it mathematically, I would say no way. No way I could ever send all my kids to school,” said the cab driver.

It was another rainy afternoon I spent at the backseat of a Jakarta cab. The clock was ticking away, the rain kept on pouring, the car horns around me were blaring madly, and still, 20 minutes later, the traffic didn’t move. Fortunately, having spent 12 years commuting, I have familiarized myself with Jakarta’s hellish traffic jam—to the point that it doesn’t really bug me anymore (the fact that I don’t drive my own car helps).

So there were times when I would just watch the traffic in silence; sit cross-legged, close my eyes, and meditate; sing along to the songs being played on the radio; or take a short nap. There were also times when I would play stupid games on my iPhone, text-flirt with a guy I like via WhatsApp, or have a chat with the cab driver.

***

I didn’t remember how our conversation began that afternoon. I guessed I was casually asking if the driver had kids—and how they were doing with their education. “I have three kids, and alhamdulillah, they are all in school,” he said. A tinge of pride was clearly audible in his voice when he added that the oldest one was about to graduate from university.

“Until today, I still can’t believe it. It’s such a blessing from God that my kids can pursue their education,” he continued, turning down the volume of the radio. “There were times when I counted the money I got from driving this cab, and logically, it was not enough to send my kids to school—not to mention sending my daughter to university. But I always believed that God would help me and show me the way. So I prayed to God. I prayed for my family, for my kids, for myself, for us to be safe and healthy, for my kids to be able to go to school. And then I went back to work and just work as hard as I could, knowing that God had listened to my prayers.”

And then he laughed. “The funny thing was that actually I didn’t get more money. But my daughter got a very good grade and could go to university on a full scholarship. At other times, some relatives suddenly gave us some money. When I wasn’t driving (the cab), someone gave me a job to drive an ojek (motorcycle taxi), thus I could get another source of income. A neighbor asked my wife to help out with cooking or washing.”

“Somehow, we always found ourselves having enough money. Such a blessing from God. I am so grateful. I am not rich, but everything I have, everything that God has given me, is enough.”

The cab driver had just given me the best advice ever about living life.

***

I had heard about The Secret when the book came out. I didn’t buy or read the book, though. To be honest, I had just watched The Secret movie on YouTube two months ago. When I watched the movie, it confirmed my belief that The Secret is a concept that have grown within me since I was a little kid. The concept is linked to the way we practice our spiritual beliefs.

I remembered how my mom always said, “Go get wudhu (ablution). Shalat. Pray to God. Ask God to help you. Tell God what you want.” Now I realized that this is the process when we’re sending our wishes to the Universe. And when we pray, we need to believe that God is the Almighty. We need to have faith (imaan). The Secret tells us to believe that the Universe is abundant and it will grant our wishes if we only believe.

The Secret also tells us to be specific with our wishes, and to wish only goodness. How many of us, during our elementary school days, have heard jokes or stories about why we need to be specific about what we ask in our prayers? For example, about someone who wants to ‘light up the world’ and end up being a huge candle instead of an inspiring country leader? “Do not pray for bad things to be casted upon others,” my grandmother used to say. “It will be reflected back upon you.” (Jangan doain orang yang jelek-jelek. Nanti malah kamu yang kena.).

The bible said it perfectly as well: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

The Secret also tells us about being thankful for what we have now. About the importance of gratitude. Interestingly, there are five aspects of a prayer in Sufism, and guess what? The first aspect of prayer according to Sufism is, indeed: gratitude.

We’ve been too familiar with the phrase Ora et Labora as a student. Prayer and work. Similarly, The Secret tells us that we need to do something instead of just sit around waiting for magic to happen. We need to make an effort to get us closer to our heart’s desires.

And then we need to let them go.

Do not doubt the Universe and keep asking on why we haven’t seen anything happening yet. We need to believe that the Universe will bring us what we want (or even better) when the time is right. This is the concept of pasrah. Surrendering completely to the hands of God when you’ve done all your best. (Interestingly, I found an article about a missionary who changed his name into Pasrah Karso or Surrendered Will, so I guess this concept is acceptable in different religions).

And so my crash course about The Secret was delivered one rainy afternoon, by an amazing cab driver.

***

Came to think about it, I was curious. What’s the best piece of advice others have ever received so far? Who gave them this advice, if they still remember? And so I have collected some great advices received by my friends in different parts of the world:

AULIA HALIMATUSSADIAH, INDONESIA. Business woman, start-up founder, author of more than 20 books.

That nobody can hurt me without my consent. My former boss told me this after I broke up with a long time boyfriend. I put the quote as my laptop’s wallpaper for quite some time. Can finally understood the whole meaning two years ago. Now, I can master my own emotion. It’s a life-changing quote.

SAMANTHA BARRY, UNITED KINGDOM. BBC Producer and Journalist.

The best advice I ever got is to surround yourself with people that support you. It’s only in my 20′s that I realized the value of having a core group of friends who are your cheerleaders. Yes, we are there for each other in the sad times, but for me when the people in your life support and encourage you, there is not a whole lot that you can’s achieve.

BINA SHAH, PAKISTAN. Internationally acclaimed writer.

I have received so much wonderful advice in my life from so many people it’s impossible to really pinpoint one piece. However I will tell you about a book that changed my life, and the advice contained in it: Napoleon Hill’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Any advice from any person I knew that said the same thing he said in that book was just reinforcement for what I learned from that book: that your positive mental attitude (PMA) was the most important factor in determining whether you could be successful in life, and whether you could help other people, and also whether you would be a pleasure to be around or a disaster for everyone else in your life!

ASTRID SCHWARZ, SOUTH AFRICA. Visual artist.

“Dream Big”. These words may not be a sentence representing that of a strand of pearls {in that the words are just two, and not many} but they have added to a solid foundation of following a dream that began from very small beginnings. My big sister, now living in New York, has been telling me, to, in one way or another “Dream Big” from a young age. It was only in 2012, on a visit to NYC that she said the actual phrase to me “Dream Big”. It struck a chord, and has evolved into “Dream Big and then Dream Bigger”. I always go back to the phrase, it walks hand in hand with being persistent and active in building my dream, and so the words are no longer just a phrase, but they entail a beautiful element of simplicity that in turn encourages and uplifts me as I grow my dream.

GEETANJALI KAUL, INDIA. A talented blogger, a wife, a mom of two kids.

You know, as far as advises go, I follow many. And collectively they changed my life and made it better. To begin with, my dad always said ‘Aim High’ and I followed that in every field of life. Then as I got married he said, ‘Never differentiate between relatives of your husband and your own.’ Truly this helped a lot. It would never be your mother or my mother, it would just be mother. Let them guess and ask whose mother! Then a friend of mine told me as I got married, ‘If you are upset with him do tell him.’ Men do not get to know that you are upset and they would be enjoying and you would be sulking. So say it out loud. Lately, my mentor taught me to smile through all that happens and there is nothing you cannot find if you really want to, which denotes basically: where there is a will there is a way!

NILA TANZIL, INDONESIA. Founder of Rainbow Reading Garden, Social Worker.

“Life is about balance. When we receive, we also need to give. Don’t always look up. Look down, because there are still a lot of people out there who are not as lucky as we are, and they need our help.” That’s the advice from my mother, Yuriah Tanzil. I always remember it. Thus, when I got my own salary, I helped a child in need. That’s my way to give back. It makes my life balance. Another one is from my friend, Henri Ismail. He said, “We only live once. If you want to do something in life, then go and do it. Otherwise, you’re a loser.” This advice makes me pursue the things I have always dreamed of. I don’t want to be called a loser by myself.

***

What about you? What’s the best piece of advice you have received so far? Who gave you this advice, and how did the advice change your life?

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My Saturday with Mishka.

“The tragedy is not that you’re gonna die this way,” my mother had said to me once, “it’s that you live this way.”
[The Long Run by Mishka Shubaly.]

I fall for words. Words of all kinds. Flirty texts. Random questions. Stupid remarks. Retarded emoticons. I fall for words so much, to the extent that I once agreed to meet a guy I had known online without even knowing how he actually looked like. He wrote nice emails and texts. That was all I know, and that was enough. Later on, he realized that he had not sent me his picture.

“What kind of girl agreed to go on a date with a guy she doesn’t know the look of?” he asked, laughing.

“An open-minded girl,” I replied. “And, anyway, who said that it was a date?”

“Ouch. You got me!”

So, we met over coffee one afternoon. And he turned out to be very pleasant and nice–just the way I pictured him through his words. We had a great conversation. And banters. And we laughed a lot. Oh, and as a bonus, he was actually quite handsome. Thus, don’t blame me if I continue to fall for words. My experience tells me that it’s 95% accurate.

So, yes. I judge people from the way they write (including the type of font they choose). I fall for their writing style, their choice of words, their inner voice, the way they place the right punctuation marks, as well as the wonderful feeling of reading those sentences out loud and thinking about how smart or funny or dark or interesting or intriguing the writer must be.

I also fall for Mishka Shubaly this way.

***

About a month ago, when I was browsing the Internet, I stumbled upon a mention of a writer I’ve never heard of before: Mishka Shubaly. I was intrigued by one particular article about him in Huffington Post, written by Cynthia Ellis. Cynthia’s words got me in an instant. Soon enough, I had been reading reviews about Mishka’s works all over the Net. Then I just knew by heart that I have to read them! Excited, I went to Amazon to purchase Mishka’s Kindle Singles–and devastated when a message appeared on my computer screen, stating that his works were not available for sale in my country.

Brokenhearted, I went to Twitter and told the world my sufferings, mentioning Mishka. I was so surprised when he sent me a direct message a while after! He didn’t know me. I was merely a stranger. But he was asking for my email address so that he could send me a draft of his story. I cried happily. I have learned many times in life, that you can get what you want if you only ask.

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When The Long Run landed on my inbox, I cherished it like my secret treasure. Soon, I was immersed in the story of how Mishka climbed out from his ‘shit hole’–that was full of drugs and booze–and tried to ‘run’ his life back on track. I read the story 4 to 5 times in a row, slowly, tracing each words, each sentences, finding new details here and there every time. I read some parts out loud–and someone else’s life, more than 10,000 miles away from here, slipped from my lips. I fall in love with Mishka’s voice. The rising emotion as I delved further into the story. The way he sounded so bare and brutally honest, so strong and yet so vulnerable.

I’d never had to get through a breakup without that tireless listener, that bottomless well of comfort, that sympathetic devil: alcohol. I didn’t start drinking and I didn’t stop running, but I did start wearing sunglasses on my long runs, twenty-one miles over five bridges in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, so the people I passed couldn’t tell that I was crying.
[The Long Run by Mishka Shubaly.]

The Long Run was a dark story. But Mishka didn’t inject depressing sobs as much as he laughed it all off–the way one should when looking back. The ability to laugh at ourselves is healthy. Because then we put ourselves not as a victim, but as a survivor. We’ve gone through that, we’ve passed, we’ve survived. Our past will always linger somewhere underneath our layers, but now it’s going to be more of a deep and reflective ha-ha story instead of a dreary suicidal tale.

The next few days after reading The Long Run, I was organizing my thoughts to shoot Mishka an email about his story and how it had affected me–both as a person and as a writer. But before I even had the chance to do so, I clicked the blue dot on my Twitter’s DM button one cloudy Saturday morning, and found a message from Mishka.

***

“I can’t believe I’m talking to you right now,” I typed. “This is so effing absurd, but one of the coolest things ever!”

I was perched in a comfy couch in Casa, Kemang–my favorite place in town to read and write, or have a lovely chat with my besties. That Saturday, it was raining heavily outside, and I was glued to my computer screen, talking to Mishka.

“One time, a cab driver told me. Everyone has to work, but you can choose who you are working for. I work for me. He was so right,” Mishka replied when I asked him what was the best advice he had ever received in life so far. “I started working for me, too. Toughest boss I’ve ever had! But I reap the rewards, not some fat old white man in a suit. Funny to get great life advice from a cabdriver, huh? Or unsurprising. I often find that people working the front lines of humanity know the most.”

(I didn’t tell Mishka–yet, that one of my greatest life advice also came from a cab driver in Jakarta’s hellish traffic jam. But I’ll save that story for the next post)

“How does it feel to write something as… honest?” I asked Mishka. When I read The Long Run, I got nervous imagining how different people who were being featured in the story would react to it–and to him. “Do you struggle in the middle of writing it? Like how much should you put out and how much should you hold?”

“Writing the Kindle Singles is always exhausting,” said Mishka. “I try to write them like I’m writing a private diary that no one will see. Then, before I can stop myself, I send it to my editor. And then it goes out to the world and I have to deal with the consequences. It can cause me a lot of anxiety, heartache, worry… but the end result is worth it. I’d rather have people hate me for being honest than love me for being something I’m not. I’m a flawed human being with a lot of bad habits and foolish tendencies with lots of poor decisions and ugly shit in my past. I think that’s something a lot of people relate to.”

He was right (and it was funny he said that, because a few days ago I had just wrote a piece about dealing with our pasts).

***

The Long Run is indeed a story about struggling with addiction–but it is more than that. Mishka’s addictions to drugs and alcohol is our addiction to a certain guy. To political power. To a branded bag. To be skinny. To a lighter skin-tone. To self-pity. To wealth. To the Internet. To an unresolved love affair. To a past.

We’re all dealing with our own addictions. We’re carrying these things inside, hiding it like a well-kept secret–so that no one will find out. Everyday, we’re all trying to run away from something that anchors us down, and run towards the freedom to be who we truly are.

Humor is all a matter of perspective. You watch Homer Simpson hit his head and it’s funny, but when it happens to you, it’s supposed to be a tragedy? Nah, I think it’s funny either way.
[Mishka Shubaly.]

***

“We need to find a way so I can buy the rest of your stories,” I told Mishka. “I can pay through PayPal if you have a PayPal account.”

“Please just email me some popcorns as payment,” replied Mishka. And so, I did.

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—————-

UPDATE, Jul 17, 2013: And Mishka shared this on his Facebook Page. Isn’t he just the sweetest? :’)

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