Jay Shetty’s #1 New York Times Bestseller, “Think Like a Monk” wasn’t what I expected.

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I thought Jay’s book would change my life.

Jay is one of the most viral content creators on the planet — On Purpose is the world’s #1 Health Podcast, and he’s got 7 billion YouTube views. I thought his book would teach me secret monk-techniques to live successfully and mindfully in today’s chaotic society. While the book is full of golden snippets, my three takeaways were unexpected.

Wherever you are in your life, you can live with purpose, and you don’t need to become a monk to do it.

Monks Have the Same Problems We Do, Just Monk-ified

I grew up adoring Paolo Coelho’s books on self-actualization and adventure-spirituality. I re-read The Alchemist every year. Those books are all about realizing how the power of the universe is available to all of us — yet I still read as if someone else holds the secret. …

No more idols — You’re ready.

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Photo by tabitha turner on Unsplash

I’m worried I’m a secret loser.

I look self-assured on the surface. I dance for no reason, and I speak publicly for a living. I masquerade as an independent thinker. Deep down, I’m terrified.

I always need to read one more article because I’m scared to contribute with my own writing.

You do it too, don’t you?

Being book-smart is easy. Follow the rules, keep track of what others say, and regurgitate them in new words. Isn’t that what we learned in school? Remix.

As the adage says,

“Stealing from one person is plagiarism. Stealing from many is research.”

Pretending to be intelligent is even easier. All you have to do is hide behind the words and ideas of history’s “great” thinkers. Philosophers, inventors, anecdotal Zen monks — I’ve got them stored in my brain, ready to unleash in unsuspecting conversation. …

How I used podcasts to learn conversational Spanish and Portuguese before travelling to Colombia and Brazil.

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Illustration: Katherine Wong

Shakira was my first crush.

I blushed every time I saw the “Whenever, Whenever” music video. I never imagined you could move like that.

Thanks to Shakira, visiting South America was my childhood dream.

Colombia seemed so far away. I lived in Asia for 18 years, wondering what sort of magical place South America might be.

The Call to Adventure

Fast forward to 2018 — I’m an English teacher in Toronto, with students from all around the world.

My classes were always a unique mix, but I’ve never had a class without a Colombian or Brazilian student.

From my attendance lists, I became familiar with the long names of my Hispanic American students that never fit in my tiny box. I learned that if the first letter was an “R” in Brazilian Portuguese, it sounded like an English “H” — I mispronounced “Renata” for an embarrassingly long time. …

Working from home means more sitting, more hip tightness, and more hip pain, but it doesn’t have to be.

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

My hips hate the Zoom life.

Before COVID19, I walked to work and stood all day.

As an English teacher, I would pace across the whiteboard, arrange students into groups, and launch impromptu Salsa dance breaks when my students fell asleep.

After COVID19, I’m always sitting.

You can see the butt imprints on my chair.

7 months of Zoom classes, and I’m practically a potato. I’ve aged decades. My hips crack when I lift my legs. My right side and lower back are in constant pain. I can’t roll my waist without hurting every time I hit 5 o'clock.

I’m a 26-year-old grandpa. …

I used to lie awake in bed for hours. Last night I fell asleep in ten minutes.

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Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

I tossed and turned in bed for 6 hours this Sunday. I fell asleep at around 5:14 AM and had to wake up soon for work.

I knew exactly how to fall asleep, yet I made every mistake in the book.

  • I drank HK milk tea (caffeine) at 9 PM, even though I knew that caffeine has a half-life of up to 5 hours.
  • I watched Netflix and YouTube videos on my bed before I went to sleep, overstimulating my senses.
  • I couldn’t stop thinking about the upcoming week. My brain wouldn’t shut up.
  • I started worrying about not being able to fall asleep. Then I started worrying about my worries. …

It’s nothing like what I dreamed of.

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Photo by Daniel Novykov on Unsplash

I always thought adults had superpowers.

I could play computer games at all hours. I didn’t have have to go to school. I could buy any snack I wanted without asking mom. I could hang out with all my friends and nobody could tell me otherwise.

While working during university, I realized my mistake.

Being an adult sucks.

My free trial of life has expired.

Instead of mom magically whisking food out of thin air, I now have to go out, buy groceries, and prepare them myself.

I’m at the cashier, sweating profusely as I try to bag my groceries before the next customer walks in line. The bananas get caught in the grocery bag. …

I’m scared every day, but my fear reminds me — I’m ready.

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Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Back in high school, I used to play Eminem’s Lose Yourself before every presentation. I would sit on a school toilet, lock the door, and blast the song repeatedly until I felt ready to face the audience.

My stomach was a washing machine. Public speaking terrified me.

I would walk back to class shaking like a leaf.

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgettin’
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come…

Dance is freedom, so why can’t we escape ourselves?

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Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

Last year I danced every day. But dance is heavy now.

I haven’t danced in months, and I rarely listen to the music I love.

I’m wracked by guilt.

I feel guilty — I want to shake my body free while so many black and indigenous people suffer physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by a racist, discriminatory world.

I feel guilty — I want to cocoon myself and ignore the context of struggle that enables me to listen to Afro-music and take part in dances from the African continent. I have the privilege to bury my head in the sand.

I feel guilty — COVID-19 has changed the world. And here I am in Canada, complaining about trivial things. My good intentions mean nothing. I’m a random nobody. …

A love letter to language learning.

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Photo by Melvina Mak on Unsplash

Dear Language,

I never dreamed it would be like this.

I was a lost child — shuffled between countries and cultures. The Cantonese of my native Hong Kong, Bahasa Indonesia in Jakarta, Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien in Taipei, then back to Mandarin in Beijing.

I felt lost in the world. Belonging to everywhere and nowhere all at once.

Where was home?

I couldn’t tell you. But you always brought me back.

Wandering foreign streets, my mom’s lifting Cantonese transported me to happy moments — Yum cha with my grandparents. Steamed food, fresh ingredients, and minimal oil.

During chilly Toronto nights, hearing the Cantonese street gossip of old ladies brings grandma back to life. I miss the way she lovingly complained about everything. I still see her on the sofa in the marble-cold apartment, binge-watching Cantonese TV series with flying, sword-wielding kung fu fighters. …

Facts don’t convince people. Stories do. Read fiction — it will change your life for the better.

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Photo by Meryl Spadaro on Unsplash

It was a lazy Sunday morning and I thought of washing the dishes. Why not be a good son for once?

I was about to roll out of bed when I heard my mom shout.

“JJ! You better wash the dishes!”

I’d rather die than wash anything now.

I don’t understand. One moment, I was ready to do my chores. But now that those chores are forced on me, I’m suddenly resistant. I don’t like being told what to do.

Am I a terrible human being?

Humans are rebellious by nature. We don’t like it when our egos are threatened. We like to play pretend — to be in control over a world that we have no control over. Maybe we hold onto our egos so tightly because we’re insecure about our lives. …


JJ Wong

English teacher, language lover, and dancer. I write about learning languages, dance, and personal growth. http://jjwong.net I IG: thejjwong

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