Lifestyle / Making Lemonade

Making Lemonade #3: A little zing in every drop

How to squeeze the most out of this thing we call life

Cross-posted from Substack. View original post

Hey friends,

I’m not sure how to start these still, so let’s go with that. I’m still figuring out the nitty-gritties (also I know that’s not an official word, but I think it sounds cool), like that. Hopefully once writing and posting is down I can focus on the fun things, like making a logo.

I know too well that if I go all out with the logo and branding and colours and try to get it all perfect before the actual writing it’ll never happen. Same with all the photos. They’re absolutely not up to professional sharing capacity, but I’m going for progress over perfection, and it’s actually quite liberating. So, here we go. #3.

On that note, here’s my favourite photo I’ve taken this week – straight off the phone camera – of the cat walking himself home after our daily sunset stroll

I’ve been thinking a lot about life and the state of the world this week, and how helpless it’s making a lot of us feel. It feels like there’s a myth that when we’re born, we sign away all of our human power to this big machine we’re born into.

While we can aspire to get to the top of the machine – usually by working hard and/or knowing the right people and by selling our souls to the highest/most powerful/most influential bidder – even then it’s hard to actually make any sort of difference.

I’ve always been a contrarian, but I believe that this is one of the biggest lies society has taught us.

Obviously, this Substack is all about lemons, so let’s use them as an example: one drop of lemon juice in a cut in a finger stings as much as a whole lemon. A drop of lemon juice in a glass of milk will curdle the whole thing. A single drop of lemon juice on our tongue has the power to make us screw up our whole face. And we – as individuals, who are (most probably), a little sweet and a little sour, have that potential too. Especially now.

For most of my life, I felt that in order to make any sort of difference in the world, I needed to do big things. And I needed to do them well. I wanted to be the best I could be, and I thought that meant I had to go big or go home – and going back to the small town I grew up in wasn’t an option, unless I wanted to head a weird religion or start a cult, and I didn’t really fancy either of those options.

Note: you can read more about my hometown in this Vice article or this BBC Travel article, both of which I wish I’d written but literally never even thought about, so I guess I missed a trick there!

Turns out my hometown is actually quite interesting and quite pretty, I just needed to leave to be able to appreciate it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.

Anyway, while I made it out of East Grinstead 15 years ago – cult-free, despite the best efforts of the Scientologists, who would put on gigs with local bands and garden parties, and even sent my dad long letters trying to recruit him, it was a whole thing – I still aspired to do something big with my life. I’d very much bought into the “Western dream” of getting a good degree and a good job, and only then feeling like I’d be able to make a difference. 

Incidentally, things didn’t work out quite like that.

I got kicked off my Chinese Studies degree for failing a Mandarin exam – in part due to aphantasia, which I did actually write an article about – lost all faith in the UN and the International Community after researching and writing my thesis on famine and humanitarian crises in North Korea, and then graduated at the height of the recession, when the only way I could keep paying my rent was to take my student job at the university bar full-time.

It wasn’t exactly reaching the pinnacle of success, even if I had managed to graduate with a decent grade from a decent university.

Add to the mix one of my best friends dying in a car accident a few months before my final exams, and I was all out of faith in the machine. There didn’t seem much point in slaving away at a 9-5 and dedicating your life to a greater cause when it could be so unfairly wrenched away from you at the drop of a hat. It was a weird reality mic-drop at the age of 21.

Since then, all I really wanted to do with my life was find some sort of meaning – and between cults and machines, I was pretty done with the “system”.

And so, after working as a travel agent for a few years – the only job I could find with my $40,000+USD (and counting) degree – I ended up sacking it all off, packing my life into a bag, and going off into the big wide world to see what I could find.

Me and all my worldly possessions just after I left the UK in 2013

Fast forward ten years, a couple of stints working in disaster relief, a lukewarm travel writer career, and a crash-landing into an accidental home in Australia, I ended up realising that the biggest difference we can make in the world is two-fold. And, that as a little fish in a big pond – or a single drop of lemon juice – we can often have even more impact than a big fish in a little pond.

It’s almost akin to the Japanese concept of Ikigai – which is finding that sweet spot combining what you love with what the world needs, what you’re good at, and what you can be paid for.

I don’t know about you but I’m still figuring out those last two, so we’ll narrow it right down to what we love and what the world needs, instead.

So my two-step strategy to help us make the biggest difference in the world – and squeeze every drop of juice from this lemon of a life – is…

Firstly, to prioritise our own happiness. To seek out joy – not at the cost of others – but with the intent to use that joy and happiness to lift up the world. After all, what is the point of life here on this spectacular planet if we can’t find the will and ways to enjoy it. And the best part of enjoying it that deeply? We want to go out of our way to protect it. To fight for it. To make it better.

And by that, I actually don’t mean doing what I did and packing your life into a bag and jetting off, because although I got to go to some amazing places, I also realised that I’d funnelled that exact same drive to be the best to going to the “best” places, and that didn’t fill the void in me whatsoever – it actually left me feeling more empty, which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it.

The best part of it all was the connections that I made, though, which leads me onto my second point:

To help others. To help lift up and support our friends and family and community and fellow humans/planet/animals in any way we can – while still making sure we make time and space to prioritise our own joy and happiness. We’re communal creatures, and for millennia our survival has depended on being there for one another and having each other’s backs.

Searching for Winnie the Pooh in Ashdown Forest with my mum – another highlight of my hometown. This whole caregiving thing isn’t easy, but it can be pretty rewarding when a phone call or a check-in is enough to turn someone else’s whole day around.

While long-distance caregiving for my mum alone doesn’t exactly fill me with a reason for living or a zest for life, it helps me see that there is a world that exists beyond me – and it makes me want to support others who are struggling too, whether we see it or not.

It makes me look at every single human differently – because we don’t know what they’re going through. It makes me want to be a better human, for all of us. To see the good in everyone’s hearts, and remind myself that none of us got where we are alone.

Deep down, we need each other to be the best we can be – despite the fact that our society seems to prioritise individualism and stepping on others to get to where we want to go, I believe we’re better off giving each other a leg-up. No (hu)man left behind!

And I also don’t even like people that much, so that’s saying something.

I know life teaches us to strive for the big things – and make those 52 weeks a year and 73.4 years of life count, but these days I’m more about the little things – those 86,400 seconds a day and 365 days a year.

I’m all about squeezing each drop of juice out of one lemon – rather than stockpiling all the lemons and creating a monopoly (although that probably would’ve been a good business model in Cambodia).

Anyway, this was longer than I meant for it to be – again – so thanks if you made it all the way to the end!

Here’s hoping you can go chase some happy moments today like I used to chase butterflies (when I wasn’t being chased by those pesky cult leaders).

Love you,

Cassie x

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