lao tzu

The Importance of Self-Reflection

(By: Farheen, Viva Learn Content Contributor)

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” Profound as that quotation is, what does it mean and, more importantly, how can we apply it?

What does it mean to let go of oneself? What does it mean to become something one might be? I may not necessarily be correct, but here’s what I think: people always have and always will struggle with that immortally perplexing question of “Who am I?” It’s a fairly difficult question and one that takes a lifetime and a few more years to figure out. At different points in our lives we may delude ourselves by imagining that we have the answer, only to realize a few seconds; minutes; hours; days; months; years later that identity is like a little squirrel: you know, the one you thought you had a connection with as a kid, and then realized that it had no intention of being tamed and becoming a friend?

One must accept the fact that identity is just a construct. We, as a species, love to put things in “boxes” and it’s definitely off-putting when one can’t find boxes big; small; wide; narrow enough for the multitudes of kaleidoscopic objects we collect throughout our lives. So, then, dear reader, what is the point of trying to confine yourself to a box that may seem comfortable at first, but then starts poking you in all the wrong spots and bores you with its perpetual stagnancy? What would be gleaned from even trying to answer the question, “who am I?” I believe that what Lao Tzu was trying to say is to let go of the notion of “identity” so that one may develop as infinitely as one wishes. But wait! you might say. Where would one find such a manual, that’ll help me reach this state? And all I can say is, “it’s on your head, genius.”

More specifically, inside your head. Self-reflection is the key, the manual. Take a few minutes out of every day and reflect on what you did today, how you treated the people around you, whether you are happy with where you are now, whether you need to change your thought process, whether you are friends with the right people, whether it’s time to learn something new, whether you need a change in lifestyle, etc. Don’t be afraid to criticize yourself, and don’t be wary of the fact that it may take time to apply these changes to yourself. All things take time; time is a gift, therefore it must always be treated with thanks and appreciation.

I wish you all good luck on the journey that is life. I won’t wish you a safe journey because then you may just curl up inside a warm, comfortable box and sleep away during the travel. So then, allow me to wish you a journey full of new people (nice and grumpy), new places (beautiful and ugly), and waters that are sufficiently tumultuous enough to soak any back-up boxes you may have brought with you.

Follow Your Dreams – Advice from a Grade 12 Student

By: Farheen, Viva Learn Content Contributor

follow your dreamsSo, a few months ago, I got a jarring and stinging slap to the face. It was a figurative one, but painful nonetheless. I was hit by the fact that I was in my last year of high school and university application season was coming up. The realization that I would soon have to assimilate myself into real life and make decisions that would impact my future as an adult was terrifying and overwhelming, and I felt like a chicken running around without a head.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who was feeling this way; the rest of my friends were in the same predicament. For the first time in our lives, we were forced to consider the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with some degree of seriousness.

This brings me to my best friend. Up to the point of a few months ago, as long as I’ve known her, she has wanted to be a veterinarian. It was the one thing she was absolutely set on, and to me that was enthralling and inspiring. So you can imagine my surprise when she came out to me and said that she was considering not going into that field anymore. Apparently, after combing through university programs and peering into the abyss of reality, she perceived that the path to a veterinary future was fraught by thorns of grueling years of study, expensive education and a pittance of an income in comparison to other fields. Knowing her as I do, I knew that it wasn’t the studying that was worrying her but the financial aspect and despite how reasonable her arguments against being a vet were, I also knew that deep down, her soul was rebelling against the thought of giving up on her dreams.

So, as any good friend, I looked her hard in the eye and shook her even harder. I reminded her that if she didn’t give it at least a shot, she would always be wondering “What if?” and nothing is worse for corroding the soul than the rust of regret.

Follow your dreams. Answer your calling. Just the idea of reality and taking responsibility for your choices is as petrifying as swallowing a frog whole. But that is even more reason to pursue whatever you love: we all need passion to guide us and lift us, through and above the scary obstacles of the world outside of desks, chairs, chalkboards and textbooks. Though I’ve only existed for seventeen years, I’ve found that usually when people strive hard enough for something, the Universe, as cruel as it may seem sometimes – complies with one’s efforts and can even take them to situations that turn out way better than ever imagined.

Remember, it’s worth it to chase after what you love.


Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

By: Farheen, Content Contributor

Ever feel like the rest of the world has got their life sorted out and has everything under control? Do you feel like you are the only one who is drifting and struggling to make things happen?

This kind of mindset is the worst, because nothing brings down self-esteem, ambition and determination more than thinking that you are not as accomplished, smart, sporty, stylish, or confident as your peers. On the bright side, this kind of mindset is exactly that – thoughts in your mind.

It can be difficult to see the big picture sometimes, but the fact of the matter is that nobody has a perfect life. Whether it’s visible or not, everybody is struggling with something and it may surprise you to know that even the people you measure yourself against the most, are also fighting to make things work out for themselves.

Furthermore, everybody lives in different circumstances – reasonably speaking, it is impossible to compare yourself to people who live through conditions different than your own. Those respective conditions are what allow for the development of certain skills as well as the revelation of certain deficiencies. What you may excel at, others may struggle through and vice versa; there are just too many variables to consider.

So what’s the use of comparison?  None at all if you are going to allow it to break you down and despise others for achieving, or being what you think you cannot be. But, as always, there is a positive aspect to this situation! Instead of using comparison as a one-way ticket to the pool of misery in which you frequently wallow, use it as a source of inspiration. Allow yourself to be inspired and motivated by the people whom you consider more accomplished or experienced than yourself; pursue them and their habits and try to learn from them to better yourself.

Life is a treasure trove of learning opportunity! There are only so many hours in a day, and I for one, am not content to spend a majority of them thinking that I am not intelligent enough, pretty enough, confident enough, ambitious enough to do what others around me are doing.

(Image source: