Here at Preen, we’re fully aware that adult life doesn’t always go as smoothly (and look as beautiful) as curated Instagram feeds. We all face challenges amidst all the good things. Meet Mikka Wee, a former food editor-turned-working gal in Singapore, who’s about to share all the ups and downs that come with adulting and living. Welcome to Bless This Mess!
When people ask me what I might’ve been doing if I wasn’t in Singapore right now, I always tell them that I would be “living the island life.” I know, I know. It’s such a far cry from the metropolis I am living in now, but in my three years here, I have learned to adapt and to adjust. If you were to have a chat with me five years ago, I’d probably tell you that moving to another big city was the last thing on my mind. But here I am, surprisingly more content than I ever imagined I could be. Deep inside my heart, however, I know all too well that I am a girl of the ocean. Nothing makes me happier than the sound of the waves, the feel of the sand crunching beneath my feet, and the gentle blanket of sun that wraps around me as I stroll along the coastline or soak myself in the sea.
How do I get by now, you ask? I still make it a point to have at least one beach trip every year—a little escape where I can find myself back in my element to refresh and recharge my soul along with the chorus of the waves and the wind. I also like living vicariously through kindred souls who are making a life outside the busy city. One of them is Tabitha Jamlang, a lovely lady with whom I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with via social media. We haven’t really met in person, but I find it amazing how Instagram bridges that gap. I chose to write about her story today because I believe her journey is a story worth sharing.
Mikka: Let’s talk about the “island life.” I certainly hope it’s not entirely a trend fuelled by social media because I understand that there is some serious adjustment involved, especially when it comes to comfort. I was once a woman (still am, actually) who longed for this life transition, and for someone who has recently moved to Baler, what are your thoughts about this?
Tabitha: Keep in mind that every “island life” is unique. You have to listen to your intuition to know which town feels like home to you. To us, it’s always been Baler because it’s been our go-to surf spot for years. So we feel very comfortable living there.
I would suggest to stay after the weekend rush, too, especially if it’s a touristy place. What’s it like when everything is just quiet? When establishments are closed? Are you at ease with just doing nothing?
And most importantly, you need to evaluate your intentions behind moving closer to the ocean, because that will be your driving force in staying and settling there.
M: I find your story so interesting and captivating because it doesn’t go the usual route. I love how you are finding success going against the corporate vein, so can you tell me more about your background and how you found yourself where you are today?
T: I failed at being a Radio DJ, which was the first job I wanted to have straight out of college. Realizing that my childhood dream had come to an end, I felt lost and pressured to get a “real job.” Something that was stable, something that I actually studied for. But I wasn’t getting replies from companies, and that was stressing me out everyday. Despite being close to broke, my college friend and I decided to pack our Jansport bags and ride a bus to surf some waves. We camped for four days, hung our bikinis on a tree, took icy outdoor showers, and spent the whole day in the water under the sun. That trip allowed me to get into a space of gratitude, and it gave me a totally fresh perspective: that I really shouldn’t worry too much!
I finally found that job and worked as an Advertising and PR Specialist for two years. I actually really enjoyed it, but realized I had nowhere to go in that career. During that time, I had a strong call to pursue my passion in photography. I started shooting with film in college, and once I had enough money to buy my own DSLR, I knew I wanted to immerse myself in it. Photography is such a huge part of my life; it’s something I will do even if I don’t get paid for it.
I did the hustle of shooting for free (for the experience), covering events, taking portraits of my friends and family. However, my three-month plan didn’t pan out after quitting my corporate job. At that time, I was interning for a famous fashion photographer, and I couldn’t make it to the shoots because, well, I didn’t have money. I was so broke I couldn’t even get out of the house. That internship discontinued, and I couldn’t blame my mentor. From an outsider’s perspective, it just seemed like I wasn’t interested enough to learn, but in reality, I was struggling.
In order to support my passion, I needed to hustle my ass off. So I worked as a remote photographer for WikiHow, making $5 per article, got into online content writing, and even became a Shakey’s radio DJ—yes, there’s such a thing.
The road eventually led me to being a contributor for one of the longest running travel magazines in the country. That work allowed me to hone my skills as I was sent to cover different resorts, restaurants, personalities, and tourist spots around Asia. What a dream! I feel immensely blessed to still be working with them for seven years now.
As I gained more experience, I became more confident in my craft and gained more clients. Because we needed to cater to bigger companies, my husband and I put up a Content Marketing business and ran it for three years. I had the opportunity to shoot campaigns for brands and even work with some of the prominent sports teams in the Philippines for their online content. We did almost everything—copywriting, website design and development, photos, videos, and social media management. It was great. We were making six digits every month, and were very comfortable with our lives.
Yoga came later in my life initially as a fitness regimen. It was really on the sidelines and I never thought much about it. I grew my practice by watching YouTube videos and joining 30-day challenges online. The yogis in the videos were my teachers, and I stuck with them for years. Four years into my practice, I felt like I wanted to get deeper into it. Initially I didn’t plan on being a teacher, I just wanted to geek out on Yoga Philosophy, but at the back of my head I knew I was going to teach, like it was in the cards for me.
By a few miraculous and cosmic instances, I found myself leaving my husband for two months to study the essence of yoga in Rishikesh, India. Honestly, that whole experience was surreal. It was like the universe was really pushing me towards that country because everything was taken care of. The school I attended offered me teacher training, accommodations, and food, in exchange for my photography services. And I’m so grateful I got to experience that in this lifetime. It made me want to share everything I learned to as many people as possible. I felt like it was my true calling.
I had to tell my husband that although we were making a lot of money doing online content, it didn’t really spark anything inside me. There wasn’t any enthusiasm on my end with the work that I did. So I had to separate myself from it in order to expand and work on being the best yoga teacher I can be.
A year after that, I felt called to move to Baler with my husband in hopes of creating a nice little community there and do retreats. So we took a leap of faith, packed our sedan with our belongings, and moved to our favorite surf town. And this is the adventure I’m on at the moment.
M: You also manage Her Awakening, which I think is such a unique concept! Can you tell me more about it?
Her Awakening started in 2016 as a personal blog and Instagram account where I documented my own awakenings and realizations about life. Just through geeking out on spiritual podcasts and books, I slowly began to learn more about myself and my personal truths. This really opened me up to a whole new world of spirituality. Now that I feel capable of teaching and helping others connect to themselves, Her Awakening has evolved into a space for people to explore and experience their own spiritual journeys.
I just want to help every being feel connected to their souls, and be reminded of who they are in their essence. The core message that I tend to give my community is to embrace our humanness (yes I believe that’s a new word), and remember that we are cosmic beings capable of manifesting the life that we desire.
I do this through different channels. One of them is my Letters for the Soul, which I send out once or twice a month. The newsletter actually started when I flew to India for those who wanted to be updated. The letters turned out to be little messages from the universe and soul experiences that the readers enjoyed and really felt. And it just became a regular thing from there. It allowed me to interact with my community on a deeper level, especially when they open up and share their own stories with me.
The yoga practice is a more physical interaction, and is one of my main tools in helping people be in tune with their bodies and minds. When I was in the city, I would have monthly community classes where I would teach Hatha Yoga and lead a short guided meditation right after. The feedback from my students was so amazing. I knew I wanted to share these practices to more people, so I created a YouTube channel and posted some meditations online to make it more accessible.
Now, Her Awakening is expanding to be more of a physical space through the retreats and workshops, where individuals can take time away from their busy lives and learn how to sit in stillness and ground themselves. I’ve noticed a number of people asking me about meditation, or telling me how difficult it is for them to sit with their minds. This is why my first retreat in Baler this May will focus on how they can reconnect with themselves through the power of movement, breath, stillness, and sound. The most important thing for me is that they are able to take whatever they’ve learned with them back to their workplace and home.
M: Seems like you’re doing quite a lot! How do you manage your day-to-day life, and how do you get through the tough days—especially now that you technically live at the beach?
T: I just try to live it everyday, being as mindful as I can be so that I can appreciate each moment. I know it sounds cheesy, but when you actually try to do it, it’s a constant test of being totally and completely present. My schedule is pretty erratic, I travel back and forth when I have assignments or work to be done in the city.
When I’m in Baler, my day starts with a short and silent meditation practice, followed by a walk to the beach with my dog Lily to check the waves. If they’re good, I chug a lot of water and surf for an hour or two. If not, I buy pan de sal, make coffee, sit on my balcony and just enjoy the morning.
The rest of the day depends on what I have on my plate in terms of work—photos to edit, content to write, yoga sequences to design, or retreats and workshops to plan. Sometimes I get immersed in books and podcasts about self-development and inner work. My days also include trips to the wet market and cooking meals for my family, which I really enjoy. I just realized that I love being a homemaker. When I’m done with all that, I try to sneak in a sunset surf, and just chill for the rest of the night.
On getting through the tough days, spending time with my husband and having juicy conversations with him does the trick for me. He helps keep me grounded when things are flying around in my head. When I’m feeling low, he helps raise my vibrations just by being with me. Ahhh, the benefits of having your best friend as your husband! I can just let loose, be silly, sad, weird, and I love that.
When he’s not around, I tend to pause and remind myself of how beautiful life is. That I get to walk to the beach whenever I want, I get to watch the sun rise and set everyday, and that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. When you stop to appreciate what you have, it really puts things into perspective, no matter how tough the day gets.
M: Speaking of surfing, I loved to get out and catch some waves myself years ago. Apart from the high, I think there’s a lot of philosophy in surfing—it’s such an amazing metaphor for life, don’t you think?
T: Absoutely! One of the main things I love about it is that when you’re out there, you are 100 percent present. You really don’t think of anything else. I don’t think I know anyone who’s absent-minded when they’re out in the ocean. You always have to be alert, or you’re screwed!
It also healed me of my fear of drowning, by teaching me to trust in my instincts and to stay calm in the water, even when you’re being tumbled like a washing machine.
What I’ve been learning so far is that we already have everything inside of us to freely design our lives and make the most out of this one lifetime that we have. But we can’t do that if we are not in tune with who we are first. So a lot of inner work is crucial. It’s a continuous journey, and you just learn from every experience one day at a time. There really is no particular goal to “be this or that”, the goal is to just “be”, and to feel at peace with that.
A lot of lessons can also be learned from the ocean. It humbles the crap out of you. The waves won’t soften for you or anyone else, so it’s a matter of respecting it and learning how to be aligned with how it flows. The more you fight and panic, the harder it gets. I learned that resisting and fighting your way out doesn’t help the situation, you must learn to accept and maneuver yourself calmly. And once you’re out, there’s a calm presence that makes you appreciate where you’re at. Now it’s a matter of picking the right set to surf.
This is my personal metaphor for now, and I know it will change in time as my life unfolds.
At this point, I’m treating the ocean as my classroom, and every surf session has a lesson in store.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Photos courtesy of Tabitha Jamlang
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