2023 Year-in-Review: Planting seeds and growing roots

My reflections on the major themes in 2023.

2023 Year-in-Review: Planting seeds and growing roots
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

It didn't seem too long ago that I published my mid-year review, and before long, 2024 is approaching.

This reflective practice of drafting my mid-year and annual personal reviews helps me to take stock of all the good, the bad and all the in-betweens. Publishing my reviews keeps me accountable, knowing somebody may find this helpful. You can read my previous reviews (2021, mid-year 2022, annual 2022, mid-year 2023).

This year, I'd like to try something different. Instead of answering a set of questions, I'll share the year's central themes. However, this article emphasised the events of the 2nd half of 2023. To have a complete picture, you can start with my 2023 mid-year review.

I apologise in advance; this article is tl;dr (too long, didn't read). Enjoy the read, and have a blessed 2024!

Research continues!

2023 has been a year of uncertainty, and it exercised my "patience muscle". This year, I decided to pursue a PhD in Psychology with ISCTE-IUL. I was blessed with the generosity of two esteemed supervisors for my master's program last year, and they have agreed to continue to supervise me for my PhD. No words could express my deep gratitude.

First experience of collective action

Yet, some things were out of my control. When I started my masters in 2020, I stopped most of my freelancing work. Upon graduation, I became an Intercultural Psychologist. But I was starting from scratch again regarding my finances and career. This meant that I didn't have clear or regular means of funding my PhD.

As with many hopefuls, I applied for the annual PhD grants issued by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), or the Foundation for Science and Technology, a Portuguese government agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, which evaluates and funds scientific research activities in Portugal.

There were two lines of PhD grant applications: academic and non-academic. I applied for the non-academic line, which historically had a higher probability of success, and its purpose is to foster collaboration between researchers and practitioners in the industry. This required a non-academic institute to be included in my PhD project plan. Fortunately, the Vice President of the Association of Afghan Community in Portugal agreed to become my supervisor.

Yet, to my dismay, when the provisional list of successful applicants was published at the end of July, it didn't include my application. My application was "refused" because it didn't include a non-academic institution! But how could it be?

The next day, another "refused" applicant invited me to join a collective of over 50 applicants who received the same justification. It turned out there was an error in the online application form. As a collective, we wrote emails to FCT and reported to the heads of our research institutions. Eventually, someone contacted a journalist, who diligently investigated and published about the incident.

Exclusão de candidaturas pela FCT pode vir a custar, afinal, mais um milhão de euros por ano
Concurso para bolsas de doutoramento fora das universidades excluiu 52 candidaturas por erro em formulário. Cada candidato aprovado nestas bolsas tem um custo médio de 20 mil euros anuais.

By the end of October, when the "final" list of PhD grants was supposed to be announced, FCT announced that an additional 30 working days is needed to review applications. The wait was in agony. I didn't know if I could continue with the program or if I had to start looking for more freelancing work.

One faithful morning, an email appeared in my inbox while we were in our ethics class. I knew I'd be emotional after nearly six months since the announcement of the "provisional" list and nine months since the submission. I waited to open the email. Angry messages started pouring into the collective's What's App group throughout the class. I waited till the class ended before opening my email.

No results. It instructed me to log onto the website.

So, I logged onto the website. I clicked through a few links and found my status.

In my mind's eyes, I was expecting to see "rejected" in red.

Then, on the tiny corner of the screen, I saw...

"Grant" in green.

I looked at it a few times. My mind couldn't accept it. How was it possible?

I walked on clouds for days after.
As an ethnic minority and being brought up in a systemically racist country, I learned to accept that educational privileges were reserved for the ethnic majority. It didn't matter if you're exceptionally brilliant. If minorities were to access education, they needed to fund it themselves.

This time, it was different. I'm in Portugal. I was not applying for studies in Malaysia. This is how it feels like to be treated as an equal. The wise and mysterious universe led me to Lisbon in 2020, and who knew that I would continue with a PhD and be financially supported to do this?

Building my base. Growing roots.

While I waited in agony for the grant results, I started doing something that I hadn't done before in my life: building my base. Before deciding to pursue a PhD, my life constantly moved.

Wherever I was studying or working, it would only be temporary: one, two, or three years before I uprooted and moved elsewhere. This moving was sometimes by choice, but most times it wasn't. The longest I had been in a country was seven years in Singapore; even then, I'd constantly be on business trips, vacations or visiting family.

TripIt Profile

According to my TripIt profile, I have made 142 trips and visited 79 cities in 30 countries since 2011. That's an average of 11 trips a year or almost one trip per month in the past 12 years. My trips left a terrible carbon footprint of 79 tCO2, which can power nine homes for one year.

This life of constant movement was exciting! I got to experience different cultures, awe at breathtaking landscapes, wander about historical landmarks, and savour exotic (and vegetarian) cuisines. What I look forward to most is the absorption of the people, cultures and life in worlds very different from mine.

Mom had always complained that I had no roots. Back then, I didn't understand why it was such a problem. Now, I know.

All this movement came at a price. I couldn't keep many material possessions. Friends came and went. Romantic relationships were challenging to start. Business became difficult to expand. My autobiographical memory became weak. Most importantly, I was missing out on witnessing important moments and the slow and beautiful growth of loved ones. I missed the joys of planting seeds, growing roots and witnessing life's natural growth.

I became proficient and systematic in leaving a life and starting anew. The hardest part was letting go of people and saying goodbye over and over again. Perhaps that's why I relate to Doctor Who.

I didn't realise that choosing to do a PhD, a 4-year programme, meant I was choosing to stay in one place, Lisbon. Despite the housing crisis, miraculously, I found a humble place to call home, where I'd stay longer than six months.

In this humble home, I've begun to build a routine: house chores, grocery shopping, and working from home. I'll still need to weave exercise into my routine. I've also started building and expanding my social circle, my "family" in Portugal. I spent time with my neighbours, former flatmates and former/current classmates. I'd host the Vipassana meditation group every week and build a small personal sangha.

I've learnt to trust that the universe conspires to support me by taking me to the right places, connecting me with the right people, and doing the timeliest work for my highest growth and the greater good of humanity.

Breaking the Imposter

I tend to remember the bad things - my failures, unrealised plans, and rejections. I didn't celebrate my successes for a long time and lacked confidence in my skills and abilities.

  • I couldn't call myself an "expert" because I didn't master EVERYTHING about a subject. I was hyper-aware of what I didn't know and often felt like a fraud.
  • I have been an independent consultant but couldn't promote myself. I didn't feel I had the same experience or expertise as others in my field.
  • I was constantly doubting my abilities because I got to where I am today because of luck, right?

A conversation with a colleague led me to consider imposter syndrome. According to Webster,

Imposter syndrome is a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one's abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one's ongoing success.

I started to read up on it and questioned my beliefs. I took baby steps to "counter" my negative beliefs, such as starting a "victory log", a simple collection of all my accomplishments, big and small. I took time to reflect on events of the day, week or month and give myself credit for my mini "victories".

These small steps built my confidence. I've begun to introduce myself as an Intercultural Psychologist. With encouragement, I've put in my candidacy and been elected as a Board member for a refugee-led non-government organisation (NGO) called Refugee Action for Change (ReAct) in Malaysia.

Refugee Action for Change - ReAct on LinkedIn: #narwr #react #advocateforchange #nothingaboutuswithoutus
ReAct strongly values strength in numbers and diversity. On the 29th of April, ReAct had the honor to hold our very first General Meeting, bringing together…

My biggest accomplishment is finally getting my domain name (linglingtai.com) to share my voice and show the world who I am and what I can do. It took two months to put together my personal branded website. I'm still working on it, but it's almost there.

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Finally, the path towards enlightenment...

A small but meaningful change this year... I can finally meditate two hours a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. My determination strengthened after completing the Satipathana course in Dhamma Sacca last summer.

After the course, I am (nearly) eligible to apply for a 20-day meditation course. I made a pact with a dear meditation friend that we will go to the centre in Poland in the summer of 2025. One important criterion for acceptance to the 20-day course is that I consistently needed to meditate twice a day for two years.

Since being introduced to this practice in 2011, I've experienced significant internal changes in my well-being and perspective on life. If it weren't for this practice, I wouldn't have been able to face a multitude of challenges in the past decade, each with increasing calm and serenity.

While I still have a long way to reach enlightenment, I've caught glimpses of its possibility. I may not reach it in this lifetime, but I know I am walking on the right path.

Meditation is no longer a hobby. It has become a way of life.

Dhamma Sacca

Thank you, and Happy 2024!

Thank you for reading till the end. Please take some time and write an annual review, whether you choose to publish it or not.

Till the next newsletter, I wish you a blessed 2024 filled with love, light and happiness. ✨💖🎉