Don’t wait to be great

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Why do so many people put in the effort to improve on themselves only after a breakup? Perhaps if they tried while in the relationship, they’d still be together…

Alright, that statement is very broad is could be taken as extremely insensitive, but hear me out. Of course I understand that a traumatic event will always result in new perspectives and self-reflection. So I’m not literally asking why do people try new things after a tough separation. I’m also not at all saying everyone who’s been heartbroken only has themselves to blame. My statement is specifically directed at the concept of “comfortable”. Being comfortable with oneself and one’s expectations.*

After a break up, how many of us have said something like, I’m gonna get out there and be a new me! Gonna read more! Gonna try that painting class! Gonna start cooking! Gonna volunteer! Gonna do all these awesome things that I never bothered or pushed myself to explore while I was in the relationship. All these things that I obviously thought of, but didn’t act on. And why not? Because we were comfortable. We thought, Oh there’s no time, maybe next weekend. Oh it’s too expensive. Oh it’s too much trouble. And it’s not just activities, but we do the same with our behavior. “I’m gonna be more patient. I’m gonna take more initiative. I’m gonna open up more!” We often change our appearance too. People lose a bf/gf and they go cut their hair, start exercising, try dressing differently, or try to make new friends. We put ourselves in all these different situations and challenge our norm, and it always leads to something good. Enlightenment, meeting new people, new perspectives. So the question must be asked… If all these challenges- that push us, that are uncomfortable, that are strange- are ultimately beneficial and positive… what were you waiting for?

There are so many different reasons that relationships fail. So many catalysts and so many downfalls. But I believe that a lot of it stems from one or both parties reaching some level of comfort and that comfort can have 2 results.

Either 1) your partner doesn’t tell you they want something new/different and you are left in the dark and they develop these desires on their own without giving you a proper chance to respond and they decide for themselves that you two aren’t growing together. Or 2) your partner does tell you and you are shocked/surprised and don’t want to change and wonder why the other person has, and so you resist and get upset or sad. In both cases communication is key, but the willingness to explore new territories together is how to keep the relationship going.

I’m not saying this is the hidden secret potion to saving a relationship, but I think it’s something to consider if you are in one. Even if things are totally fine. Always, always, reflect on yourselves and ask, Am I being the best version of me for me and my partner? Am I challenging them and is he/she challenging me? If the answer is “no” to either of them, it’s time to talk and work it out. Don’t get comfortable; be open-minded to each other. Otherwise you might find yourself taking the salsa classes she always had brought up but you were too stubborn to take, or you’ll be trying a new hair style that might’ve been a fresh change for him. But it’ll be too late.

I acknowledge even as I write this that I’m oversimplifying. We often need to learn these lessons alone and not FOR someone. I get it. And sometimes the things we do/explore in the wake of a relationship is what leads us to the next, better one. And I’m of course not implying that people should change who they are completely, physically or behaviorally, just to make their partner happy. I’m just saying… don’t wait to be single and use bitterness/disappointment as your motivation to become a better person. You might be surprised how your relationship will be affected if you do these things while you still have them. That’s all. But what do I know? I just dyed my hair for the first time. “IT’S A NEW ME!!!”

*There is a difference between comfortable and confidence when it comes to relationships. I’m not saying two people can’t reach a point of being totally themselves, walls down with each other. The ‘comfortable’ I’m referring to is when you don’t take advantage of each day with one another, instead taking for granted that you have someone and can develop and do amazing things together!

27 thoughts on “Don’t wait to be great

  1. She waited for him to wake up from his comfy life with her. He thought this was the end, the end of his search, the end of trying so hard to impress. He couldn’t have been more wrong… this was only the beginning, he should have stepped up, tried harder, worked to keep her but he didn’t…. And so she collected what was left of her and went to explore on her own. She felt so free, like she could go and do anything she wanted. From time to time she thought of him but only sadness came from the memories. The questions of how could she love so strongly and fail. How could he not have seen what he had. And even though she was free…she was damaged. She did not believe in love anymore…she did not believe in trying so hard anymore…. she didn’t see the long term upside…

  2. .As a single person, not growing up and being stagnant—doing the same things over and over kills me inside. So every week I have to go out and find something new, everyday, I try to learn something new, or monthly—try something that I haven’t done before. If I don’t, I’d die from the inside (and that is scarier than death)…and I almost died last year.

    I haven’t been in a relationship but I see your point, and it’s a good one. Growing up “together” means never stop learning and exploring things together. Because once you stop, it’s gonna be boring and both parties would end up searching for another partner who would give them the thrill they’re looking for.
    Your post taught me something today Phil. ^^ Thank you.

  3. “…don’t wait to be single and use bitterness/disappointment as your motivation to become a better person. You might be surprised how your relationship will be affected if you do these things while you still have them.”

    This is so true. I’ve heard people talk about how their exes are doing things in their new relationships that they’d always hope they’d do with them. You can’t expect anyone, just because they’re “comfortable,” to know what’s going on in your head. No one knows what you want unless you say what you want.

  4. Ah I got my first perm yesterday, and I’m not sure whether to be glad or otherwise, because right now the pain of seeing my messy perm somehow overrides my grief over my first lost love… Distractions from grief ha.

  5. You should never lose yourself in a relationship. Be with someone who motivates you in more ways than one, someone who keeps you on your toes. Totally get it and agree with you. Don’t let anyone stop you from doing what YOU wanna do!

  6. I know what you mean. My relationship with my ex was the #1. In the end, it felt like things had changed so much and we were growing in different directions and no longer taking the same path. The path that we told each other we would walk on together forever. Even now, I still wish that was true.

    After my ex and I broke up, I started dating another guy for over half a year (we never became official), and when that ended, it was really when I truly threw myself into becoming a new person. Right at the end, I had signed up for my first half marathon and after that I signed upor Tough Mudder. I got fit. I no longer stopped myself from trying new things or got comfortable. I embraced my independent life. I do wonder why it is that I changed so much after having a relationship end. Did he hold me back? Or did I hold myself back? Or is it like you said, we were comfortable?

    When things ended with the guy I dated for over half a year, something really did change inside me. I realized I didn’t know him well at all. And no matter how hard we both tried, there was this attraction that was missing. I don’t know why we kept at it for so long trying to make things work when the attraction just wasn’t there. We certainly cared for each other. It was over a year before I bumped into him again, and it felt like everything resolved.

    I decided that I would live my life the way I wanted and in my next relationship, I will continue to to that. I will bring my next bf with me and try the new things and learn new things. I want to grow together in my next relationship. And not apart.

  7. Phil I don’t think you could have put this topic in any better way. It’s all true we never truly reflect upon ourselves until it’s too late, we give ourselves a bunch of crappie excuses to why we can’t do something. The reality is that until we face something that is traumatizing to ourselves we never want to leave our own personal bubble. I personally haven’t been in many relationships I’m 20 now but what I can say is that I’ve been in a very meaningful one where all the ups and downs were worth it, hell I’d do it all again with the same person if I could she helped open up my eyes to so many different possibilities within myself. Im single at the moment and like you said in your previous posts I do feel like I’m older now (that I’m experienced) but clearly I’m not, like I said I’ve been in a really good relationship but also ones that were really bad that realistically leave me now scared to “fall in love.” through the relationships I have learned to grow by myself and try different things and through all that I’ve become a very different person, I’m willing to try different things with different people now. I feel like I’m at that stage in life where it’s an expectation for you to be dating someone, but really I don’t feel like I’ve met the right person yet. BUT because of all these experiences I’ve met so many new people through 10km runs and other events.

    I always wished about living that “fairytale” love life, but in life that just doesn’t happen. I’ve been single for a bit now and it sometimes bothers me when all my friends are dating and I feel like just the third wheel at times. But I hope that in my next relationship I’ll find someone who will want to grow together, try different things together, build a strong foundation for each other.

  8. Phil: Great thoughts and absolutely great points. While complacency is the worst enemy of a relationship, isn’t it true that finding the right person is why complacency wouldn’t be part of the equation? Someone who pushes us to grow with them. Someone who makes us want to grow and be better (think:”you make me want to be a better man.” From as good as it gets). Maybe complacency is telling us more than something about ourselves but perhaps something more so that we’re in a relationship that’s not the right one but we’re actually too complacent to get out of? Maybe complacency in a relationship and with our own self is quite simply part of life’s lessons?

  9. I feel like I needed this so much, Phil. Thanks for putting it out there! You put into words the “lazy” feeling I couldn’t quite understand myself.

  10. Great thoughts. “People don’t know what they have until it’s gone”. Once they’re comfortable they don’t seem to try anymore and take the other person for granted. If only some people can realize that they should never stop trying even when the relationship is good. once the relationship ends, they hope to not mess up the next one therefore they try harder with the next and change in every way possible.

  11. This is what I always advice my best friend to do, do not get comfortable with the everyday routine you have with your boyfriend. It’s interesting, I am single and I look at my friends relationship and see how they always do the same things over again, they routine in their relationship that I think as an outsider looking in, is well…boring. Part of being in a relationship is the spark right? not just the connection you have with that person but the spark of doing something new in the relationship. I like looking at some couples who try to take up a new hobby together or doing something spontaneous. Reading this makes me feel more comfortable and I am not the only who feels that way. Thanks Phil.

  12. In my experience, coming out of a 5 year relationship from high school into college, I chose to “improve” myself not so much because of the break up — but because I suddenly found myself single, as an ADULT. And at 17 years old you think you know yourself so well, you think you know the way the world works–but after a break up–at 22 years old you’ve been humbled. You realize you don’t know yourself as well as you think, you realize you don’t know nearly as much about the world aside from what is taught in lecture halls, heard inside cafeterias, and seen inside dorm rooms, you realize how immaterial some knowledge are–the smell of his hair after he showers, the parabolic curve of his smile when his favorite basketball team wins, the circumference of his arms welcoming you for a hug–and, for me, I started to panic because most of my life experiences were connected to some guy who no longer was in my life–the journey to “improve” myself was the journey to find out my identity as an adult.

    What kind of person am I when I have no one to depend on? No one as a safety net? I didn’t intend for my first relationship to be a “safety net” but in retrospect that’s what it became–because I was young and naïve. I didn’t know what it meant to be a whole, independent, person. And so to me, the journey of self improvement, was about growing up.

  13. To Phil:

    An incredible act of destiny, 緣份, has brought me to your work and your blog, and I am so grateful for it. While I’m usually resistant to social media, (which is unfathomable and baffling to most), I couldn’t help but turn to the Internet for comfort, or at least amusement, at a time when I found myself feeling more isolated and rejected than ever.

    I had a difficult Chinese New Year, and found myself reflecting, rather dejectedly, on the last ten years of my journey into adulthood. Out of the blue, I had a vague memory of a short comedy sketch from UCSD that I’d seen while I was at UC Davis. With no other information on a random video from ten years ago, I didn’t believe that I would actually find it. Much to my chagrin, nothing could be further from the truth.

    As I explored the plethora of content produced by Wong Fu in the last decade, so thought-provoking and poignant, I relived many significant moments of my own life, piece by piece. Then, only collectively, did I start to grasp the substantial amount of progress that we accumulate over time. So many moments that individually feel tedious, climactic, arduous, or heartbreaking, shape us as we continuously evolve and refine ourselves, 鐵杵磨成針.

    Seeing the maturity of Wong Fu Productions, the result of persistent effort and genuine passion combined, feels like seeing an incarnation of my own personal and professional development. I feel so fortunate to have found an influential voice that resonates deeply with me, telling stories so similar to my own. It’s comforting to know that there is a kindred spirit out there, that being single doesn’t mean being alone in life and its experiences. And it gives me hope to see what the next 10, 20, 50 years will bring.

    So, whether or not this ever gets your attention, I have to express my gratitude. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for doing something that I couldn’t do, and allowing me to selfishly benefit from it, through the distance of a screen. Thank you for sharing so much publicly and bearing the emotional burden of that. Thank you for being real and unapologetic and authentic. And I commend you, not only for your success, but also for your failures. Success wouldn’t be possible without the resilience required to pick ourselves up and try again in the face of failure and its disappointment and frustration. I know that you have a vast network of fans, and I’m sure you hear these things all the time, but I just wanted to add my drop in the bucket.

    A couple of weeks ago, feeling lonely and purposeless, I merely hoped to find a lighthearted, nostalgic distraction. I had no idea that I would stumble upon so much more. Now I hope to see many more brilliant productions from Wong Fu, 也希望將來有缘.

    Very sincerely,
    Rose Chao

  14. I think nowadays people put less effort into keep the relationship going and turn into relatively easily reachable divorces/separation instead. I agree, that in some instances being in a relationship, where two parties drifted apart too much is the best solution, however why by looking at our parents generation, I have an impression that commitment to being together „for good and for worse” was more genuine? Did the approach for „worse” change – from being something that made the relationship even stronger, onto giving each other a reason to part?

    People give up on each other far too easily these days. I wonder why, when people decide to be together, they gradually from being proactive in terms of working on a relationship, become reactive/passive?

    Perhaps taking things for granted causes that shift or just every-day routine does not withstand the ever-changing reality we live in or perhaps commitment became harder to make? And it’s far easier to start everything anew with a new person, instead of keeping the already known relationship/realty attractive and alive (because that requires more involvement and active participation)?
    We have plenty means of communication available, but ironically in the era of social media and skype,twitter, snapchat,FB, instagram at our reach, face-to-face and open „offline” communication became much harder. And without open communication growing together and learning/developing each other, finding the other person’s needs/desires/aspirations/feelings is virtually impossible. Consequently, the supposedly long-lasting journey two people decided to start ends up at the nearest cross-road with each other taking their own way.

  15. That post made me realise many things and for that I thank you. I’m also so glad that so many of the things you said I had already said myself!! Some of them I haven’t experienced yet. I would love to meet you one day and just chat with you, I wonder what it would feel like talking with someone with who you share so many perspectives!!
    You are unique… I’m grateful that I found your blog… I’m a little late but it’s better than never!

  16. Thank Phil for posting your speech, I just graduated last year from nursing school and currently studying for my nursing license. Your speech really says it all, even thought I graduated with a BS in Nursing, I am still in limbo land, but I know that I will surpass it when I am done, but life is unknown and we just have to take it one step at a time.🙂

  17. Hi Phil,

    I don’t usually leave comment on social media, but here I am. I’ve been a fan of wongfu for many years and still is. I’ve watched you guys from being single, to in my first relationship and then back to single. I’ve just watched (and possibly replayed for a thousand times) the new shorts ‘Untouchable’. I can’t tell you how much it has related to me on so many levels.

    I’ve probably played ‘After Us’ every night last year before I sleep after I’ve gotten out of the relationship. At the start of it I wonder how long am I gonna take to reach that stage, where I feel peaceful for the past. From many nights of listening to the dialogues and replaying it (and still not falling asleep) to months after, I fell asleep just seconds after I played the video. I think that was part of the signs of moving on.

    But many months after even I feel like I have moved on, I know I didn’t. Emotions still came wave after wave. I watched ‘Strangers, again’ for many times, thinking whether did we had those conversations in between, wishing each other well before we parted our ways. But it came too sudden, we didn’t. It was ended in a sour note, and I have possibly trying to search for an answer in every possibly way.

    I was seeking peace and still am. But I want to let you know that all the relationship shorts wongfu has produced have given me comfort in many different levels.

    The recent shorts is very raw and honest. I felt like it has given me a closure that I would never have.

    Thank you. xx

  18. First of all I agree with how people usually take each other for granted and that will progress to them losing sight of the potentials and qualities and all the great things in their partners and soon themselves. More often than not they stop or slow down in going the distance to challenge themselves or doing new things due to both comfort and that sickly tinted idea of togetherness. Somehow that sense of individualism is lost to almost non-existent in some cases, that whole we have to do it together or we must have mutual consensus, that couple goal thing can be good but not at an extremist level over the clouds. But hey I guess we are human and we make those mistakes or rather we learn those experiences.

    As to why people only go that extra mile of getting uncomfy… well I guess because you need to fill those freaking heart wrenching awfully painful moments with things to distract yourself and at that fragile point where you feel like crap over what is over, you have nothing big to lose because you have lost a big chunk of what is precious to you. At that point, pride, ego, comfort, and all that is probably at low tide and so it becomes a what the heck I will risk it and go for it. Because at that point, you will be stirred again to want to experience new things and new feeling. To nurture your wounded self, to fill in those gaps with fresh new feelings.

    Not really replying to your questions but just needed to let that 2 cents out.

  19. First of all I agree with how people usually take each other for granted and that will progress to them losing sight of the potentials and qualities and all the great things in their partners and soon themselves. More often than not they stop or slow down in going the distance to challenge themselves or doing new things due to both comfort and that sickly tinted idea of togetherness. Somehow that sense of individualism is lost to almost non-existent in some cases, that whole we have to do it together or we must have mutual consensus, that couple goal thing can be good but not at an extremist level over the clouds. But hey I guess we are human and we make those mistakes or rather we learn those experiences.

    As to why people only go that extra mile of getting uncomfy… well I guess because you need to fill those freaking heart wrenching awfully painful moments with things to distract yourself and at that fragile point where you feel like crap over what is over, you have nothing big to lose because you have lost a big chunk of what is precious to you. At that point, pride, ego, comfort, and all that is probably at low tide and so it becomes a what the heck I will risk it and go for it. Because at that point, you will be stirred again to want to experience new things and new feeling. To nurture your wounded self, to fill in those gaps with fresh new feelings.

    Not really replying to your questions but just needed to let that 2 cents out.

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