A week ago I celebrated the four years anniversary of becoming a vegan. Four years! Four very humbling, challenging, eye-opening, thrilling, wonderful years. I’ve learned so much from this journey that I thought the best way to celebrate my anniversary might be by sharing some of the skills I’ve learnt from my four-years (and counting) vegan journey.
To be honest, transitioning to a vegan lifestyle wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as difficult as what most people think either. I love exploring new ways of cooking and veganising old favourites, and I love feeling healthier and more fulfilled, and knowing that I’m doing something good, not just for my body, but for the animals and the environment.
My goal with this post is not to convince you to go vegan (although if you do decide to pursue that path, I’ll be jumping up in joy!). My goal simply is to share with you some of the valuable life skills I’ve learned from the last four years. Skills that you too can acquire, should you so choose.
I have to say that I feel a little uncomfortable sharing this post because deep down, I don’t feel like I’m a good enough vegan – I still own and wear a lot of my leather accessories from my pre-vegan days, I still make mistake and let egg and dairy slip into my meals sometimes, and I still have immense abhorrence towards cockroaches. I mean, I bomb them every three months and I don’t think that’s a very vegan thing to do.
But we can only do our best right? And I believe that I am doing my best at this time. I also believe that it is better to do something, however imperfect it might be, than doing nothing at all. And so here I am doing something, and it has served me well. This post itself is a testimony to all the life skills I’ve acquired, in particular Life Skill # 2, # 3 and perhaps a bit of #4.
Here they are.
Life Skill #1 – Empathy
What is Empathy? Merriam Webster defines it as “understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another … [being] without having [those] feelings … fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”.
Empathy is at the core of a vegan lifestyle. Once we’ve learned about the cruelty involved in factory farming, or the harmful impact meat consumption has on the environment, we stop consuming animals. We now understand what these animals have to go through in order for us to enjoy our burgers and steaks. Even though we don’t know them by name, even though they can’t express their pain the way we do, we still can feel their pain.
Vegans are not only empathetic towards animals; we’re empathetic towards humans, too. And this is not just my words. One study reveals, through brain scans, that vegans and vegetarians are indeed more empathetic to human and animal suffering than omnivores.
Empathy is one of the most important life skills you can have as a social creature. It allows you to connect better with people, understand them more fully, and deal with them more effectively. Empathy facilitates greater communication and helps you understand what drives people, what motivates them, what makes them tick.
Empathy helps you become more compelling, more convincing, and more encouraging. It makes you a better leader, a better employee, a better colleague, a better friend, a better partner, a better daughter, a better son, and a better human being, overall. It’s a nice side effect to feeling great physically, don’t you say?
Life Skill #2 – Vulnerability
Being a vegan helps me become more vulnerable, which is not something that comes naturally to me. Growing up, I’ve always guarded myself against rejection, or the potential of being rejected, ridiculed or mocked.
I’ve always had a soft spot for animals. In fact, I first became a vegetarian when I was eight years old, after watching the movie Babe. It only lasted a few months as my mother convinced me that Babe was not real and that animals don’t feel the way we feel. And because I couldn’t resist her delicious spaghetti bolognaise.
Being vulnerable is about being authentic, honest and true to yourself: not just revealing the pretty and shiny part of yourself, but all of you. Putting all your feelings and hopes on the line. As a woman (and with Asian heritage) this can be extremely difficult, as we’ve always been taught that vulnerability is a weakness, not strength.
Truth is, there is nothing more vulnerable than announcing to the world – to your non-vegan friends and loved ones – that you will change the way you eat, that you will no longer eat meat, chickens, fish, cheese, eggs, dairy, the kind of foods that you used to enjoy together, that you value the lives of the animals more than you value sharing those plates with them, that some of your principles no longer align with theirs, that you are now… a vegan.
It was one of the very few times where I was vulnerable by choice, and willingly opened myself up to judgement, criticism, and rejection.
Being a vegan has been a gateway for me to practice vulnerability, at every function, at every social gathering, every time I make new friends, or when I enter a new work environment. Practice, practice, practice. It’s not always easy, but it does get easier each time. And I’m all the better for it.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brene Brown.
Skill #3 – Courage
Courage is not the absence of fear, rather, it is the ability to do something despite of that fear.
Stereotypically, courage is often represented as stoicism and a projection of invulnerability. But this is not true courage. True courage is opening yourself up to vulnerability, recognising the fear, embracing it, and saying, “this feels scary, but I’m going to do it, anyway.”
“You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” Brene Brown
The last four years as a vegan have strengthened my tiny courage muscles in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined.
It took courage to ask the receptionist at work to fill the office fridge with dairy-free milk.
It took courage to ask for a customised meal at the restaurant for the first time.
It took courage to refuse food that my mum made for me, food that I used to love.
It took courage to announce my new lifestyle to my meat lover friends, which was pretty much everyone I knew.
It took courage to say no to cruelty, and yes to compassion and kindness.
And these tiny acts of bravery has helped me with other big decisions I’ve made in my life; like shutting down my four year food blog to start a vegan food blog from scratch; like asking for a pay rise at work; like quitting my cushy corporate job to spend time with my family overseas; and like starting my own business.
Who knew one could practice courage by simply changing what they eat?
“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Skill #4. Not giving a damn
Previously a chronic people-pleaser, being a vegan fixed me right up.
I used to buy ‘things’ to fit in, talk in a certain way, do things I didn’t like, and say things I didn’t really mean simply to try and make people like me.
I used to feel upset when way people looked at me a certain way (or if they didn’t look at me in the first place), if they didn’t ask me about my weekend, compliment my new dress, or ask me to join them for lunch. I used to care about all that stuff.
And then I became a vegan and I stopped giving a damn.
I believe it is because I no longer felt part of the existing social construct so I stopped feeling the need to impress people who still abided by that construct (i.e. almost everyone I knew). Instead, I started focusing on how I could be a more effective human, in my own right, and how to get the most out of this one life that I’ve been given.
And the last four years have taught me that the only thing you can control is yourself, what you do, how you think, who you choose to see. The rest is out of your hands, so why waste your energy worrying about it?
Does it really matter if people think I’m a bleeding-heart weirdo, if I don’t get invited to certain dinner parties because I’m a vegan, if people criticise me for still wearing my old leather shoes and bags after all this time, or if nobody like my photos on Instagram?
The truth is, there are so many more important things in life than all the superficial details and trivialities we all cling onto – our vain feelings, our pride, our ego.
It’s not that I don’t give a damn about everything, it’s that I’m picking my spots and only give a damn about things that truly matter, the big things, the important things. Health. Family. Friends. Loved Ones. Values. Purpose. Pancakes.
The less damn I give, the happier I become.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. If you’re a vegan, let me know what other life skills you have gained from this lifestyle in the comment section below. And if you’re not, what skills do you think you would gain, if you choose to experiment with this lifestyle?