Any well-lived life is worth telling and retelling because it can help others who feel overwhelmed and defeated by life. However, it is never easy to write a memoir. The writing of my life story has been almost 15 years in the making!
I was finally able to overcome my years of resistance to completing my memoir when I came to the difficult decision that some of the people who had caused me great harm needed to be named, the reason being so that they or people like them could not continue to inflict pain on innocent people with impunity. An even more compelling reason was that my story of overcoming would encourage others to move forward with courage, grit, and faith rather than wallowing in self-pity as victims.
My story would not be worth telling if I simply whitewashed all the ugly things that have happened to me and made up a sweet story. Alternatively, it would also not be worth writing if it was nothing more than vomiting all the bitterness in my life. It is worth telling only because I have the courage to speak the truth about the difficult uphill struggle of overcoming and the precious grace of finding healing in Christ.
Another challenge was finding the right voice to tell my story. Ideally, an authentic voice is honest without being unkind, emotional without being bitter, and earnest without being stringent. Such a delicate balance is possible only when one has developed the right attitude, a noble intention, a compassionate heart, and a gracious voice. I don’t know how successful I have been in putting forth this autobiography, but at least this was my objective.
It is possible to recount past traumas without any bitterness when one realizes that suffering is a blessing in disguise. Suffering often leads us to God and transforms us into saints. At a deeper level, suffering is the common element in all good things, as illustrated by my life story. From a spiritual vantage point, I believe that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
My Life is an Impossible Dream
I have come a long way from my dark days as a depressed, unemployed high school graduate. I could have gone much further, had I not encountered the interruptions and obstacles of my life.
Nevertheless, I would not trade my life with anyone else’s. It has been a real privilege to be given an obscure but tough role to play in the human drama; I am glad that I am still able to make a unique contribution in my limited role.
I have learned that life is not about winning but about making the best of your life for a higher purpose in spite of all the limiting factors. My life is the story of the defiant human spirit and divine grace working together to achieve the impossible dream of bettering humanity with little or even no resources.
I’ve been given so many impossible assignments to show that, with God, nothing is impossible. My complaints turned into praises, once I learned the important lesson that my life is not just about me, but about being an instrument of peace in God’s hand.
Ultimately, it is not our circumstances, but our values and choices that determine our destiny. The saddest thing in life is when people invest all their talents, energy, and time, only to squander their opportunities for some misguided egotistic purposes that eventually lead to their destruction. The most beautiful thing in life is when people surrender to God whatever little talent they may possess, and God makes it multiply hundredfold.
I owe it to my family and friends, indeed, to all my fellow human beings, to share the life lessons I have learnt fighting in the trenches of the battlefields and blazing a new trail deep in the dark jungles.
My Lifelong Quest for Meaning
How did I get to where I am today, all the way from the bottom of a dark pit over 60 years ago? I can boast that I have failed more often than most people, and I have gone through more sufferings than most people (see Epilogue). Yet, I am still standing tall.
What are the secrets of my survival and success in a harsh and turbulent world? What accounts for my remarkable transformation from a very sensitive and melancholic boy to an influential public figure on the world stage?
My answer may be surprisingly simple and yet complicated—the pursuit of meaning!
There is no other motivation more powerful and more transformative. All my life, day in and day out, sunshine or storm, paid or unpaid, healthy or sick, and even now in my old age, I have struggled in my quest for meaning, with little reward or recognition. What has sustained me is the deep conviction that I can bring meaning and thus happiness to the suffering masses.
The greatest discovery I have made is the transformative power of meaning; it can both transform negative emotions to mature happiness (Wong, 2017) and liberate us from self-preoccupation to self-transcendence (Wong, 2016).
The 12 principles of meaning are:
- You are responsible for your life
- You need to know yourself
- You need to be socially integrated
- You need to have faith or belief
- You need to have the courage to be true to yourself and do the right thing
- You need to do something creative and significant with your life
- You need to develop true grit to pursue your calling or life dream
- You need the wisdom and ability to adapt to changing circumstances
- You need to take the bad with the good as two sides of the same coin
- You need to be appreciative and grateful
- You need a moral compass to navigate perilous waters
- You need to author a good story to live by
The above principles have been discovered from both psychological research and the crucibles of suffering. Just as the above principles have been in operation throughout my life, they can also be applied to other people’s lives if they are open to the infinite possibilities of meaning and spirituality.
The most enduring book on meaning in life is not one which tells people the simple ABC steps based on positive psychology research, but one that teaches people the time-tested spiritual principles of how to live a meaningful life in a turbulent and chaotic world.
Viktor Frankl’s (1985) Man’s Search for Meaning is such a book. It remains an all-time bestseller because it meets people where they are and challenges them to have the courage and faith to say “Yes” to life, no matter what. Frankl challenges people to assume personal responsibility as an ethical and instrumental agent in a world full of suffering and injustice (Wong, 2015). Through his personal triumph in a Nazi concentration camp, Frankl demonstrated that understanding the meaning of suffering is the key to living a meaningful life.
The world is still full of suffering, even in the unlikely places of home and church. I hope that I have also demonstrated with my life story that the human capacity for meaning-seeking and meaning-making is the key to human flourishing, whatever one’s private hell may be.
I want to dedicate my autobiography to all those who have suffered traumas and grave injustice, who are struggling with addiction and other mental health issues, or who are in the throes of an existential crisis, desperate for an answer. May my life story inspire and empower all those who feel that the world has conspired against them and that life has passed them by.
- Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning (Revised & updated ed.). New York, NY: Washington Square Press.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2015, December). The meaning hypothesis of living a good life: Virtue, happiness, and meaning. Paper presented at the research working group meeting for Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life Project, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina. (Funded by the John Templeton Foundation)
- Wong, P. T. P. (2016). Self-transcendence: A paradoxical way to become your best. International Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, 6(1). Retrieved from http://journal.existentialpsychology.org/index.php/ExPsy/article/view/178/141
- Wong, P. T. P. (2017, May 16). Courage, faith, meaning, and mature happiness in dangerous times. Positive Living Newsletter.http://www.drpaulwong.com/inpm-presidents-report-may-2017/