A round-up of quotable quotes from My Story 2021, from stories of resilience and hope to thoughts on lessons learned and a little bit of advice for living a better life thrown in for good measure.
Patrick Lam - refugee turned champion baker
There were a lot of people in the camp and my family stayed in one room of about 10 square metres. We couldn't do much as children, or as teenagers and our parents were so worried. We have no education, we have no idea of our future, we were just waiting to go to whatever country would take us.
When the camp closed, most refugees went overseas and some went back to Cambodia. We stayed in the camp for 14 years, until I was 18. Back then the Australian Government took a certain number of refugees every year and we were lucky to be accepted in 1989. We felt so lucky because our future was about to start.
Shona McCullagh - artistic director, Auckland Arts Festival
The hardest thing has always been the fight with myself. Am I good enough? Dance is particularly confronting, so much of the training was about looking back at a reflection of yourself. If I could live my life again, I'd not waste so much time thinking I wasn't good enough. But no one can protect others from their own journey with themselves.
Irene Wood - actress
There are lovely things about getting older. You've made your own decisions, for better or worse. You know your own mind and you have your own opinions, but you don't force them on everybody else. If somebody's outlook differs from mine, I'll just smile and say, "Oh really." Although if somebody was a right-wing fascist, I might punch them in the nose. But as you become frailer, what you lose, you make up for with self-respect. Beauty fades, and you might lose your agility, but those things that are lost are traded for confidence and security, and for me, the knowledge that I'm okay, and I'm surrounded by my lovely whānau who treasure me.
Te Radar – comedian, MC
One enduring memory is of standing in the car park the day my parents dropped me off at boarding school. As I watched them drive away I thought, "That's it, I can't go home." It was also a palaver to ring because it was a toll call, so mum told me to call collect. "You ring collect and I'll say no, then we'll call you back." Because accepting a collect call was an extra $2.
When I'd call, the operator would put the call through and ask, "Will you accept the charges?" And even though I knew Mum was going to say no, every time I heard it, I felt some sadness. In terms of a defining experience, that moment when they drove away, I've never forgotten it.
Madeleine Sami - actor, writer, musician, director
Losing a parent when you're young makes you grow up really fast. You ask yourself big questions about the meaning of life and what you're doing. It deepens your identity and while it was horrific at the time, having to confront real life, I learnt a lot about myself. Those experiences really gave me some character. I actually thought I had heaps of character, but I'd been coasting along, having a wonderful time, and that difficult period made me a better, stronger person.
Matthias Luafutu - actor
My life has been like an asteroid field. I've been going one way, on a trajectory, then I've collided with something that's changed my course. I don't like a lot of things I did, or the person I was, which is why I've always felt I had a debt to pay, and doing work that gives back feeds my soul. I look at the things that happened in my life, and I know they had to happen for me to be where I am now. As hurtful and angry as some of those things were, I appreciate them, because overcoming them has shaped me. If I didn't have those collisions, I wouldn't be here. I'm proud of who I am today. I don't know what the future holds, but I take things moment by moment, and I'm always pleasantly surprised.
Katie Wolfe - actor, writer, director
I lost my brother last year. Beautiful Brookie died of brain cancer, and it was a tragedy for my family but I walk away from this experience with a huge amount of gratitude and love. And I bloody well make the most of every single day because my little brother had his life taken from him. I now feel incredibly grateful for every sunshiny day and every rainy day and for all the opportunities I have. Another thing I learnt, grief and happiness can live quite happily side by side. This has been a revelation for me, to experience this duality in life. It is how we, as people, are able to carry these terrible burdens of loss.
Ben Elton – writer, comedian
The internet has changed everything, and the public conversation today is so splenetic and angry. It's defined by outrage and that's become the norm. I think that's partly why so many young people are unhappy now.
I'm not on any social media. I've spent my lifetime trying to avoid bad reviews and hecklers, the last thing I'm going to do is go online to read what people say about me. Of course, I'd like to have my say, but the price would be too high, and I'd spend all day in a constant tweet crisis. Should I say something clever? Although it's not easy to be off social media. Everyone else is on it, and it would be very useful when I'm going on tour to say, "Come and see me," but, as much as I can see the good side of Facebook and Twitter, I value my sanity too highly.
Marianne Elliott - human rights activist, lawyer, writer
It is hard coming home from those places [war zones]. There were times I felt viscerally frightened, literally scared for my life, then to be walking around Wellington where people don't realise we're in the middle of a war, that is challenging. But I've learnt to have empathy, to realise it is completely unrealistic in the midst of everything else that is going on, for me to yell and scream. Having spent a lot of my life learning to be a good advocate, if I want people to be interested and engaged in these issues, there is nothing to be gained by telling people they don't care or they're ignorant for not knowing, because why would anyone listen if they were just being berated?
Victor Rodger - writer, actor
I was depressed for about a year and a half and, the most confronting thing was, I thought that would be my state forever. That there would be no relief. I moved home to my family in Christchurch. I didn't communicate with anyone if I could avoid it. I got a job as an orderly at a hospital, which my ego found pretty challenging, having written for Shortland Street for so long. But funnily enough, that job brought me back to myself and I remember cracking a joke with a patient and thinking, "Ooh, I'm back," because when I was in that dark space I was not cracking jokes at all.
Sam Shaw - world champion mountain bike racer, ecologist
I'm 28 now and I'll keep on biking and bird watching for as long as I can. It's not what I imagined I'd be doing when I was a child but I wouldn't change a thing. Of course, everyone has tricky times, but it depends how you face them. Do you let them get you down or carry on? With biking, if I break my wrist, I don't mind being a runner for a bit. It's important, too, not to have just one thing that gives you happiness. When people ask me how I'm so happy or ask for tips, I tell them it's all about finding what you really like doing, then chasing it and making it your thing.
Anthonie Tonnon - songwriter, performer
I've never liked the idea that a musician has to struggle, playing bar after bar for little money, taking on other jobs to live, till they either succeed or fail. When you play a gig you also have access to free alcohol, which leads to a downward spiral. I hate how that gets romanticised - and that some people believe musicians need something torturing them. Dad is a glazier, and when I was younger and thinking about being a musician I said to myself, I just want to be the glazier. I want to do my job, earn as much as Dad did, and treat it like a job.
Jacinda Ardern – Prime Minister
When I look out at the people who feel strongly on both sides of the pandemic-related arguments, I still see a common theme, that both sides think that what they are doing is best for everyone. They're trying to protect people. Unfortunately, some of those people are fuelled by misinformation, or disinformation. But if you strip it back, you'll see we're all fighting for the same thing. They're just coming at it from a very different place. But even when I see those protest movements at their very angriest, I remind myself we all want the same things.
Hugh van Cuylenburg - founder, The Resilience Project
Modern Western struggles. Our addiction to phones and devices is destroying what it is to be human. Genuine authentic connections have been replaced by likes on a phone, getting validation through our devices as opposed to human connections. Staring at a screen has replaced spending time outdoors, or in nature, or being with people face to face.
Another problem, so many Westerners live by the "if and when" model of happiness. We are so distracted by material things. If I buy this car or this house I'll feel happy. When I get this job or promotion, I'll be happy. But it doesn't work like that. You get the job and a year later you're looking for the new thing you don't have. Because the thing is, happiness comes from what you already have.
Kimbra – musician
When I first went to America, it was like dating - people trying to sell you an idea or talk you up. Sometimes I'd laugh at the cliché of the record label guy saying things like, "We can make you a star." I didn't take it too seriously. I also learnt early on that people can say a lot but you need to watch for what they do and to take everything, praise and criticism, with a grain of salt.
Donovan Bixley - illustrator, author
I compare art to sport. New Zealand is sports mad, yet no one expects you to become an All Black without practise. But some people think artists are born talented or they say, I could never do that. But I disagree. Yes, people are born with talent, but you can certainly get better by working hard. You also don't need to be Leonardo da Vinci or Mozart, you don't have to be perfect or a genius to enjoy the arts. To make art you just need paper and a pencil and an idea in your head. Our riches aren't material, they're in our heads and can never be taken from us.
Livia Esterhazy, CEO WWF-NZ
One thing that blows my socks off - every second breath we take is from the ocean. As kids, we're taught that trees make oxygen, that we must stop cutting down the Amazon, and that's true too, but the ocean plays a vital role in producing oxygen, and removing carbon. Yet we are suffocating the ocean with plastic, seabed mining, over-fishing. New Zealand is responsible for the fourth largest economic zone in the world and science recommends we protect 30 per cent of our ocean - but at the moment less than 1 per cent of New Zealand's waters are fully protected. The ocean is in dire need of support, protection, and management. The ecosystem needs to replenish if it's to thrive again. You can't underestimate the importance of the ocean, and not just for providing food and looking beautiful, but as an entire system to keep all species, including us, alive.
Erik Thomson - actor
Giving up drinking has really helped me. I started that process about 10 years ago, and at various stages of that 10 years, I'd fall back into it as a coping mechanism. But the grey area became much harder to manage. Sometimes I was drinking, sometimes I wasn't, so eventually I had to go black or white, and I don't do it anymore. Life is much simpler without it. I'm happier in myself. I cope better. Stopping drinking is the best thing that's happened to me, arriving at that point where it doesn't bother me to be a happily sober man.
Sophia Malthus - disability advocate
Everyone deals with things differently. I don't want to suggest people who don't deal with something like this well are failing, but I choose not to dwell on things. I'm just living my life for me. I am my own inspiration. Yes I have a spinal cord injury, yes that means X Y and Z, but this is the reality, I don't feel sorry for myself and I get on with my life as it is.
Simon Prast - actor
For better or worse, I've always had the freedom to do what I want in life. I've had some amazing times and I've done some stupid things. I'm lucky the stupid things didn't kill me or totally spin me out into space and I'm enormously fortunate to have been given another chance. I'm grateful for everything that I have, and I'm not bitter about the things I don't have. I am philosophical. I'm going to be 60 next year and I want to make the most of the rest of the years I have left. That is what drives me now and I don't look back with regret because all those experiences are part of my life's rich tapestry.
• My Story returns in the Herald on Tuesday, January 18.