I FORGIVE you for HOLDING ON: holding on to things, guilt, stress, people, trauma, relationships, and everything in between that no longer serve you in any way.
I FORGIVE you for being so HARD ON YOURSELF. You have always pushed yourself to be better than you were the day before or the year before, but this past year you've really understood the importance of self-care and balance in all things.
I FORGIVE you for sometimes going down the rabbit hole of COMPARE and DESPAIR mode. Going off FB/Instagram for 6 months was truly liberating, wasn't it? Now let's figure out a way to work on comparing yourself WITH yourself even more--it's the only fair comparison, right?
I FORGIVE you for feeling IMPATIENT when you talk to mom and she asks, "How are the kids?" (Referring to the grandkids you don't have yet.) Really she is trying her best to make conversation in the way she knows how given her own parameters of dementia.
I FORGIVE you for not being in touch with dad as much as you would like to. You always value his advice and his stories from his own past. He always tries his best to carry the phone conversation even though he is naturally quite introverted.
I FORGIVE you for unleashing "Ugly Olga" on hubby when we get into more heated discussions on things or when PMS-ing. You know he's just trying to understand you so he can provide a solution--MIT style.
Most of all, I FORGIVE you for being HUMAN. Everything you label: FEAR, DESPAIR, SADNESS, ANGER, GUILT, SELF-DOUBT (I could keep going, as you know!)...everything is disguised as opportunities for you to learn and grow into YOU--the 2020 YOU. The YOU you see clearly.
I LOVE you, Kyla. And I FORGIVE you.
STANDING STILL IN SWITZERLAND
"You don't want to move forward, right? That's why your knees hurt," a neuroscientist from Croatia had told me during a body scan. My ego in my head immediately went, "No, I mean, I take all kinds of risks for my business. I am totally moving forward." Later that night, reflecting on the day's training with the founder of theta healing® and other theta healing® trainers from all over the world, Ohhhh wait, in my personal life of having a baby...I haven't moved forward at all. I discovered theta healing® as a way to deal WITH you, dementia.
"I blew up at him. We are going to have a meeting in the lobby of your hotel." It was a Whatsapp text message from my sister. We had all flown to Singapore to spend Thanksgiving with my mom and Graham (the him my sister was referring to). My sister had unleashed months worth of pent up frustration/anger on Graham. I couldn't blame her. I just watched as Edgar (my hubby) calmly spoke to Graham trying to mediate the whole situation. I didn't cry, instead I just comforted my sobbing sister. Ok, I did peel some skin on the side of my thumb (my go to stress coping mechanism), but overall thanks to all the theta healing® work I had done, I was in a better emotional state to support my sister.
"I hate you. I don't want you to hang out with us. I just wanna spend time with my mom," my sister had said to Graham through tears. I could see she had trouble welcoming Graham into our family. He was taking good care of my mom in Singapore, it was clear to see. However, just as we had trouble welcoming you dementia into our family, well, I think it will take time for my sister to welcome Graham into our family.
WHY DID MY MOM CHOOSE YOU?
Several years ago, over salmon at my house in Korea, my South African friend Chris asked me, "Why did your mum choose dementia?" I don't think I really understood his question back then. I don't think I was ready to answer it, and maybe it was because you were too close and I was still trying to accept you into my mom's life and my family's life. Now looking back on that question, having seen my mom, here's my answer:
Father And Mother I Love You. I learned this acronym from my university students at Yonsei University when I was teaching there in Korea. Now I understand that word to mean and incorporate so much more. Watching American TV shows about it is one thing, but living it is a whole different matter. I always wanted my parents to get along as a child. It wasn't until I was a high school student that I realized my parents don't get along, and it's not my fault. They still love each other. Is that an oxymoron? Maybe. But that oxymoron created me. The first thing my mom asked me about when she saw me was, "How is dad?" Seeing how my dad took care of my mom for two years in the US, I could tell he still really loved her too. Seeing how Graham treats my mom too, I have a deeper more compassionate understanding of the word FAMILY.
Awareness. Acceptance. Action.
When my mom was diagnosed with you, dementia, I was aware of you. I joined online support groups and found out how you have ravaged some families, and brought other families together. I am grateful that you have done the latter for me and my FAMILY. I spent two years in depression because I was trying to Accept you. Not easy at all. Now that I have finally accepted you, I understand what my life's mission is: you helped me realize that a people pleaser like me could become a healer.
"My mum is totally better at social media than me and my sister," Chris semi-joked. "She chose Parkinson's because she took care of everyone her whole life. Now it is time for us to take care of her, so when she posts on social media, she remembers to use #ME." Whoa. "Will you tell your mom that she is super inspiring?" I asked. "Oh absolutely. That will totally make her day!" Chris responded.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW THE MOST ABOUT?
When your 6 year-old niece asks you a question that you never really get asked, you have to stop and think: What do I know the most about? Immediately HAPPINESS came to mind. Alexandra asked me what are 5 things about Happiness that I wanted to share, and she then drew pictures in her journal and asked me to write those 5 things down:
So dementia, thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I have been meaning to write it for some time now. Maybe it is also part of my own healing/growth process to write it to you. My hope is for my future baby to read this letter so that he or she can learn that when seemingly scary things come up, when we use the Triple A method, and work WITH them, they aren't so scary. And sometimes, when we welcome them in, we welcome other parts of our selves that we never knew we had or we never knew we were capable of having.
Wishing you Happiness,
Thank you for hosting an annual conference for 40,000 people in Orlando (the only place that can hold such an incredible and massive undertaking). Thank you for trusting me WITH your pre-day Diversity + Inclusion track. I was humbled to share the same stage WITH some of your own incredible leaders in the field of Diversity and Inclusion like Haben Girma (the first deaf blind African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Law). Thank you for buying 400 copies of her book and mine for all of the pre-day participants.
TO BE HEARD
After what happened at Microsoft in March, where women came forward in droves to report various levels of sexual harassment in a mass email (more than 90 pages), it was heartening to see there were sessions addressing not just how women can be heard but how every human irrespective of color and ability could be heard. During the pre-day, there was a standing ovation for just such a woman. A Muslim woman who shared WITH us how she had overcome depression. I was moved to tears as well. Depression is near and dear to my heart. You can read more about what happened at Microsoft here.
TO BE HELPED
Haben Girma said in her inspiring talk, “No matter how abled we are, we will all need help at some point.” That point struck me. She talked about how as we age, we will need help. Even buying coffee from a coffee shop, nobody expects us to grow our own coffee beans and grind them. That’s why we go to cafes. We are all inter-connected and inter-dependent. We need to help each other more.
TO BE SEEN
I must admit, after my workshop, which was the largest one I’ve done to date, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I was living the data of how when women are in the minority, they tend to speak less in meetings and events. Having spoken at the Amsterdam and Seoul Microsoft Ignite events earlier this year, I was also outnumbered by white men. During the pre-day event, I realized white men want to be seen too, and not in the way we think they do. There were white men who were autistic, gay, LGBT+, and many others who felt just as “left out” as the rest of us. Whoa.
TO BE LOVED
I found a little bubble tea place called Bubble & Co. in which to balance out my feelings of overwhelm. The owner Jenn, manager Anthony and I became fast friends. They totally work hard to make ever single person who walks into their bubble tea store seen, heard, and loved. One night, I get a text from Jenn saying, “Get your butt downstairs. We are coming to pick you up.” She and Anthony ended up taking me out for supper at a Turkish restaurant. I was so taken by what they’re doing for their community and their staff members, I wrote an article about them: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/creating-community/
So when I did Microsoft Ignite Seoul in May, I was terrified. I knew I would be outnumbered by middle-aged Korean men. And well, I was. I assumed they would judge me, they would look at my outfit, my pink crocs, my wild body language, and think: why is she a speaker?!
Fast forward to the last night of the conference when you shut down Universal Studios for all 40,000 of us, my friend Olivia ran into an MVP she knew. He was hanging out WITH some other men. We ended up going on a couple of rides WITH them. They totally knew the lay of the land because some of them had been with their kids before. Then it dawned on me: I had done it again. I had done to the men at the conference in Orlando, Amsterdam, and Seoul, what I hated they did to me: pre-judged them, assumed the worst, and didn’t give them a chance. Whoa.
Thank you dads and Microsoft for reminding me of these lessons in Diversity and Inclusion and well...life really.
Thank youuuuuuu Hailey and your amazing team for running logistics like a boss. You always make me feel loved, seen, heard and helped while remaining calm as a cucumber. #girlcrush
Thank youuuuuuu Shona for organizing a 40,000 person conference like a boss. Thank you for giving a platform to people like me and countless others so that we may shine a light on and WITH incredible humans who are just waiting to be seen, heard, loved and helped. You’re my #shero.
Wishing you Happiness,
*Moment of Silence*
Let’s take a moment of silence. For the 9 who lost their lives in Dayton, Ohio and the 22 who lost their lives in El Paso, Texas over one weekend.
What We Avoid: The Alpha Male
“I don’t really like dealing with alpha males. I have 2 out of 4 of them on my team. Because I’m not an alpha male, it’s hard for me to deal with them. I just usually shut down and get really frustrated. Then they say, ‘Oh why are you in a bad mood?’” My male client who happened to be in Texas –not El Paso thank goodness—was relaying what he wanted to work on during our session. I couldn’t help but wonder if others had been as forthcoming as my client, would we have any carnage to reckon with at all after this past weekend? I mean, would we be able to better deal with alpha males like the shooters? Or would we just steer clear of them, stepping aside so they could purchase yet another gun?
What We Have Become: How We Treat the Other
With fresh updates of the number of victims coming from CNN just two days after the weekend massacres on the TV screen, at a Peet’s Coffee and tea, I lined up eagerly awaiting my SFO routine: picking up a soy matcha latte before boarding my flight. “What is this? Is there soy in this? Just tell me what this is. Is there soy in this? I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT THIS IS? IS THERE SOY IN THIS?!” The Caucasian man’s voice escalated with each question he repeated. The Filipino staff looked inquisitively at each other and repeated that there was indeed no soy milk in his coffee. I was mortified. When did it become ok to talk to someone like this? Was it ok because they were Filipino? If they looked more like him, would he have treated them with more respect?
What We Justify: Blame -> Complain -> Justification
It’s mental illness. It’s video games. It’s our 2nd amendment right. It’s hunting. It’s the NRA. And the list goes on. We are in the endless cycle of looking for someone—anyone to blame. Then we complain about them, and we justify what they did. Then the vicious cycle begins again. We blame/complain/justify a certain leader’s complicit hate speech towards certain minority groups as the reason behind the gun violence; yet it is what we do when we talk about the very same leader. We use the same hate speech to talk about him that we abhor. I know, that’s a hard one to hear. Just take a moment to let that sink in.
What We Need To Move Forward: Avoidance -> Survival -> Growth
Ok, so we avoid certain alpha males like the plague. I mean, who wouldn’t?! Some of us even survive them or put up with them. We nod our heads, roll our eyes, fold our arms as we listen to them drone on. The harder thing is to look within and figure out what it is we can do to help them. Here’s a great story a friend of mine told me recently. She would take her dog out along the same road every morning. Every morning she would notice how people would litter. She would then blame the people who did it, complain about it and them to friends, and justify not doing anything about it because she wasn’t the one at fault. One day, she realized how judgmental she had been and that all of that BCJ (blame/complain/justification) wasn’t going to pick up that trash. So she started bringing not just her dog out, but a trash bag as well. She posted pics of her new-found trash collecting activity on Instagram. Her neighbors saw the post, got inspired and realized that they too had been judgmental and in BCJ mode. They started picking up trash along the same road as well. That’s the thing about growth mode: growth begets growth.
What We Need To Understand: They Are Us
At a retreat in California by the beach, I first learned about the theory of oneness: basically you are me and I am you. As a child, I had grown up super empathetic. I would look at homeless people and think: that could be me. Well, the theory of oneness takes that statement to a whole new level: it’s not that could be me, it’s that is me. Let that sink in for a second or take a few minutes. Yeah, it’s easier when you have the calm waves of the ocean rolling in like I did on retreat. So the shooters are us. Certain leaders are us. Yup, that’s right. We are all one.
What Friendship Benches Can Do For Us—All of US
I watched a story in the news about how a group of thoughtful citizens in New York who wanted to replicate a program that had been created in Zimbabwe: All you have to do is invite people to just sit and talk with you on a bench. No payment necessary, no judgments, no stigma. You had an unbiased ear to listen to you. As someone who has researched happiness and survived a 2-year bout with depression, I can tell you this much: as humans we crave connection—real life physical connection—not the how-many-likes-can-I-get-on-social-media kind of connection. Happiness is really just that simple. So next time you see an Alpha Male, why not invite him to sit on a bench with you?
*Dedicated to the families + friends of those who lost their lives in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. Our hearts are WITH you. We are you.*
"Mom's been kidnapped!" My sister was sobbing on the other end of the phone. It was the end of February. I ended up getting on a flight that evening bound for SFO. As soon as I arrived, I was looking up lawyers from the seat of my Hertz Rental car. I even picked my sister up from the Oakland airport (she had flown in from the east coast) and we caught up over a Cantonese meal.
CRAZY (RICH) ASIANS REAL LIFE MOVIE
Explaining what had happened to the Danville police (just down the road from my dad's house) the next day seemed like well, the sequel to the Crazy Rich Asians movie, sans "Rich" part. A lawyer had handed my mom's caregiver a letter saying that my mom was filing a temporary restraining order against my dad for elder abuse (totally not true). The lawyer showed up at my dad's house with said letter and my dad handed over my mom's passport and handbag. A week later, my cousin found out from the security guard in my mom's apartment in Singapore that she had indeed been seen with a man. This was further corroborated by a Private Investigator we hired to follow my mom. The man was my mom's good friend and former roommate, Graham.
HOT ON THE TRAIL
Last weekend, my 41st birthday weekend, my husband and I thought we would be able to find them in Singapore. We stayed at a hotel down the road from my mom's church in Katong, went to all of her old haunts, spoke to the same security guard, went to the temple where my Popo (maternal grandma)'s tablet is, but couldn't find them. We tried calling Graham on Kakaotalk and texting, but all to no avail. Finally, at a Toast Box (a cafe that serves kaya toast and coffee/tea Singaporean style), one of my mom's all-time favorites, I finally broke down.
LETTING MOM GO
Somewhere between Singapore and Malaysia (my hubby and I went on to Penang after Singapore), I realized something I had realized before: I had to let my mom go. If she wanted to be in Singapore, I was no one to tell her that she couldn't live in Singapore. It was my ego that wanted to control her and the situation--not my true self. Speaking to friends in Europe about my mom's situation, they all nonchalantly said, "Yeah, I mean who's to say she's not happier there in Singapore? She probably is way happier. Plus, her old memories are of Singapore (referring her dementia)." I had to let her go, because I was doing to her what I resented her doing to me--not letting me go as an adult. Whoa.
COMING FROM A PLACE OF LOVE
Talking to my friend Lisa who is a fellow life coach she said this, "Well, everything is coming from a place of love, you know? That man Graham really loves your mom and is taking care of her. You and your family are trying to find you mom because you really love her. She is one loved lady!" Her last sentence was a joke, but it rang true. My mom was really loved and we did really love her. All of us.
I spent most of my life feeling like I wasn't good enough. Talking to my mom's caregiver at Starbucks in Danville, a place they frequented almost daily, I cried. Not because that was where my mom had been "taken" by the lawyer at the end of February, but because the caregiver had told me that my mom spoke so highly of me. And then I said, "I was never good enough in her eyes." Holding my book in her hands (almost as if it were a mirror), the caregiver smiled a deep and loving smile. In that moment, I knew I had to forgive my mom and me, for everything, and that no matter what, I was good enough. It no longer served me or my mom to carry the feelings of not being good enough around anymore.
IN MY HEART
So where is my mom, you ask? She is in my heart where she has always been. This Mother's Day, two years ago, I started my first blog post about my mom and admitted to the world my struggles WITH depression and her dementia. Today, I write to the world from a place of love and forgiveness and wish my mom the best Mother's Day, because that is what she deserves this Mother's Day and every day of her life. I love you, mom. Thanks for helping me find myself while I was looking for you. I know I'll see you soon <3.
My sister and I have since reconnected WITH my mom via phone and have found out that she is safe and doing well in Singapore.
Last Friday, I was invited to speak on a panel at a Women's Leadership Summit just down the road from where I live in Korea at a university where I used to teach for a semester. Looking out on the audience from the panel, I was struck by what an incredibly diverse crowd it was: female foreign dignitaries, Korean women, Asian women, African women in brightly hued traditional dress, and a handful of men. The panel I was on consisted of a woman from Ghana, an Indian woman, a Korean-American woman and me. Throughout the Summit we talked about our own journeys and how we were able to get to where we were. One question from a male audience member struck me: "How do we work WITH women? I mean, I have not had any training on this or seen anything like this at my company..."
DON'T BE AN UNDERESTIMATE(HER)
A fellow panel speaker and woman I deeply admire in the community here talked about how she had gone from being in her words, "A lawyer on Capitol Hill in D.C. to Darren's wife and Natasha and Logan's mother here in Korea." She further went on to say that people underestimated her when she first started out as a lawyer because she was younger, a woman, and shorter. She didn't care, because she said she just worked extra hard to prove herself. It made me think of my time at Yonsei, writing a book, heck every time I go speak at a conference. Then I realized it was something that I actually did all the time. Not just to women, but to young people, old people, and yes even the woman who had organized the entire Summit and Gala where I was speaking. Holy cow.
BE AN ACCEPT(HER)
This has got to be one of the most challenging things for me to do WITH myself. Most recently, a great self-accepting exercise has been to record my audio book. Not only do I have to listen to myself, but I have to record my own voice reading my own thoughts. What I've realized though in all of this is the more self-acceptance I have, the greater my acceptance is of others, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion.
BE A MOTIVATE(HER)
I get this question a lot from people who come to my workshops: How do you stay motivated? Listening to countless women on panels overcome significant struggles not just in their home countries, but in different countries they had lived in, it struck me that they were all internally motivated and driven. That's what got them through. So perhaps motivation is more about looking WITHin as opposed to externally. And then when you share your story WITH others, it is all the more motivating.
BE AN INSPIRE(HER)
As with acceptance and motivation, I think inspiration comes from WITHin first. If you think about a time in your life when you wished you were where you are now, you will be inspired. I know. You may have to read that sentence again (!). Once you're solid WITHin then it radiates out to others. At the gala, several young Korean women came up to me and told me how inspired they were with what I had to say. What I wanted to tell them was it has taken me almost my whole life (and is still a work-in-progress) to stay true to myself, be myself, and be WITH myself.
BE A COMPLIMENT(HER)
From ball gowns to bad-assery, I complimented women I met that day at the summit and later at the gala. One woman had come in from Belgium and made home-cooked African food, another woman had designed and made the cake, women had gone from boardroom to gala chic within the blink of an eye, and what they had accomplished along their life journeys was astounding. Here's the one caveat to the complimenting: make sure they actually accept the compliment and therefore accept themselves and you in the process.
BE A SUPPORT(HER)
Sometimes all it takes is a hug, a pat on the back, a nod, a word of encouragement. During our panel, we talked about how sometimes women compete with each other because there are so few positions at the top. I found this early on in my career in my 20s, but speaking at global women's conferences, I have definitely not found this to be true anymore. I have had women support the heck out of me after just a 5-minute conversation, and I have tried to do the same for other women. A recent Forbes article proves that women who help other women are actually more successful. What?!
*Dedicated to + Inspired WITH all of the women at the Women's Leadership Summit + Gala. May you continue to create change WITH women + men*
IT ALL BEGINS WITH A CONVERSATION
Chatting WITH Sheri so easily first at my house and then in more of an "official" capacity on a FriYAYs WITH Kyla episode, I realized in my own life, I was not as progressive/open as my ego would like others to believe. I found myself stereotyping groups of people before even giving them the benefit of the doubt; in situations where I was outnumbered (by race, gender, etc), I would not voice my own opinion; I would be friendly to certain groups of people and not to others based solely on their outward appearance. And the list goes on.
Ok, so now what?
HOW CAN WE HAVE UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS?
This is the question I asked Sheri in our FriYAYs WITH Kyla session. She had started her own group addressing issues surrounding the global racism she had experience in her own life, and as an inter-racial couple (her husband is a white Dutch man). I expected she would give me some concrete steps I would have to follow, I was bracing myself to write them down in my journal. Instead she simply replied in her always down-to-earth way, "Just don't call them uncomfortable." Whoa. It was the labeling that made the conversations scary, intimidating, and want you to run screaming in the other direction.
Hanging out with women recently, I have noticed some subtle microaggressions here and there. Some of the women had talked about how they had done additional exercise over the weekend. I know we are all supportive of each other, and not ill-intentioned, but somehow there were several subtle microaggressive comments that came out in response: "Oh, that's really intimidating!" or "Oh that is really annoying!" It made me think about labeling, about how I can be microaggressive AT myself and AT others, but also how we can create change around it. Just as much as Sheri says we don't have to call conversations around more challenging topics "uncomfortable" we also can create positive change around every day conversations. I found myself saying in response to what the other women were saying, "That's so inspiring!"
Do you remember when you were in elementary school or heck even as an adult, and you said or did something so you could fit in more? Belong more? (I'll just speak for myself here!) When I left Hong Kong at the age of 14 and started boarding school in California, I lost my British accent quick because that was what differentiated me from everyone else. I didn't know at the time, and every other time I have done something like that to fit in, but it was because I wanted to belong. It struck me that when we say or do something to fit in, we are not only NOT fitting in WITH ourselves, but often making other people feel bad in the process. Listening to Brené Brown recently, it further dawned on me when she said, "You don't have to belong to a group. You can belong to yourself." Whoa.
After the session WITH Sheri, we talked for another hour on having uncomfortable -> inspirational conversations. In full vulnerability, I admitted to her all of the times I had stereotyped people, I had thrown microaggressions AT people, how I had even done this AT my own husband's family. She responded by saying reassuringly, "You didn't know at the time. Now you know. So now you can create change around it." I told her about how I had noticed I didn't smile at darker skinned men. So last week at two different restaurants, sitting at tables next to first an Indian gentleman and then two African gentlemen, I found myself smiling WITH them. Sharing the story WITH Sheri, I could see how excited she was that her own INSPIRING conversation she started WITH me had created change just like that.
P.S. For a podcast addressing uncomfortable conversations, check out my friend Sara's new podcast: Dear White Women
*Dedicated + Inspired to people like Sheri who are creating change WITH one conversation at a time*
Rolling around my hot pink suitcase all over COEX (conference center in Seoul) and clutching my human PPT in my other hand, I was seeking answers to whether my workshop for the Microsoft Ignite Tour was going to be held in the Vivace Room or Room 105. It seemed simple enough.
A FELLOW SPEAKER
After chatting with a volunteer and asking him where the speaker lounge was a fellow speaker walked by. The volunteer asked him if he could show me/escort me to the speaker lounge. Walking about halfway through COEX, we chatted about what we were speaking about respectively. He was going to speak about some Microsoft techy stuff, and I was going to speak about Happiness. He remarked, "Oh? I had no idea we were going to be having that kind of workshop here."
AT THE REGISTRATION BOOTH
Upon finding the registration booth, I was asked at the speaker booth, "Are you a speaker? Participant?" After I registered I asked them to help figure out which room I would be speaking in. As they were trying to text someone else, I wondered what about me was not speaker-like? Was it that I was a woman? Was it that I was Asian? Was it that I was rolling around a bright pink suitcase? Was it my brand new Marimekko outfit (cropped flowery flared pants with matching top)? Was it all of the above?
"Ohhhhhhhh, YOU'RE the speaker for this room?" One of the room aids asked rhetorically after I had been asking them if I was speaking in this room. They were super helpful and polite but I think they had assumed I wasn't the speaker, even though by that time, I had a speaker lanyard around my neck.
As part of the diversity and tech track at Microsoft Ignite I realized that I was part of this wave of creating change around what a speaker looked like. I found my ego wanted to be externally validated by the fellow speaker, the registration booth people, and finally the room aids. All to no avail. Then I happened to be on LinkedIn adding a contact and glanced at my profile. Nowhere in the description of myself was the word "speaker." I was actually doing what I talk about in my intro with the two cups: I was filling my external cup rather than my internal cup.
In order to really be that change, I had to create that change WITHin first. You'll be happy to hear that I have since changed my LinkedIn profile to read: Keynote Speaker.
*Dedicated + Inspired WITH all of those speakers out there who look different and therefore promote diversity not just in tech but in all aspects of life.*
It was my ego's nightmare: 10 minutes before the session was due to start, there were maybe 10 people scattered across the room-- a room that could hold probably 100 people. One guy was taking a full on nap in the front row: #NoShame. Another guy looked around nervously. Nobody wanted to be there, my ego included, and I could feel the tears starting to well up inside. My ego's voice was getting increasingly louder: "Nobody else is going to come. You will look like a fool. You don't deserve to be here. No one will get what you are doing. You are not a white guy. You don't belong. You shouldn't have come."
THE AJOSSHI (MIDDLE-AGED MEN IN KOREAN)
My ego had planted this particular type of human as my mortal enemy ever since one had outright criticized my creativity in a TESOL Workshop several years ago at the exact same venue. My ego had further stereotyped them as conservative, resistant to change, and stubborn. My ego had done to them what my ego perceived that they had done to me: pre-judged me. The Ajosshi in the front woke up just in time to watch my video on the screen. Another Ajosshi not too far away looked on with curiosity. As we stepped into vulnerability, in other words, as I revealed my true self more, I noticed a softening in my ego and perhaps theirs as well. One of them even volunteered to be part of my human PPT. His name was Mr. Lee and he became one of my strongest advocates, revealing his vulnerabilities to almost half of the participants there. He was unstoppable and proving my ego wrong every step of the way.
One of the younger women who had attended asked me a question at the end, "Can I truly be successful if I am vulnerable? I don't get it." She seemed very perplexed and I could feel her anxiety. I looked at her curiously, even though my ego wanted to judge her. I saw myself in her. Perhaps just a short decade ago, I would have asked the same question in the same way. Taking a deep breath, my true self answered without judgement, "The question to think about is not what you wrote in terms of your own vulnerabilities, but why you felt ashamed to share. What was coming up for you? Why do you think you felt judged? We all wrote stuff down, we all have stuff."
WILL YOU SIGN MY BUSINESS CARD?
After my ego wondered if I had done a good enough job, what with the simultaneous interpretation, which added a layer of AT, several Ajosshis showed up and asked, "Sign?" They were holding my business cards that I had handed out earlier and wanted me to sign them. I had never been asked to do that before. And then, just as things couldn't get any better, one of them asked to take a selfie WITH me. Whoa. Before my ego's head got bigger, I smiled at the men and WITH the men whom I had assumed were judging me, the men whom I swore were my arch enemy, realizing that in that very moment WITH me, they had proven my ego was wrong. Kamsahamnida, Ajoshhis.
I AM JEALOUS (<--EGO) AND (TRUE SELF -->) I DON'T WANT TO BE
One of the younger male participants who worked for an IT company came up to me and shared in a most earnest way how he would feel jealous when hanging out with his friends. He knew he didn't want to feel that way, and he knew it didn't feel good to him, but he couldn't help it. I assured him we all felt that way at some point or another; we are human, we aren't perfect. As he looked at me with wide eager eyes, we talked about how that's his ego talking, not his true self. We walked through AWARENESS -> ACCEPTANCE -> ACTION. For his action plan, he came up with a self-distancing exercise based on what we had talked about in the workshop. Wow, so impressed to see his true self show up.
I AM STILL WORKING WITH MY EGO
"Kyla, it was most likely because it was their first time opening up and being vulnerable," Hyejin reasoned WITH me in response to my ego being harsh on my true self. Gosh, I still have some work to do WITH my ego, I thought. For everything I came up with, it was almost as if Hyejin had a mirror to remind me of my true self. I admired her positivity and support of my work, and I thought back to chapter 12 in my book where I had gone to my first corporate workshop in Tokyo, and in fear, wished that nobody would come. I smiled as I remembered the universe puts things in front of you over again until you deal WITH them.
Thank you, universe and Hyejin.
*Dedicated to and inspired by all the Ajosshis out there who inspire me and my ego to see past our unconscious biases.*
Anyone who goes to a typical supermarket in Finland will be surprised to find a case full of Omega 3 goodness: smoked salmon smoked at different temperatures, cooked salmon, raw salmon, and other healthy goodies including a plethora of rye bread, and butter so creamy it has the consistency of cream cheese. I don't even really like butter that much, but I LOVE me some Finnish butter. Not to mention, Finnish tap water is some of the best in the world. Over various kinds of smoked salmon dinner at my friend Carita's house in Tampere (the third largest city in Finland), we chatted about happiness WITH her hubby Janne (who had prepared the dinner for us):
Me: Finnish people were ranked the #1 country for Happiness by the World Happiness Report in 2018 and again in 2019. 2018 marked the first time that they had actually asked the international migrants of 117 of the 156 countries as well. At my book launch party in Helsinki, my friend Tarja brought up the fact that while Finnish people are set up for happiness, think welfare/healthcare/maternity leave/and so on, they aren't really happy. What do you think?
Janne: Well, I think we are just happy with what we have. I mean, it wasn't so long ago that we didn't have much.
Carita: Yeah, we have everything we need here. We are proud of our house. People in our neighborhood come by and they share knowledge about how to fix things. There's no competition or keeping things from each other about how to make our house better. We are very proud of what we have.
In Finland there are approximately 5.5 million people and 2 million saunas. WHAT?! You can read about the sauna culture in Finland here. Most Finnish people have saunas in their homes or in their backyards like Carita and Janne. While we were chatting at dinner, he quietly snuck out to prepare the sauna for us to enjoy. In between dinner and dessert, we stripped down naked--not just without clothes--but without any kind of mental filters, and shared our deepest secrets WITH each other. She told me about her life before she had met Janne and I told her about my mom's dementia. To cool off, we went outside. The Finns traditionally jump into a cold lake; in this instance since it might have been too much for me, we chatted more under the stars just outside her sauna.
Perhaps that is where the bonding time comes not just WITH themselves, but WITH other people. It is so embedded in the fabric of Finnish culture, my friend Ilkka has told me that he often has original ideas and epiphanies during his own sauna time WITH himself.
SISU (WITH A PINCH OF SALT)
"I am not like other Finns--I don't really care what others think of me," Tiina admitted. She was a life coach and had lost her husband several years ago. In her Winning Mindset workshop that I attended two days before, she talked about how her elementary school teacher had told her she was "stupid" over a period of five years until it became a limiting belief. With a sometimes over-critical mom, I could totally empathize WITH her. We began talking about Sisu, the Finnish notion of "Grit." I told her about my friend Emilia (whom I write about in my book too), and how she had run the equivalent of 50 marathons across the length of New Zealand to raise awareness of InterPersonal Violence--something she had overcome in her own life. I remember meeting Emilia in Palo Alto and how she told me, "You know, this movement is so much bigger than me. My body is just the vessel."
Over tea and korvapuusti (the Finnish answer to the cinnamon roll), I spoke WITH Aida. She was a motivational speaker who had survived the war in Sarajevo and was now battling her own daily "wars" WITH grace, positivity, and deep insight. As her 8 year-old son Daris affectionately hugged me, I listed to her take on the Finns, " Well, you know, I have lived here for 25 years, and I love Finland. I am not saying anything bad about Finnish people, but they try not to step on people's toes, so they often don't say what they need to say and repress it." Perhaps too much Sisu was not necessarily a good thing as Emilia says in this BBC article.
BALANCE (BEGINS AT 5PM)
Over a quick catch up at a Middle Eastern-Scandinavian restaurant, Ilkka and I broke bread together. I asked him how he was doing and he said, "Hilma (his 5 year-old daughter) is doing well. She is still ice-skating. Work is going really well. I have more balance now." He was referring to how he can leave work at 5PM, pick up Hilma from ice-skating and spend more time WITH his family. I recalled how Carita (who runs a startup) told me how she and her team usually leave at 5PM. And Tarja telling me how she would pick blueberries in the forest for her smoothies when walking her dog. It got me thinking: maybe it was the system that allowed for happiness, but perhaps it was up to the person to really balance all of the elements that go into Finnish-ing Happy: salmon, sauna, and sisu.
*Thank you Finnish friends and Finland for inspiring all of us to Finnish happier.*
Happiness coach, Theta Healer, author, WITH warrior.