Connection and Purpose
At a Vietnamese dinner with two young Asian fementrepreneurs I had my blue Kate Spade sunglasses out on the table--the only Kate Spade thing I have ever owned, which was gifted by my parents in part to help distract my mom from a meltdown at the optometrist’s office (she doesn’t like dealing with doctors of any kind in the U.S.). At that point, we already knew of my mom’s dementia, and that perhaps it was triggered by her depression and living alone in Singapore after my Popo’s (maternal grandmother in Cantonese) passing.
That night at dinner, completely engaged in the conversation, I didn’t notice that when my sunglasses had fallen, a part of the hinge broke off leaving the sunglasses to bend funny.
In the days that followed, I would discover that Kate Spade herself had taken her own life because of depression.
At a workplace happiness bootcamp in Mumbai, whenever they played the iconic Star Wars’ themed music, all of us had to get together and connect to each other by placing one finger on the palm of whoever was closest to us…until we were all connected. Over the course of the three days, we talked about how to make workplaces happier. On day 2, I noticed a lot of people were getting frustrated: they wanted best practices, they wanted answers, they wanted a cheat sheet of what worked for other companies. It’s like when you take a course at university, and rather than learning and figuring out how to study, the importance of studying, you just get your roommate to give you all of the answers not ever fully comprehending what the course was about in the first place.
In an exercise on gratitude, I looked around at the Indian men at my table: they had come from different parts of India, from the north, east, south, and west. They were responsible for bringing back what they had learned from the bootcamp to their company, and in a way, I was somewhat responsible for helping them achieve that in the best way I knew how. In an exercise on gratitude, we had to go around the table and talk about what we were grateful for and this is what I said:
“Coming to India for the first time, I couldn’t be happier that you guys were the first people I got to meet, interact with, and get to know. You guys are like my Indian brothers.”
Then of course, I got all shy and nervous, and probably said something weird. We did end the session with a group hug, which was warm and fuzzy, and not-so-awkward.
It was in that moment, I recalled my own purpose and just how important it was. It wasn’t just about happiness. It was about saving lives. And if I could help them bring that back to their company, they could in turn save thousands more lives. I recalled a conversation with an Indian life coach, “Did you know that every hour in India, a student kills themselves? Every hour.”
And at the end of the bootcamp on the 3rd day, as we are saying our goodbyes, Anil turns to me and says, "Kyla, if you're ever in India again, don't hesitate to let us know. Between all of us we have got you covered, we will take care of you." I look up at my other Indian brothers' faces and they are all nodding in agreement. Prakash appeared with some gratitude gifts he had purchased for us and the Delivering Happiness book by Tony Hsieh for me.
Now, that's connection.
"You are pulling off a sari very well, Kyla."
"You look good in a sari..."
People were coming up to me throughout day 3 and shaking my hand while complimenting my sari--the sari. It was the closest I have ever felt to Bollywood royalty...
I briefly mentioned to Jaya, one of the bootcamp staff members who is a communications coach, that it was always a dream of mine to buy and wear a sari. She took this to heart. On our second night together, she took it upon herself to take me to Irya (a part of Mumbai where they sell saris), bargained for me, and the following morning, came to my hotel room to help me put it on. She even lent me her chori (sari top), some silver earrings, and placed a pink bindi on my forehead (!).
Along the way, in our auto-rickshaw, I learned about her extraordinary life view: helping others, spending time getting to know others, spreading happiness, educating others to communicate in a way that was purposeful and connected. I was completely blown away...I mean, it was like taking an auto-rickshaw with a spiritual guru.
About a week ago, a good childhood friend of mine encouraged me to reach out to our old middle school French teacher. So I did. Turns out he remembered me and was happy to hear from me. We connected on FB and caught up on almost 25 years of our lives on FB messenger. Recently he posted how he had actually met Anthony Bourdain many years ago, not even really knowing who he was, and was heartened by how down-to-earth and friendly he was after he found out that he was Anthony Bourdain.
I was struck by how many people I knew had actually met Anthony Bourdain. It was like the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. Everyone began posting photos of Anthony Bourdain on their FB walls.
Gosh, we really are more connected than we could ever imagine…Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, heck, anyone and everyone who has ever been depressed my mom and I included.
The Cheat Sheet
Sitting at the table, our table #4, a table I had hesitantly walked over to on the first day of the workplace happiness bootcamp, and looking at the faces of my Indian brothers on day 3, I understood what that cheat sheet for not just workplace happiness but personal happiness would look like if there ever was one: connection + purpose.
In our increasingly tech-driven world, we are more and more socially isolated than ever. Our ancestors sought solace in communities: eating together, hunting together, protecting, and supporting each other. Those communities are now called workplaces.
But if you can create and sustain connection and purpose not only in your personal lives and work lives, imagine how many Kate Spades and Anthony Bourdains you could save? I thought about all of the rejections I had faced in the past with regards to my own purpose: “Kyla, who is going to pay you for happiness?” “Why would you try to make Korea happy? Wouldn’t it be easier for you to start your business in the U.S.?” “Corporations only care about ROI, not happiness.”
Beyond the data that I live and breathe about personal and workplace happiness and how employees are not only happier, but more productive, more innovative, sales increase, retention rates increase, sick leave decreases, blah, blah blah, isn’t it our moral obligation as humans to help each other be happier? Be more connected? Live our purpose?
And just connect WITH each other. Go on, may the force be WITH you.
*Dedicated to the Kate Spades and Anthony Bourdains we are more connected WITH than we ever thought.
*Inspired by everyone who battles depression on a daily basis. You are not alone. You are more connected WITH us than you ever thought.
It is said that by 2025 Millennials will be 75% of the global workforce, according to a recent survey by Gallup. Just 29% of Millennials are engaged at work, I guess that's better than the global average of 13%? But if we really are to create happier workplaces, wouldn't it make sense that we should start by making Millennials happier?
Recently a good friend asked me, "How do we engage millennials in the workplace?" As I pondered that question, she continued, "Well, I mean, you did that every day as a university professor. You won awards you were so good at it."
Then I thought, perhaps the workplace was not that much different from the university classroom, when done right. People still had to work on teams. People still had to work on goals. People still had to perform well in order to get to the next level. And after all, everyone wanted to be successful.
Last year, I was asked to inspire Merck Millennials in Malaysia. Some of the activities I did in my workshop were no different from the activities I used to use to inspire my former university students.
Maybe I did know a thing or two?
SET THE GROUNDWORK FIRST (CLEARLY)
In the first two weeks of each semester, I work really hard to: memorize names, make sure everyone is on the same page, make sure people respect each other, listen to each other, put their cell phones away, and the list goes on. I learned the hard way that when I didn't do that early on and work hard at it, I would lose people very quickly later on in the semester. Millennials (and employees in other generations!) need to know what is expected of them otherwise it is extremely stressful. In fact, 72% of Millennials who agree strongly that their managers help them set performance goals are engaged at work according to that same Gallup study.
CREATE COMMUNITIES (NOT WORKPLACES)
When students come into my classroom, they are always astounded that I greet each one by name. My classes usually maxed out at 24 students, so I was able to memorize each student's name by taking what my students would call "mugshots" with my cell phone camera. Even in my bigger Happiness Freshman Seminar that I created (150 students), I would sometimes go to class early, and just sit in the huge lecture hall of 150 students chatting WITH a group of students and getting to know them. In Power Your Tribe: Create Resilient Teams in Turbulent Times, Christine Comaford who has been coaching companies for 30 years, says employees just want to have 3 basic needs met: safety, belonging and mattering.
MAKE PEOPLE CRY (NOT WHAT YOU THINK)
Every semester, I have students come to my office hours. Not because they necessarily wanted to talk about academic stuff, but because they wanted to talk about life or some kind of challenge they were facing. I actually loved talking about this stuff--it was the beginning of my life coaching really. Great coaches will tell you though, when you elicit an emotional response, it means you have empowered your clients in the direction they needed to go in. So often emotional responses are frowned upon in the workplace or school place, but when you can make people cry, then you know you have made them realize something so much deeper that they couldn't have figured out on their own. In Shawn Achor's latest book, Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being, Achor proves that teams with high EQ outperform teams with high IQ (!).
As humans we compare. Social media has not helped with this obsession either. When I ran in my first 100m sprint as an elementary school kids with pigtails flying, I remember my mom's advice, "Don't look at the other kids. Just look straight ahead." Think about it: In this race we often call life, if you look at other people while you are "racing" will you be faster or slower? Actually, what I didn't know at the time is that when you compare yourself with someone else, you actually perform worse, because it is an impossible comparison--there is only one you in this world. You'll be happy to hear, that was the first and last race I ever won, but I've been winning at life a little bit more.
GIVE A LITTLE (OR A LOT)
I have always been a giver. Perhaps it stems from the fact that I was a people pleaser. I have always loved giving things away. When people come over, I pack them home with whatever I have in my fridge. It wasn't until later, I realized what I was doing had links to happiness. People who are generous are happier. But did you know that people who give are not just happier but more successful? In Adam Grant's Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, he proves that medical students who helped other students on their exam, actually outperformed those who didn't. Encourage people around you to give to each other, give back to their communities, give food to cleaners, give to themselves.
*Dedicated to my friend Amanda who asked how to create happier workplaces. Here's to creating more happy millennials together!*
"You should go to this." It was a simple and short text with a HUGE message and attachment. A friend of mine from high school had suggested I attend the World Happiness Summit (WOHASU) in Miami.
I was in New York prepping for my first ever public Happiness Workshop (set for May 2018), so Miami didn't seem like that much of a schlep. Within minutes, I had rearranged my flight back to Korea, booked tickets to Miami, and was perusing hotels.com for hotel deals. Oh and I decided to apply to be a "Tribe Facilitator," in WOHASU speak means a coach who leads daily discussions with attendees.
I was psyched when I found out soon after, I would be able to attend my very first WOHASU event as a Tribe Facilitator--WOOOOOOT!
The event was everything it promised to be and more: positive psychology + happiness experts from around the globe who were humble, down-to-earth, and the kinds of humans you wanted to just hangout with when your plane gets delayed 5 hours (true story: I spent a few hours with one of the Google speakers who was on my flight to San Francisco). The people in my tribe were eager to learn, excited to create change, and had already done a bulk of the legwork themselves.
But it was the other tribe facilitators who were truly living and breathing their creed.
THE COACH TRIBE
On a whim, I decided to see if some of the other tribe facilitators wanted to grab dinner the evening before the event started. A handful responded to my FB post, and admittedly, I did have images of me eating alone in a Tapas restaurant...but everyone showed up, and boy did they continue to show up for me and each other throughout the conference.
3 HAPPY LESSONS LEARNED:
After the conference many of the coach tribers wrote messages of GRATITUDE, LOVE, THOUGHTFULNESS, KINDNESS + more on our FB group page. I was in disbelief. I mean, how much more amazing can a group of people be? Imagine if the world were full of people who did the EQ work, lived and breathed it fully, and then gracefully shared it WITH others?
Gosh, I'm just happy thinking about it.
*Dedicated to and inspired by my coach tribers. May you continue to love + lead with happiness, kindness, compassion, and everything else this world needs to succeed.*
"You are a great coach, but I get the feeling that people don't take you seriously with your Happiness Coach title..."
It wasn't the first time I had heard that. Hearing that from Szilvia, my tarot card healer in Bali, somehow made the gravity of it all sink in that much more.
Talking to old classmates about trying to bring my signature Happiness Workshop to their corporations was met with resistance similar to what Szilvia foretold:
"Well, we are about our bottom line here, unfortunately. Money."
"Our bank thinks that if we have a workshop like that, people in the company will assume that we are not happy..."
I wanted to scream from the top of my lungs or I guess in this case text in capital letters, HAPPY employees lead to:
I watched a documentary recently entitled "The Corporation," in which today's corporation was compared to The World Health Organization's checklist for its definition for a psychopath:
Before corporations were corporations, there were moral codes, values, traditions that did not allow us to wreak havoc on the environment, blatantly ignore human rights/suffering, do mind numbing work, meaningless work for profit and not purpose. We all lived in a community: we shared the land, the rivers, the crops, and so much more. Our social relationships based on our shared values created everlasting bonds of happiness.
Now we live online, hiding behind computer screens/the latest smartphone device, devoid of human contact and social relationships--
the very thing that feeds our souls. We work in cubicles communicating not face-to-face, but online. We live in cities far removed from nature.
Our brains were not built for this type of work either. Just as much as our bodies cannot process fast food, our brains were built for flight or fight responses. If there's a lion, we run. Then cortisol levels drop, and the stress goes. Now, if there's an angry boss, we stay, cortisol levels don't drop, and the stress never leaves. And we all know, chronic stress leads to increased risk for depression, mental illness, lower life expectancy, and the laundry list goes on.
So what now? We need a change. A change in a POSITIVE direction. A POSITIVE environment where people feel free to work on work that matters. POSITIVE co-workers: people who love what they do genuinely, because it benefits the greater good. POSITIVE outcomes: goals that change the world for the better, not built on profit. POSITIVE perspectives: finding creative solutions not problems, such that the majority will benefit and thrive. And of course, POSITIVE leaders who will lead all of this, elevate all of us (and themselves), and create a fundamental shift by putting others before themselves.
Gosh, now more than ever, I think corporations need to move from their psychopathic leadership to one of kindness, compassion, giving, and of course HAPPINESS towards a more POSITIVE (+) kind of LEADership.
Now I'm Kyla the Positive Leadership Coach, no longer Kyla the Happiness Coach, but what remains the same is my purpose, my vision of driving this change towards a brighter, better, happier, more positive society.
*This blog post is inspired by + dedicated to my husband: the most positive leader out there!
Over lunch somewhere in Incheon, I caught up with my friend Chris and told him all about my recent travels to Bali. I knew he would understand, as he was deeply spiritual himself and would often do meditations on me and as of late WITH me. As I recounted each story of healing, his eyes widened, his smile deepened, and as always I could feel him radiate warmth and calm energy.
The Balinese Healer
She was an 8th generation healer. I had first met her when she did a small blessing on each one of us at the retreat (see above photo). It immediately brought me back to childhood. Each morning, my Popo ("maternal grandmother" in Cantonese) would use similar incense to pray to her Chinese gods.
In our own private room, she chanted in Balinese. I wasn't sure what she was saying, or what she was doing, but I could feel my body ease into her healing. She told me I needed to breathe more, that my breaths were too shallow, and sent me home with a bottle of "holy water" she had blessed.
I left feeling a deep relief: knowing that the negative energy had left me, but also that somehow Popo was WITH me in that room too.
Suksma, Ibu. ("Thank you, Ma'am" in Balinese)
The Western Healer
"Breathe into your pain." When someone is dry massaging you, and you already have a low tolerance for pain, and you hear them say that, it seems like somewhat of an oxymoron.
"You know, in the western world, we are taught to run away from pain, right? That pain is a bad thing..." Malcolm continued. He was a massage therapist-meets-life coach. The staff at the retreat had told me that he could "see right through you."
"Yes, but it hurts..." I whined.
"What or who is telling you it hurts?" he asked.
"Well, I think my mind is..." I answered hesitantly.
"Yes, exactly. Go on, breathe into it. Another deep breath."
As the dry massage continued on my back, the pain dissipated just as he had said, as my breaths deepened. Malcolm asked me how I felt at the end of the session. I had so many thoughts running through my head: Whoa, I ran towards pain. Whoa, I have had this fear of pain most of my life until this very moment. Whoa, my mind has been telling me to fear pain this whole time.
"Gosh, I feel like, if you took this table out from under me, I would float here like a lotus flower."
I floated out of that room an inch taller.
Thank you, Malcolm.
The Tarot Card Healer
I first met Szilvia at the retreat. I must admit, even though Chris had done tarot card reading on me, and bought me my very first tarot card pack, I went into the 30-minute reading a little bit skeptical. Just to let you know, I came out of that reading with tears of joy, because there is no way she could have known what she did.
During a second reading a week later, I asked her why I was having nightmares and she pinpointed it to three reasons: 1) negative energy from clients/people I work with; 2) ghosts in my apartment (whose presence I have actually felt); 3) family stress I am taking on. She recommended I have someone do theta healing on me. I found out she was actually a licensed practitioner of theta healing and was overjoyed that she could do the work on me.
We sat in my hotel room across from each other, my palms on top of hers. I wondered with my skeptical mind, what I had gotten myself into, and what we were going to do. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. Almost as if she sensed my nervousness, she asked me to stand up and close my eyes.
"I am going to ask your body some questions--not your mind--your body," Szilvia instructed gently as we began the session.
"Ok..." I said out loud but my mind was going back and forth thinking: What does that even mean? How can she talk to my body? I don't even know. Whaaat?!
"Body, tell us..." and that is how she began each yes or no question she would ask my body.
In the beginning, my body would lean slightly forward for "yes" and lean slightly backwards for "no." I was astonished. How was my body moving without my mind telling it to? What was happening? Later, the same happened in the chair, sitting down, except the motion was even greater.
Thank you, Szilvia. You'll be happy to hear my nightmares are gone.
Thoughts on Healing
Ok, I admit, I was super skeptical. I understand why too. Our brains are hardwired to protect us from unknowns/change/differences but I think the more open we are, the more phenomenal, life-changing experiences we can have.
On my week solo after the retreat, I serendipitously ran into Eve. She is the diet/nutrition consultant my hotel hired. I went on to rave about Szilvia during our conversation and found out that the two were really good friends--small world. And then she said, "I think we all have that power to connect and heal ourselves. It's just some are more in tune to it then others." Yes, totally agreed.
And what if these healers were huge mirrors that reflected what was truly going on within, reminded us of what was going on within, and gently helped us move passed negative energy, blocks, blindspots, and so much more?
Over coffee with Chris, I showed him the video (below) I had made in gratitude for the staff at the retreat I had gone to.
He looked up from the video and glanced at me, saying, "Wow. You have really changed Kyla. You are like a different person. I am so happy for you."
"Chris, I feel like I am vibrating on a whole different level."
"Kyla, you certainly are. There is no doubt about it."
*This blog post is dedicated to my friend Chris. Thank you for always encouraging and inspiring me to dig deeper within myself. This blog post was inspired by Szilvia, Malcolm, Ibu, and all of the amazing healers out there--official and unofficial. Keep up your life-changing work.*
Thank you for choosing this year to diagnose my mom with early onset dementia. It has brought my family closer together both geographically and emotionally, and we have been able to help my mom get the help and attention she needs.
Side Note to Dementia: Thank you for choosing my mom. Although you are an unsolvable riddle and there is as yet a cure for you, you have given my mom the "power of now" as Eckhart Tolle would say. She no longer holds grudges or holds on to events that were negative, and she remains in the present. Thank you for allowing us to take care of her the way that she has taken care of us.
Back to you, 2017. Thank you for showing me that no matter the challenge, I have the tools within me to work through them. It is the path to myself, that leads to my inner self, that often is the trickiest path to find and stick to, but once there, the sky is the limit.
The Eraser Test: What would you erase from your life if you could?
Reading this part in Gawdat's book, Solve for Happy, my mind immediately jumped from event to event in the hopes of finding something to erase. As I read on, and as my mind went on, I realized, Holy cow, I can't. Those seemingly negative experiences led to seemingly positive experiences. And just as Gawdat says in his book,
"nothing is really good or bad."
If I erased my mom's dementia, I would also have to erase my becoming a licensed life coach, the sheer amount of depth added to my book writing/coaching, my pop-up cafe, learning how to surf, doing a ton of work on myself WITH myself, and the list continues. Whoa, game changer.
So 2017, you have been an extraordinary year for growth, change, self-awareness, and so much more. You have pushed me to become the best version of myself by actually helping me realize that I could do it all along. Perhaps I just needed that nudge, hey?
As Gawdat mentions in his book, 2017, you showed me how to see past one of the illusions called FEAR: Pushing past this, realizing that what was at the core of this FEAR was actually fear of rejection, I created this blog and an F-word FB Live Video Series.
Gawdat talks of blind spots like memories. I would hold on to memories that would keep me from doing something or moving forward. However, I recognized that my memory of surfing being scary was just that and not the truth. So I moved through fear paralysis and tried it! YEAH! 1-Kyla 0-Blindspots.
Finally, you showed me how to realize one of the ultimate truths: LOVE. Love does indeed cut through all of this Bull**** in our lives, Gawdat. And reminds us of what is truly important. I am so grateful for my hubby's unconditional love, my family's unconditional love, my friends' unconditional love. <3
Gawdat's Equation for Happiness:
HAPPINESS ≥ Events (Your Perception of them) - Expectations (Of How Life Should be)
Math was never my strong suit, but if ever there was to be an equation for HAPPINESS, it would simply be this one. To live your life happily, perception is everything. If you think an event is unhappy, your brain will tell you that. You will continue to think about that thought -> suffer -> inaction (i.e. not do anything about it), thus creating a vicious cycle. OMG, I used to do that all the time. Ok, I still do, but awareness is half the battle, right? If you expect your life to be a certain way, and it doesn't meet your expectations, you will also fall short of what really matters.
Ok, just stop to think about all of this and digest it for a second before reading on.
Let go of your perceptions, let go of your expectations, and just LIVE.
Gosh, 2017, it has been a roller coaster of a ride, but I don't think we would have wanted it any other way, right? I remain humbled, a life-long learner, open to even more growth/change/self-awareness, and whatever else your sibling 2018 brings me.
Farewell, 2017. I'll miss you, but I am looking forward to working WITH you 2018.
*This blog post was inspired by Mo Gawdat's Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy. (If you haven't already read it, I suggest you do! It is a game-changer.) This blog post is dedicated to Mo's son Ali, who is no longer with us, but smiling WITH us from somewhere in the universe. Check out Gawdat's video below. I am totally WITH you Gawdat on making 10 million people happier. Let's do this!
I was skeptical. I mean, what could a life coach teach me about life? I can just talk to my friends about my issues. It's not worth the money. I don't need a coach. I can do it on my own.
At a coffee shop a few days ago, two girlfriends looked at me curiously, "Why would someone need a life coach?" There was that question that I had heard over and over again since I had become a certified life coach a few short months ago. Before I answer that question, allow me to tell a story. If you know me well, you know, there is always a story behind every life lesson.
"A bunch of us are going to this Italian restaurant we booked three months in advance. We are looking for a fifth person to join us..." When a health + wellness coach asks you this question, your answer should always be "Hell yes!" When in Rome for a global women's conference, my very first Global WINConference, we had a night off to go explore the city.
It was a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, tucked away behind beautiful quaint buildings, we meandered on cobble stoned streets chatting the night away. It was indeed an incredible night. 5 coaches + magnificent Italian food + introspective and deep conversation = best night everrrrr.
The seed had been planted a year ago, even though I thought I was simply along for the culinary ride.
"You are enough." Three words that helped change my life and pull me out of the doldrums of depression. I went to see my grandma's homeopathic doctor, Aviva, who as it turns out also doubled as my grandma's life coach helping her live a very dignified life until the ripe old age of 99 (!). I then started looking into life coaching programs, became certified, and then jumped right into finding clients.
"Think about going where you are needed, not where you think you are wanted." Some more wise advice, this time, from a life coach I have since hired. Her free 90-minute session was so inspiring, game-changing, I realized I wasn't really ready to start working with clients and had to work on some of my own issues first.
Ok, so here are some myths about life coaching (that I also learned the hard way):
1. Nobody needs a life coach. It's a bunch of bullsh*t.
People hire personal trainers, because they know they will not make it to the gym on their own. Personal trainers build up your physical endurance, why wouldn't you want to build up your life endurance as well? We all need extra support in life, and many of us are in denial about it.
2. It's too expensive.
I totally used to think this way. How do you put a price tag on life-changing work on yourself? You don't. It really is an investment, like a college education, where ironically, nobody teaches you about real life outside of college.
3. I can talk to my friends about my problems.
I used to do this a lot, and I still do. I had a friend become so frustrated with the fact that I haven't published my book yet, she was exasperated. It started to impact our friendship. Your friends are too close to you to be objective and give an unbiased perspective. They are also not trained life coaches.
4. I've seen a therapist and he/she didn't help me.
Therapists and life coaches are two very different professions. Therapists are often trained in psychology, have the ability to prescribe drugs, often dealing with deep-rooted dysfunction and the like. Coaches work to empower clients by asking questions to help get to core issues holding clients back from achieving goals. Sometimes, finding the right coach is like finding the right yoga instructor. You have to try out a few to find the right fit. The good news: there are a lot out there willing to help!
5. It is shameful to admit you need help.
I definitely used to feel ashamed about my depression often hiding my most vulnerable side, especially given my line of work. But even life coaches need life coaches, and admitting you have something you need to work on is less about shame, and more about getting the support you need to move forward and achieve what you are truly meant to achieve on this earth.
Now that I have started working WITH clients, I get it. The more I work on myself, the more work I do WITH my own life coach, the more I can empower my own clients to change their lives as well. In a recent session with my life coach Maxine, I spoke about my fears around starting my own coaching business and finishing my book. She noticed I was making lofty goals for myself, often too lofty, such that I wouldn't do anything to work towards them because I was paralyzed by my fear. Now I work on breaking down these lofty goals into smaller less scary ones so I can work towards them slowly and steadily.
Whoa, game changer.
Let's go back to the conversation with my girlfriends in the coffee shop. That afternoon, I was at a loss of words of how to explain just how meaningful, just how life-changing, just how incredible life coaching has been for me, to me, and continues to be. Hopefully, after reading these words here, they and you (!) will understand just how much we all need to get a life...coach.
Remember when you were younger, and you would love shouting out, "Me too, me three, me four!"? It gave you a sense of belonging. You fit in. You belonged in the world. And that bought you street cred on the playground.
Thanks in part to all of the women who have spoken out against Harvey Weinstein, and Alyssa Milano's #MeToo campaign, almost every single girlfriend of mine on Facebook has copy and pasted #MeToo. A male friend of mine, somewhat bewildered at just how pervasive sexual harassment/abuse seemed to be, commented on his Facebook that it would be helpful if people added a sentence or two about what they had experienced.
Easier said than done.
Let's just discuss some terminology briefly before moving on. In the media and most discussions surrounding any kind of violence against women, the words "victims" or "survivors" are often used. Having actually studied domestic violence and human trafficking at Harvard for my master's degree, I thought I was particularly progressive using the word "survivor." That is, until I met Emilia Lahti who will be running the length of New Zealand to raise awareness of Interpersonal Violence. She was recently awarded Finland's Young Person of the Year Award amongst her many, many accolades. Total badass. You can check her out here: https://www.emilialahti.com/. She recognizes herself as an "overcomer" of Interpersonal Violence and wants us human-beings all over the globe to change the way we see those who come out of Interpersonal Violence as people who have overcome something--something insurmountable.
So let's use the word Overcomer.
Those less sensitive to the plight of overcomers of sexual harassment/abuse questioned the women who came out decades later about Harvey Weinstein: "Why didn't the women come out back then? Why now?" We all know that back then, well, nobody would have listened and even if they did, facing a powerful tyrant like Weinstein, they would have lost their jobs. Furthermore even today, research has shown that 16% of overcomers who report abuse/harassment in the workplace felt that the situation actually got worse. 2/3 of women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. 80% actually reported it, and 3/4 of those who did said nothing really changed. Read more about it here: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/10/why-did-no-one-speak-out-about-harvey-weinstein
Even when we come out more informally, to colleagues or friends, we may not get the reaction we expect or worse, well, you just feel worse. In a conversation with two good girlfriends of mine, we were bemoaning the Harvey Weinstein women and how they were judged for coming out all these years later. One of these two friends told us how she had been sexually harassed by a male co-worker, and how she had told some friends of hers soon after. One friend said, "It happens to me all the time." The other friend said, "But you are so high up in your company, how is that possible?" Neither response really made my friend feel any better about what had happened to her. At all.
So here is my #MeToo story that took place in China, almost a decade ago. It was 1999, and I was studying abroad in Beijing at the Beijing University. I had landed an internship at The China Travel Service (CTS), one of the largest government-run travel agencies at the time. My boss was a loud, impatient man who would throw phones (back then they were larger than they are today), yell when he didn't get his way, and it was rumored he became the boss because of who he knew, not how well he actually did his job.
One weekend, I was blissfully on my way home after a swim at the swimming pool (I had gleefully found in the same building as CTS), when I ran into my boss. Up until that point, I had always thought of him as a father figure. Ok, an angry and slightly aggressive father figure, but a father figure nonetheless. He asked me if I wanted to see our new office space on the first floor, so I thought Why not? And followed him naively to the first floor. It was a weekend so no one was around.
"I will miss you when you go back to your country," he said referring to the fact that my internship was ending and I would soon go back to the U.S.
"Yes, I will miss you too..."
Then before I knew it, he had lifted up my tank top, and started trying to feel up my breasts. I was stunned. I knew if I pissed him off, I may not get paid, I may end up in prison in China, and I don't even know how I would use my broken Mandarin skills to get myself out of any kind of crazy situation...My mind was racing a thousand miles a minute. I quickly grabbed his arm, and told him we should go downstairs to the lobby (knowing that there would be more people around). Fortunately, he agreed.
It took me months before I could even tell my close friends. I have not yet even told my parents about that incident. It's not something you can bring up easily in conversation. "Oh yeah, by the way, I was sexually assaulted by my boss...in China..."
But here is what I say. Why not create spaces (offline or online) where we CAN talk about this stuff without fear of judgment, shame, or rape/death threats, or alienation, or any of it? On that playground, where you can exclaim "ME TOO, ME THREE, ME FOUR!" without any kind of fear, just acceptance, let's create that playground space for adults to speak freely too. Let's create a place for overcomers to truly feel they can overcome anything.
We live in a world of binaries: Winners and Losers, Successes and Failures, Givers and Takers, and the list goes on. Reflecting back on my third WIN (Women's International Networking Conference that brings together women and a sprinkling of men from all walks of life for a 3-day annual global conference) experience, I wanted to share just how amazing, empowering, inspiring, and life-changing it was. This year, we celebrated 20 years of WIN in Oslo, Norway. 20 years of empowering women around the globe. What does that even look like? Well, I thought I would frame it in WIN's very own 8 Guidelines:
1. Be Open
This year in Oslo, and last year in Rome, I was asked to moderate the Young Leader Forum. Usually there are a handful of speakers. Each speaker takes turns and shares their own inspiring story, and then the audience has a chance to ask questions. We had a few minutes at the end of the forum, so I thought I would ask the audience to take turns and share some words of advice for the speakers. With each turn, the advice grew deeper and more introspective, "Don't live your life with regrets," "Don't worry about your age, it doesn't matter." Then the mic stopped at a woman and before giving any advice she began crying. The crying spread. Pretty soon we were all crying. Then I shared how I had thanked a friend of mine for believing in me so strongly and then cried. At any other conference, I am not sure how this would have played out, but at WIN, nobody judged each other for crying, instead, we ended our Young Leader Forum with a group hug. Now that's a WIN!
2. Be Ready to Connect
On the last night of the conference, we celebrate with a gala extravaganza. We come together, many people wearing their own traditional costumes from around the world, we eat, we dance, we chat, and we dance more. On my way to the bathroom, I ran into a woman from Malaysia who had come to my Happiness Workshop. I had wanted to connect with her, but between my one-on-one Happiness coaching sessions, catching up with old friends from last year's WIN, and not to mention the array of fabulous workshops/plenaries to attend, I wasn't able to. Our eyes met, and we soon carved out a tiny bit of space to connect. During that brief time we had together, we imagined a place in Asia where young people could be inspired, a place where they could feel empowered, and see other women doing things they dreamed of doing. We imagined WINSingapore (!). On my way to the bathroom after our inspiring chat, I thought to myself: Only at WIN do you dream up these kinds of ideas in a 10-minute conversation. Now that's a WIN!
3. Be Quick to Contribute
After the Young Leader Forum, I reconnected with a young woman from Kenya. She had also spoken at the Young Leader Forum last year too. She told me about all of the progress her NGO was making and how blessed she felt to be able to do the work she was doing in Kenya. Then I decided to ask her, point blank, "How can I help? What can I do to help?" She welcomed me to Kenya (WOOHOO, always wanted to go to Kenya!) and told me that she needed about 350 Euros for a new project they were working on. I immediately opened my purse and gave her the remainder of cash, which was close to what she needed. She hugged me and walked away with a smile. Now that's a WIN!
4. Be Ready to Take Risks
In life and at most conferences they tell you to "play it safe." Not at WIN. At WIN, you are encouraged to try something you have always wanted to, be something you have always wanted to be, do something you have always wanted to do. Last year, for my Happiness Workshop, I wanted to have people go around the conference and make as many people as happy as possible, but I didn't, because I was afraid nobody would do it. This year, I decided to take a leap of faith, and just do it. I ran it by Dominique (the fabulous woman in charge of speaker relations), and she said to just check with the other workshop speakers. So I did. There were some bewildered looks, but most were open and curious to see what would happen. So was I. What unfolded was absolutely something I could have never imagined: participants put up signs in the bathrooms, handed out chocolates to people they came across, hugs were shared, announcements were made, and risks were taken by all! Dominique later in her usual unassuming manner said, "I noticed there were more people in your workshop this year..." Now that's a WIN!
This was my first year doing one-on-one coaching sessions. Yet another fantastic thing that separates WIN from other conferences is that you can sign up for free one-hour coaching sessions. Usually the slots are gone within an hour of being released! I decided to add three more slots to the two already planned, and after a ton of schedule re-arranging, they were set for Friday morning beginning at 8AM. Friday morning came around and I was exhausted. I didn't feel like going. I had to go. This was my opportunity to create change in someone's life and in my own life. This was something I had wanted to do for a long time now. So I met with the three women who had signed up, and over breakfast, I learned, listened, and grew. Thank you ladies for that amazing opportunity to work WITH you and commit to you. Now that's a WIN!
6. Never Accept the Unacceptable
Having worked with overcomers of human trafficking and domestic violence, I take this particular guideline to heart. At breakfast each morning, I noticed that there was a male manager who would yell at the other staff in front of the hotel guests. On Friday morning, during my one-on-one coaching sessions, when everyone else had left for the conference, the manager yelled at one of the kitchen staff for talking to me, in front of me. It was a very uncomfortable situation for everyone involved. Later that day, I struck up a conversation with a man on a stationary bike. He was biking for change: the more he biked, the more the hotel would donate in water to a developing country. The man turned out to be the General Manager of the hotel. I decided to tell him about what I had witnessed over the three days, and how something needed to be done, such that this manager did not yell at the staff anymore. The General Manager nodded solemnly saying he knew all about his behavior and would have a talk with him. He thanked me for bringing it to his attention along with other things I had noticed around the hotel. An hour later, he even sent up a bottle of wine and some chocolates with a hand-written note to my room. Now that's a WIN!
7. Be Light and Have Fun
Some of the best moments at the conference came during a tiny conversation here, a walk around the park there, a jaunt to the local coffee shop for a cinnamon roll, or getting caught buying a ton of scarves in the hotel convenience store. Sometimes in life, we take ourselves too seriously, or we worry too much about things we actually don't have to worry about. I worried whether people would show up to my Happiness Workshop, I worried whether people would sign up for my one-on-one Happiness coaching sessions, I worried about making the right impression on people, but when I let go of all of that, when I let the light in and had fun, that's when things started organically falling into place. Now that's a WIN!
8. Expect Magic
When you are at a conference with hundreds upon hundreds of people who are open-minded, ready to connect, quick to contribute, ready to take risks, committed, don't accept the unacceptable, are light and fun (basically guidelines 1-7), how can you not expect magic? I got to meet so many incredible women and men who were so talented, humble, and willing to not only move mountains to help me, but move mountains to create social change around them. I felt extremely honored and humbled to be able to meet all of them. On the last night of the gala, I was asked to get up on stage in front of the entire WIN conference and talk about how WIN has changed my life. Looking out at the sea of sparkling WINners, I took a deep breath, smiled, and shared how I became a WINner, and got to thank the WIN team personally. Now that's a WIN!
On the 21st floor of our hotel, the view of Oslo was absolutely incredible. I went up early to meet some friends for drinks at The Summit Bar and to just soak in everything that had happened over the past few days at the conference. As I looked out at Oslo, I couldn't help but feel completely alive. I wondered if we lived in a world where every woman and man used WIN's 8 guidelines for work, love, life, and everything in between, wouldn't the world be full of WINners? Givers? Successes?
And we could then once and for all just do away with any binary bullshit (!).
Now that's a WIN!
Life Goals: Be rich, make big money, make money, $$. Not my life goals, but my university students' life goals.
"Can money buy you happiness?" I ask curiously, trying not to sound too judgy.
"Well, I think so. I can buy many things. That will make me happy..."
I couldn't help but feel disappointed. This isn't just happening in image-obsessed Korea. One of the things I remembered clearly from the TED Talk given by Robert Waldinger about the longest study on happiness in history pointed out that 80% millennials wanted to be rich and 50% wanted to be famous. Check out the TED Talk here. I get it. In a world where you can transfer money, download music, order delivery, and swipe left/right to date, who wouldn't want to be insta-famous/rich?
What ever happened to the struggle though? Do you remember having to make mixed tapes? Or anything in fact where you had to struggle? Wasn't the result that much sweeter? When I was in high school, we would painstakingly make mixed tapes for each other as gifts. It meant something. It took time, effort, agile fingers (to press pause/stop). Maybe the recipients of my mixed tape gifts weren't that impressed, but I certainly was. Yeah Ace of Base!
Next week, I will be going to Norway to speak at a global women's conference, where I will be giving my Happiness Workshop I created, and have brought around the world. Since I won't be able to teach during that week, I decided to assign my students The HAPPY video project (part of my Happiness Workshop) where they have to go around campus and make as many people around them as happy as possible.
Several students asked, "Is this mandatory?"
To them I ask another question, "Is HAPPINESS mandatory in your life?" I just get blank stares in response. But here's why we should choose happiness: the myth that being SUCCESSFUL comes first and then HAPPINESS comes second is just that: a myth. HAPPINESS comes first, and then SUCCESS follows. There's a reason people tell you to not follow the money, but follow your heart instead. For more on this research, check out Shawn Achor's work.
I get a lot of students who look at me in bewilderment and ask in disbelief, "How can you be happy ALL the time?"
Here's the HOW:
Will you choose HAPPY?
*I actually was so taken by Shola's book, that mid-reading, I emailed him to ask if we could connect/collaborate. He actually emailed me back, and we had a phone call while I was in California last month! Such a cool guy. If you can get your hands on his book, I highly recommend it. Oh and Shola, like my husband, is living/breathing proof that being HAPPY -> SUCCESS.
**This blog post is dedicated to my husband: A man who chooses HAPPY every single day, regardless of the struggle.