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.*
Lenette: Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you.
Me: Ok, thank you so much. I'll think about it.
Lenette, Walther (her hubby) and I actually met in Okinawa in December 2016. I was deep in my depression and had planned a Spontaneous Selfie Vacay. We bonded over our love of food, travel, and happiness at a cooking class. They told me how they were going to start a Bed and Breakfast and how I should visit them in Amsterdam.
Lenette: Hey, you're in Belgium! We are really close. Let's hangout!
Me: Really?! I love Europe. Everything's so close.
And just like that, I was sitting in their Bed and Breakfast almost two years after we had first met. It was cozy, Lenette was serving me her famous club sandwich before I knew it, and I felt immediately at home. We chatted as if no time had passed and Lenette and Walther listened intently as I told them about my book and my recent speaking adventures. They showed me pictures of their world travels, food they had brought back from these travels, and how much they were enjoying living their dream of starting their own bed and breakfast. How cool.
Me: I have a crazy idea!
Lenette: What?! Tell me.
Me: Would you like to host a Book Launch Party at your bed and breakfast?
In the afternoon of March 22nd, just a few days ago, Lenette was dancing and singing in the kitchen WITH her friend Bea as the two prepared dishes for the Book Launch Party. The two of them had met on vacation in Langkawi, Malaysia. They laughed at how Bea was sick on the Catamaran that day, but Lenette had been super chatty, much to Bea's dismay. Now they're as close as ever. I joined them for a bit chopping up vegetables for the Thai Beef Salad, while Bea chopped up avocados for the poke bowls. Don't worry, there was way more food: Kimchi pancakes (made with Lenette's very own home-made kimchi), an egg pancake, home-made vegetable dip in a bread bowl, chicken wings WITH Japanese potato salad, and CAKE!
Lenette's mother came and very much reminded me of my own mom. My friend Anna took the train in from Belgium, Lenette and Walther invited some of their closest friends, and as the night went on, it was clear nobody really wanted to leave.
THE ENERGY OF CONNECTING WITH
The next morning, after an awesome breakfast provided effortlessly by Lenette and Walther, Edwin (one of Walther's childhood friends) asked if he could give me a massage WITH Reiki. Never one to turn down healing, I eagerly went WITH him to an adjacent room. I wasn't sure what to expect, but as soon as the massage started, I realized what a gift he had and how fortunate I was to receive it.
Once everyone had left, sitting in their cozy living room WITH their 4 cats, Walther asked, "How do you think the party went last night?" The three of us chatted excitedly about how much positive energy there was in the room. I recalled how I had had a conversation WITH one of their friends about how I completely and utterly trusted Lenette and Walther to bring in the most amazing people to be WITH us and the book.
So perhaps WITH connecting, there's a level of trust there too?
CONNECTING WITH FOOD
Lenette: Do you have plans tonight?
Me: Nope, do you guys?
Lenette: My friend Antoine (who cooks like a Michelin-star chef) invited us over for dinner. Would you like to join us?
We hopped on a bus to Antoine's house, a 10-minute bus ride away. Walther generously paid for my bus fare and as always, Lenette and Walther made sure to make me feel welcome, taken care of, and enlightened WITH all of their knowledge of Amsterdam. I felt like I had known them for years. Perhaps it was a super power they both had: Connecting WITH people.
At Antoine's apartment, they were renovating the downstairs part, so the floor had been stripped down. Otherwise, the apartment looked like it was a model apartment out of a Bang and Olufsen magazine. Christel (Antoine's wife) turned on the fireplace for me with a remote, even though they were all pretty toasty already.
Plate after plate came out--exactly as Lenette had described--as if out of a Michelin-star restaurant. It was somehow better though. The way Antoine had connected WITH the food he cooked for us, the way Lenette connects WITH the food she cooks for us (and her bed and breakfast guests), it was a deeper level than any other restaurant experience. Yes, it was about the food, but it was more about the amazing people behind and WITH the food.
CONNECTING WITH WALTHER
Over dinner, Walther began reflecting on our relationship, "When we reached out to you to come to Amsterdam and stay WITH us at the bed and breakfast, we realized that you were being cautious. You ended up coming to have a meal WITH us, but not staying. We understand though. We were in our comfort zone, and you weren't."
I had always put a slight distance between me and Walther, just because I bond better WITH women. He's also more of an observer, preferring to let Lenette take the spotlight. After he said that though, something shifted for me, because I realized that he really saw me, and understood me.
After they dropped me off at the airport, I hugged Lenette first, and then Walther. I think our hug must have lasted at least 2 minutes. It was one of those genuine, non-creepy, oxytocin-filled hugs. The same kind I had had WITH Edwin as well.
CONNECTING WITH STRANGERS
Lenette (to everyone at the Book Launch Party): Kyla's book is really Kyla, her life itself.
In my book, in an essay, I talk about "stranger danger" and how we are taught to not trust strangers as children. My experience of connecting WITH Lenette and Walther in Okinawa first and then later again in Amsterdam had made me re-visit that chapter in my book/life.
I thought about the conversation I had WITH my friend Adam at a Starbucks in Amsterdam Zuid station a day before the Book Launch Party. We talked about how people in corporate just really want to connect in a psychologically safe environment. I told him how that was true at the 240-person workshop at Microsoft I facilitated. One of Lenette's friends Cyrille couldn't make it to the Book Launch Party, so Lenette invited her over and made lunch for us (!). Cyrille wanted her legacy to be connecting WITH people. That word connection came up over and over again during my trip to Amsterdam.
STRANGERS -> FRIENDS -> FAMILY
The night before I was due to leave Amsterdam, I wrote Walther and Lenette a Thank-You card. It was in the form of a ripped out page from my Positivity Journal. Each day, there is a different quote supposed to inspire you to write on what you are grateful for that day. The quote was about giving, and I wrote about how grateful I was that Lenette and Walther had become like family to me and how grateful I was at how giving they both were.
What I realized was sometimes in life, when you focus on all of the crazy stuff going on in your life--the stuff that gets you down, you may just miss those amazing strangers who over night become friends -> family and are WITH you through those crazy moments in your life and support you like crazy.
Thank you, Lenette and Walther. I love you two.
FEEDBACK, FEAR, FAILURE
Something that I often tell people to do as part of moving from AT -> WITH is have a chat WITH your ego. I've never really written about the experience, so I thought I would here. I feel like FEEDBACK is the middle child F word sandwiched in between siblings FEAR and FAILURE. It often gets overlooked, but is just as important even though we hear about FEEDBACK less often. FEAR and FAILURE often play key roles in FEEDBACK as well.
Let's begin a few weeks ago (which feels like at least a year ago) when my sister called, "So...mom has been taken, there was a lawyer who served the caregiver a letter saying mom wanted to go back to Singapore and file a Temporary Restraining Order against dad..." Let's just say that the ensuing drama could have been the sequel to the movie Crazy Rich Asians sans Rich part.
TRUE SELF: Gosh, there has been so much drama going on. I want to share it WITH others.
EGO: Nah, not a good idea. People will judge you. It will ruin your career. Nobody will hire you as a coach/speaker anymore.
TRUE SELF: Other people's judgments are on them. I am whole and perfect as I am, regardless of what is going on around me or with people around me.
EGO: I wrote a book. Why aren't I famous yet?
TRUE SELF: Is that why you wrote your book?
EGO: Yeah, I mean, I wanna make a ton of money and be on all of these T.V. shows...
TRUE SELF: Actually, on a micro level, it was about overcoming fear, and pushing through fear, doing what I have always told students before and now clients, "You can do whatever you put your mind to." And on a macro level, it's about changing the narrative. If a younger Asian woman sees me on the cover of my book, she also sees what is possible for her.
HUBBY: How'd the interview go?
EGO: Ughhhh...it was tough. They had a lot of constructive feedback about what I could have improved on. There was my time management, I didn't site my sources correctly, my example was too long, I went off script, and so on. Ironically, the topic was on feedback.
TRUE SELF: Right, but there was positive stuff too, right? Stuff that you did well?
EGO: Yeah, but I would rather focus on the negative and vent about that.
TRUE SELF: Well, you put yourself out there and you grew, expanded, and that is the most important thing.
TRUE SELF: Why is it so difficult for me to receive feedback?
EGO: Because your mom was such a harsh critic, and your dad is pretty negative, so it makes sense that you would then carry that around into adulthood.
TRUE SELF: Oh, is that why I always feel like I am not good enough?
EGO: Yeah, exactly.
TRUE SELF: I would disagree. You are not defined by your past, nor are you defined by what people have done or said to you in your past. And you can create your own narrative.
EGO: I want to be the next Asian Oprah!
TRUE SELF: Why not just be the best version of yourself?
Let's end with a conversation I had WITH my friend June.
JUNE: Kyla, I feel like you are forgiving of everyone around you and not yourself.
ME: Yeah, you're right.
JUNE: It's like this. You can only shove so much stuff under the rug before you start tripping up on it. You gotta deal WITH your shit.
ME: Whoa...can I quote you?
*Thank you June for reminding me of my TRUE SELF and for being an awesome influence/role model in Peyton's life. I can tell she's already a WITH Warrior like her Mama!*
MY THROAT CHAKRA
"All of your chakras are open and look great, except your throat chakra," Chris said without judgment. Chris is a good friend of mine who is deeply spiritual and hails from South Africa.
Up until quite recently, I didn't really know or care to know what my chakras were and why it mattered to have them aligned and balanced. Chris' comment stayed WITH me though.
LOSING MY VOICE
In high school, my sophomore year I had tonsillitis. Except it was misdiagnosed by western doctors as strep throat. They would give me medicine, the pain would go away for a week and then stubbornly return. Then one day, my mom recommended that I take ginseng root in the morning and night for a week. She would diligently boil it for me and I would reluctantly gulp it down. I rolled my teenaged angsty eyes at her, but after the pain did not return, I was pleasantly surprised. It has since never come back and I still drink boiled ginseng root whenever I feel a sore throat coming on. Thanks mom.
I would have to say that I spent most of my life telling people what they wanted to hear. I got so good at it that it replaced my own true voice. At home, my parents would often argue with each other, and my sister was rather outspoken, so my own voice was often drowned out. I also desperately wanted to be the peace maker in our family, and for a while there, I thought I was doing a good job at it.
FINDING MY VOICE
At a workshop in Belgium last December, surrounded by awesome women from the Professional Women's International Network, I shared a story of how I found my voice. In fact, that was the title of my workshop. I looked up at the sea of women's faces, not fearing judgment, and spoke my truth. There is something to be said about how much you grow when you share your truth WITH others.
STEPPING INTO YOUR POWER
"I am really happy to see your sister stepping into her power more, since she has always been a people pleaser," Chris told my sister. Another Chris, and another comment that stayed WITH me. This time, it was my sister's husband, my brother-in-law. He was referring to my book that I had gifted them this past Christmas. 340 pages of my own voice. I had never thought about it that way. Whenever I write, it's because there is something that needs to come out of me, something brewing, and it needs to be shared.
YOU CAN NEVER SHRINK BACK DOWN
On a call with my spiritual coach Szilvia, these are the words she gleefully exclaimed, "Kyla, you can never shrink back down." She was ecstatic that I had published both English and Korean versions of my book, and she had also coached me through some extreme anxiety right before I launched them into the world. This time though she was talking about all of my spiritual growth that I had not only done on myself WITH myself and WITH her, but that I had added to the universe WITH my book. Whoa.
THE NOT-SO-EASY SIDE OF IT
At a long overdue lunch and catch up last week, I met up with a good coach friend of mine. I had to share some stuff that had been brewing inside of me. I had assumed things about her, gotten really upset about it, and realized all along it had to do with my own insecurities. She listened kindly and compassionately without judgment, and we realized we were on the same page. Later she pulled out my book, had me sign it, and said, "Because of you, and all that you have done, I know what is possible for me." Oh and our friendship has deepened about tenfold.
HANGING OUT WITH MRS.H.
Those of you who have read the book, will know whom I am referring to. Mrs. H. has been a mentor/friend of mine for many years. We first met in the Bay Area when she hired me to be a tutor for her after school program in Walnut Creek. She was in Korea last week for a visit, so we got to catch up. "You are becoming super famous! Oh my gosh..." she gushed looking at me like a proud mother would. We caught up on life and everything in between and then she asked why I haven't had kids yet. I responded, "Well, I've always been so focused on my career." Mrs. H. then said, "There is no higher career than motherhood." Whoa.
Later on that evening, she texted me after having read her interview I included in the book: "Kyla, I cried! I feel like you said what I want to say to the world!"
There it was. Sometimes when you find your own voice, you inspire other people to find theirs (my dad is working on writing a book about his life!), but you also give voice to people who perhaps didn't know they had it in them.
*Dedicated to + Inspired by all of those voices out there in the world that are just dying to come out*
Over winter break, I got to spend blissful, uninterrupted, magical time WITH my 5 year-old niece Gelly (her nickname) and my sister Miu (her nickname). There was one particular magical afternoon around 4PM. We all decided to go ice-skating in a tiny outdoor rink made for beginners. As we skated around--the first time I had skated since I was a kid, and I tried my darndest with this clunky red skating aid, something absolutely magical happened:
It started to snow.
Then I thought back: I actually hadn't wanted to come, because I don't really like ice-skating. My hubby has asked me on countless occasions to go WITH him, and I have declined much to his dismay. Ok, I'm more of a four-wheeler old skool roller-skating gal myself. But imagine if I had said "no" to Gelly and hadn't come or sat on the sidelines?
Ok, so we've heard that when you assume things, you make an ASS out of U and ME. I think that's quite a clever mnemonic device. But back to assumptions, one thing we do before we create any kind of change is we assume things: Oh, it's going to be hard, it's going to suck, and then we don't even start. As we approach the Lunar New Year, when I usually start thinking about that 6-letter word in terms of New Year's Resolutions, perhaps just simply beginning WITH this question could be a first step in the right direction: Am I making an ASS out of me? Or someone else?
SMALL, MEDIUM, LARGE SIZE
Some of the only Cantonese words Miu knows are small, medium, and large size. At school in Hong Kong, she had to learn how to bargain for clothes: sai ma, jung ma, dai ma. I can almost hear her say these words exactly as she did when she was in middle school. Cracks me up. The other thing that is challenging about CHANGE is that big ol' grand gestures generally don't work to impress it. You gotta start witih sai ma (small size). Once you get comfortable WITH your sai ma change, work on a jung ma one, and then when you're super ready, get that dai ma one going. Oh, and you're welcome for teaching you some Cantonese, so the next time you're bargaining for clothes in Hong Kong, you're ready!
THE PATH OF MOST RESISTANCE
In a phone call WITH my spiritual South African friend Chris, we were getting into some deep stuff about how you know you're on the right path of growth. What does it feel like? How do you know? I mean, there's so much chatter and distraction out there and in your head--not to mention that next Netflix show to binge watch. I told Chris, "To me, it feels like the path of most resistance. It's easy to distract myself by not working on myself, or watching Ellen on YouTube, but the real work...well, it's tough and feels like the path of most resistance."
EGO DOESN'T LIKE CHANGE
At the retreat I went to a few weekends ago, (you can read about it here) one of the many mind-blowing epiphanies I had was when Bruce, one of the trainers said, "Your ego wants you to hold on to guilt and all of those challenging emotions, because who will you be without it? You'll have to actually change and go towards uncovering your true self." Whoa. That's why change is so hard, because your ego likes things to stay the same.
MIU AS A MOM
After Miu had put Gelly to bed, we would usually have conversations over tea in the living room or watch a show on Netflix together. Then we would head upstairs and brush our teeth together in the bathroom, like we did when we were kids. That night, after I had my first fight with Gelly ever, I apologized to Miu. We both started crying and I told her, "I am so incredibly proud of who you have become as a mother. You are such an amazing, patient person. You never yell at Gelly. You're a total WITH Parent." In response, Miu said, "You know, if you ever have a kid, that kid will be lucky to have you as his/her mom." It's been incredible to see my sister CHANGE.
BE A HAPPY PIG
This Lunar New Year, it's the year of the pig. My mom was born in the year of the pig. And as her dementia is progressing, she is in this sweet spot of staying in the moment, not holding on to grudges, sharing her gratitude, and appreciating every single moment she has WITH us. See, change is not so bad after all, right?
*Dedicated to + Inspired by Miu + Gelly*
Do you ever wonder why you intuitively do certain things? Hang out WITH certain people? Choose some things over others? Go on a path that nobody takes but feel like it's the right path for you? You just knew certain things were clearly right for you and certain things were clearly wrong? Well, at a retreat last weekend along the coast of northern California, I finally figured out the WHY behind ME, and thought I'd share.
BE THE MOVIEGOER
The retreat opened up with a meditation: imagine you are watching the movie of your life on screen. You are the main character in this movie. I had done this meditation before with Luke (president of iPEC) at the World Happiness Summit in Miami last March, but this one was deeper. Afterwards we discussed in pairs what we had seen in the first-person and then later on in the third-person. I've always loved watching movies as a child WITH my Popo ("maternal grandma" in Cantonese) and later my mom, but now I understand why it makes sense to begin watching your own life story as a moviegoer. That objectivity helps you to not react to your emotions or get sucked into the drama. The next morning, as I was swimming, as soon as the inner doubter came out, I started saying, "Kyla, you're a F*king badass!" Whoa.
Ok, this is going to sound, well...I won't preempt anything for you. So when Bruce (Founder of iPEC) began asking us to see ourselves in others (literally), I scanned the room and found confused looks. We were just as confused as each other. He brought up Agent Smith from The Matrix, and how he replicated himself. "Imagine you are Agent Smith," he coaxed gently. I closed my eyes and started seeing not myself in them, but seeing things through their perspective. And then two other major epiphanies hit me:
1) ON EMPATHY
Those of you who are empathetic will be able to empathize WITH me deeply on this point. Have you ever thought that it just makes sense to be empathetic? Like when someone else cries, you cry? Or when someone else feels pain, you feel sensations of phantom pain in your body? Well, I've always been an empathetic person and drawn to other empathetic people, but now I understand why! Because we are all one. I am you and you are me, therefore, it makes sense that I would want to empathize WITH you. Whoa.
2) ON JUDGMENT
I am a super judgey person--I will admit that. On the first day of the retreat, I was silently judging everyone in the room. I think I do it so much it has become an auto-pilot habit of mine. Something shifted in me though after we did the Oneness-Meditation-Agent Smith thing. When I would see people in the bathroom, or pass people during break time at the retreat, I began smiling at people. Because I wasn't just smiling at a stranger, I was smiling at myself. Whoa.
THE POWER OF WITH
"You're like that Simon Sinek guy...you know, The Power of Why (Start with Why), but instead yours is the Power of WITH..." Lee semi-joked. She was a fellow participant and made this comment after I had told her about my book and my whole WITH vs AT communication philosophy. I always knew that the way we communicated AT ourselves and AT others was wrong, but now I understood why. When you connect WITH your true self, that is who you truly are. Not what the world outside projects on to you, nor whatever identity has been created AT you. Whoa.
SILENT LUNCH -> SILENT DISCO
On Day 2 we were tasked with having a silent 1.5 hour lunch. My friend Lisa made funny faces on the walk to lunch. We took to creative ways to communicate WITH each other in silence. Then something amazing happened: Millie (one of our friends) started teaching us the Floss Dance. A new friend Kara joined in. Then before you knew it, we were all running towards the beach, tearing our socks and shoes off, and running to the ocean water like kids.
Kara and I held hands as if we had known each other for years. I had never felt more alive. There were so many life metaphors jam-packed into a silent lunch turned disco, but it came to me when Bruce said, "You know, I work with jail inmates and CEOs. They are no different from anyone else. They are all just kids who want to be loved and treated WITH love and kindness." And in that instant on the beach, I understood why I had always embraced my inner child.
There was a moment of hesitation when I saw everyone taking their socks and shoes off. I worried about ruining my perfect outfit, getting sand in my socks and shoes later, but what an incredible teaching: life is messy and beautiful all at once. Embrace it. And your inner child. If you look closely at the first photo above, you'll notice my sock is pulled above my ankle boot and my legging isn't rolled down--imperfectly! Yeahhhhhh!
COURAGE + RADIANCE
11 minutes. The length of time we had to stare into a fellow participant's eyes. I have to say, it was one of the more challenging activities that we had to do. After a while though, I began to see who my person really was: his inner self. We were asked what one word came to mind after the 11 minutes were up. For me, I saw that my person had had a sad childhood, but had overcome it, so I said, "COURAGE." And for me, he said, "You remind me of one of those Buddhist statues, you just radiate light and energy, so I would say RADIANCE." After our deep connection, I told him about what I saw in his childhood and he said, "You are right. I was bullied as a child because I was short, but I have since overcome it."
Maybe in life, in order to see our true selves in our life movie and uncover the WH(Y) behind YO(U), all we really need are two things: COURAGE and RADIANCE. Ok, and a rainbow sprinkling of silent discos, running like a child into the ocean, and other COURAGEOUS and RADIANT humans like my fellow retreat participants to reflect who you truly are.
*Dedicated to + inspired by the incredible OIA Retreat Team + Participants *
The other night at dinner, "Congrats on your book! One day I'd love to hear how you wrote an entire book!" One of my friend's hubbies exclaimed. Another friend's hubby said, "You've got some balls. You're really doing it!" He was referring to how much I put myself out there. Gotta love supportive hubbies.
THE JOURNEY WITHIN THE JOURNEY
They say, writing a book is like a journey. For sure it is, but I kind of see it as like a marathon kind of a journey. But the real journey begins within. All that stuff people say about "mind over matter," well, it is really true. During this journey, the internal journey was the most grueling. There were days, I didn't want to get out of bed let alone write. There were days, I couldn't confront myself or communicate WITH myself. Then there were the Netflix binge days on the couch. And the worst days were the ones filled with self-doubt: What if nobody reads my book? What if nobody buys it?
FROM BROKEN -> BEING
When I began I needed an outlet. I needed a judgment free space where I could just get my thoughts out on paper/computer. I always feared judgment from others. I feared nobody would read my stuff, or nobody would get it, or nobody would care. But once I started writing more, especially within the last several months, like a bird with broken wings, I began at first to timidly fly, and then I came into my own. I realized I didn't need outside validation, even though it felt good to hear from people how my writing had inspired them or see so many friends around me inspired to write their own books.
BLAME -> COMPLAIN -> JUSTIFICATION
In my Happiness Coach Certification program I learned of this paradigm that we humans fall back on. I found myself in this vicious cycle, and I would hear it from others as well. There was so much that I wanted to change about the way in which we communicate, but my blaming this or that, then complaining about it, and finally justifying it was not going to solve anything. I found myself having the same conversations with like-minded and well-meaning humans, but I wanted and needed to move forward.
THE GIRL WHO WANTED TO CHANGE KOREA
I've always loved Korea. I've always felt at home in Korea, like nowhere else in the world. It may sound strange to hear that someone who has no Korean blood feels this way. When I got my Permanent Residency in Korea a few years ago, I was so stoked. Whenever my students and later clients would have a lightbulb moment, I was ecstatic. One of my Korean friends once asked me, "Why do you think you can change Korea?" I answered, "Korea has been so good to me, how could I not do my part?" Turns out, the challenges people face in Korea are actually universal, so even though my book is coming out in Korean first, stay tuned for the English version on Amazon.
THE BOOK I WANTED TO READ
Throughout my 20s and 30s, I read a lot of self-help books written by western authors for a western audience. Having been educated in the west during my high school years and beyond, I understood where they were coming from. However, I didn't see any non-fiction authors who looked like me. It was kind of like when I was out on the global speaking circuit, I didn't see any men or women who looked like me. I wanted advice, I wanted tips, I wanted heck anything, but I couldn't find it in a book, so I wrote one.
THE GREATEST GIFT
It took me more time than I ever would have imagined, but I knew I wanted to give something back to my students in the form of a gift. All my time I had spent learning, growing, teaching WITH my students, all of the times they had encouraged and supported me, all of the times we had laughed, cried, and created change together both inside and outside of the classroom. I always told them, "You can do it, you can do whatever you want to," but I realized that if I didn't finish this book then I wasn't true to myself nor the message I always told my students. Moreover, the greatest gift I could ever give myself or my students and anybody for that matter was my internal validation of myself. Even if nobody ever bought my book, it didn't matter, because the greatest gift was me becoming me.