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