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!*
SpeakHER. InsipireHER. TraveleHER.