My first foray into not accepting compliments was rather formal. I was taking an intensive Japanese language course in Yokohama for ten months in my early 20s. It was my dream "job": studying a language for 8 hours a day; nights were spent "practicing" what we had learned in class at local karaoke joints. It was fantastic. I connected with a group of awesome women in my program and we soon called ourselves bijinkai ("the beautiful women's group" in Japanese).
Our classes were small. There was one instructor for six students. There was nowhere to run nor hide if you hadn't done the homework. I remember one particular class where we had to basically deflect compliments. It went something like this:
"Oh, Kyla your Japanese is so good!"
"Oh no, not at all. It needs more work for sure."
"Great job deflecting, Kyla."
Was it weird that I was getting complimented on deflecting compliments?
At a lunch with a bunch of girlfriends today, one of my friends asked the rest of us, "Does anyone here actually think that they are amazing?" We looked at each other with nervous curiosity. One by one, we shook our heads. Later over dessert, we talked about how we all deflect compliments. One friend said, "I don't take compliments very well." Another said, "I don't want to be that person who is seen as bragging or boasting." I nodded. It made sense.
We then talked about a close related "cousin" of deflecting compliments, saying sorry.
Why were women more prone to the S word than men? I knew the research: men are more likely to be seen as competent, women are more likely to be seen as arrogant if they speak their opinions. Women are more likely to silence their opinions if they are outnumbered by men. Men are more likely to ask for a raise and a higher number at that than women. Women will only apply for a job when they meet 100% of the criteria whereas men go ahead and apply when they only meet 60%. And women apologise more than their male counterparts. This last one was a kicker for me, as I started noticing it increasingly when hanging out with women.
So is it the way we were raised? Is it what is expected of us in society? Are we just harder on ourselves? Are we programmed to say "sorry" for every little thing that is not even our fault? And if so, why?
I even noticed the S word plague amongst my female students. They were sorry for being bad at English, they were sorry that I didn't hear them knocking on my door, and they were sorry for crying in my office. The latter, I have definitely apologised for too so I get it.
What worried me about my female students and women I found myself interacting with is that they were all really amazing and talented, but in their "sorries" they were negating and even stamping out their inner awesomeness.
So how do we change this? I saw a FB meme once that said something along the lines of "Replace SORRY with THANK YOU FOR..." It could be "Thank you for your patience while I think of this word in English," or "Thank you for not judging me while I ugly cry." Oh and that next compliment you get? Say "Thank you" too and only "Thank you."
On the walk home from lunch, my girlfriend was telling me that I did a good job with something or other earlier and I immediately deflected and probably would have made my former Japanese instructor proud, but then my girlfriend said this, "You have to take credit. If you don't, then you are implicitly saying for the next time something like this happens that you don't deserve the credit even though you did the work."
Whoa. Thank you, girlfriend.
But really, when you see a woman you know who is apologising/deflecting, touch her on the arm, and call her out. You may just remind her of what she is really sorry for: her inner awesomeness. And perhaps by doing so, we can all start a mini revolution turning HUMILITY into GRATITUDE!
*This blog post is dedicated to the bijinkai and countless other amazing women who have reminded me of my inner awesomeness.*
I decided it was time to go see my grandma's homeopathic doctor, Aviva when I was in LA. To my grandma, she was more than a doctor. She was a companion, a confidante, a friend until the very end. She was always there with an encouraging word, homeopathic treatment, massage, and anything else my grandma needed and in my opinion the reason my grandma lived until she was 99 (!).
My first phone call with Aviva erupted in tears. Aviva calmly listened to find out how she could help me. Her voice gently assuaged my worries about my mom and then she said something wonderful, "You are a ray of sunshine, I can just tell." The first of many wonderful things she would say to me.
It was a sunny afternoon. I could feel the warm sun and the ocean breeze on my back as I walked towards her house. I was wearing my new outfit from Nordstrom's. I decided against a long summery dress and bought a 3/4 length pant romper instead. I was feeling confident I wouldn't break down in tears during my time with her.
She greeted me and hugged me like an old friend whom she hadn't seen in forever. I immediately felt at ease in her arms and flopped onto the couch as if I were in my own home. We talked and talked and talked. I did cry a little bit here and there, but it wasn't an ugly cry.
Then she said the 3 words that stopped me from continuing on my downward spiral of guilt and sadness around my mom:
"You are enough."
Thank you, Aviva. You saved my life.
This morning I excitedly got ready for Bootcamp class. A class taught by a former marine. And before you assume it's a guy, it's a woman. In one of our first classes, I went early, and before anyone else came, she told me how she was one of just 8% in her class who were women, how she had pushed through plantar fasciitis and would wake up 30 minutes before everyone else to stretch her feet out, because they were in so much pain. But she had made it through her own bootcamp.
What a badass.
This class had been recommended to me by countless expat women. It wasn't "Are you interested in taking a bootcamp class?" It was more like "Which bootcamp class are you going to?" I was hesitant at first. I mean, I could barely do a push-up, had no upper body strength, and sometimes couldn't even get through a door if the wind was pushing against it. I was also recovering from my own version of plantar fasciitis, but soon realized after hearing our instructor's story that anything can be overcome with mental grit and fortitude.
I ended up going and it saved my life too. Not only was the instructor welcoming and kind, she would modify things for those of us who were not as physically in shape, and she would never make us feel bad. The other women in the class were chatty, not judgy, and also made me feel welcome. It was my first real foray into being social since I had found out about my mom's D word.
In class, this particular morning I noticed our instructor was a little bit tired. She went on to explain that she was out of it, because her husband had been working long hours at work, so she had to pick up the slack at home with her two kids. Totally understandable. She kept apologizing, even though her low-energy day was like the average person's high-energy day, believe me.
I wanted to yell at her like perhaps her old drill sergeants of past did, "YOU ARE ENOUGH!" But instead I meekly said, "Don't worry, we will have to work extra hard to balance out your energy today." And I did work extra hard to try to make her proud.
After class, I caught up with my friend Nancy. She told me how she was moved by my first blog post that was dedicated to her and her mom. Then I asked her for advice about how to move forward with my own happiness coaching business. She had started her own business and in the moments when she doubted herself she thought about how she stacked up with others around her.
"Ok, take Tony Robbins for example," Nancy began.
"Yeah..." I had brought him up in bootcamp class because I had found out that his net worth was somewhere around $480 million (!).
"So, do you think that he is any smarter than you?"
"Well, did he go to Harvard?"
"No...I don't think he went to college."
I could see where she was going with this. She was giving me my own "YOU ARE ENOUGH" pep talk. Thank you, Nancy.
Watching Tony Robbins' TED Talk, I realized that all of us have the resources within ourselves to move forward, even though we assume we need external resources like money, technology, and so on. That is what I had been doing all along. I had assumed I wasn't good enough, I wasn't X, Y, Z enough.
So next time you go down that road of no return or you see someone going down that road, where there's a sign that says "NO OUTLET" think of these 3 words that could just save your life or someone else's: "YOU ARE ENOUGH."
*This blog post is dedicated to my awesome + awe-inspiring bootcamp instructor*
I was recently in Nordstrom's vainly attempting to find some flowy summery dresses. Every other sign read simply "mom" in lowercase letters. As Mother's Day fast approaches, I thought I would
celebrate my own mom and my own vulnerability in my very first blog post. For the past few years my mom's short-term memory has been in decline. At first, we made excuses: it's old age, she's not sleeping enough, she's maybe depressed/stressed.
Then it got worse, before it got better.
I'd get text messages from old friends in Singapore saying she had not shown up for appointments. The worst came this past February in the form of a text message saying, "Call me immediately. I am with your mom." It was from a person named Tracy I had never heard of nor met before. It turned out my mom had been hiding her keys, handbag, passport (something she had always done), but this time, she couldn't remember where she had hidden all of her valuables. This resulted in her locking herself in her apartment in Singapore where she lived alone, not able to go out for food, calling a locksmith every day to come change the locks. She called Tracy (who was her real estate agent) at 5am to come help her.
This couldn't be happening, I thought. My mom ran a successful real estate business in Hong Kong. Back in the day, she was one of the first people I knew to have a cell phone (one of those walkie talkie kinds!). She would rattle off phone numbers of locksmiths, plumbers, repair guys all from heart.
My mom's doctor in Singapore had told my husband that she had early onset dementia. I remember my heart pounding loudly above my chest when he later told me. My mom's only friend Vivian, as of late, would join her at the food court, dine with her and keep her company, echoed the same sentiments. Vivian's own mother also had dementia.
I cried then and have since cried a lot. I cried because I didn't want to lose my mom to dementia. I cried because I didn't want to get dementia. I cried because of the strain it was putting on my family--we have since moved my mom back to California where she is living with my dad. I cried because I felt sorry for myself, because I felt so powerless, and just because.
I realize the irony in all of this: I am the Happy Champion. I give Happiness Workshops all over the world. I have always tried to have a positive outlook on life and in every nook and cranny possible. But this D word creeped up on me unannounced, like a car does in your blind spot.
I stayed away from Facebook not being able to curate the perfect image of my happy self. I stayed away from friends not being able to face them or myself. I stayed away from social gatherings not knowing if I would burst into tears and embarrass myself. I felt guilty when I did have an ounce of fun knowing that my mom wasn't having any. I took solace in the arms of my husband and just cried. I was deep in my own D word: Depression.
Earlier this month, I went home to see my mom for my 39th birthday. I was nervous about what would happen, would she remember me, would my dad be really stressed out from being the main caregiver, would my sister and mom fight, would my niece take attention away from my mom?
And then I realized something. We only ever have moments with our loved ones. Each moment is a precious morsel of time. We may not remember each and every moment, even if we don't have dementia, but when we realize just how precious those moments are, we linger longer, noticing that smile, that hug, that warm hand, that laugh. I found myself wanting to preserve and create as many of those moments for my mom as I could.
For my dad's 75th birthday in March, I wanted to do something unique and special for not just my dad, but my entire family, so I decided to get him a personal chef. Enter Chef Niko: a wonderfully warm Greek-American Girlboss from Oakland. I wasn't able to meet her in person, as I was in Korea, but during our phone call to plan the menu, I immediately connected with her. I opened up about my mom's dementia, shared other idiosyncrasies about other members of my family, and entrusted her to "take care" of them through her nurturing cooking. And boy did she do that.
"Would you like us to get that lady for your birthday?" my mom asked.
I was stunned. The dinner had happened in March, my mom barely remembered when my own birthday was in May, yet she had remembered that dinner. It was a brilliant idea. Thanks mom. My dad and sister ended up getting Chef Niko to come for my own birthday dinner, I got to meet my soul sister in person, and she was a true gem, embracing all of the idiosyncrasies of my family members that I had been initially embarrassed to share with her. Not only is she an incredibly gifted chef, but she is also incredibly thoughtful. She gives back to her community and goes above and beyond what is expected of her in the kitchen. She showed up with a glass vase full of beautiful fresh flowers from her garden for me. Wow.
Chef Niko gave me another unexpected birthday present, just when I needed it. She heard that I was going to travel down to LA to visit my in-laws. "You have to meet my friend Eugene. He is upcycling jeans and T-shirts, and is all about kindness like you."
With that, I reached out to Eugene, and met up with him over Thai lunch at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant near Torrance (not far from my uncle's house). Eugene was that rare human-being you meet who had transformed grief into gratitude and then some. He had trekked from Mexico to Canada to raise $80,000 for a complete stranger, so this complete stranger could walk again. Talk about the ultimate random act of kindness. A month ago, he launched a clothing company called KIN LOV GRA that upcycles jeans and T-shirts, but in a unique way: all of the fabric is turned inside out to expose the inside, the most vulnerable part of ourselves. As if that isn't cool enough. Each item you buy, will support a family on Skid Row.
He truly lives by his creed posting the most gut-wrenchingly vulnerable posts about his struggles with his new business and his own personal life on Facebook. TOTAL INSPIRATION.
So here I am in all my vulnerability and tears. (Yes, I am crying as I write this too.) I am not perfectly curated for social media, and maybe I never have been. My mom's memory may never improve, but what has improved is my ability to take care of my mom in the emotional moments I do have with her--the way she has taken care of me for the last 3 decades of my own life. And if this Mother's Day, you are completely in the moment WITH your own mom (no cell phones, no texting, no social media), you will see that same smile, laugh, happiness, and joy in your own mom. And maybe, just maybe, it will look something like this:
Happy Mother's Day, mom. I love you.
*This first blog post is dedicated to moms around the globe, but especially to my friend Nancy's mom who is no longer with us. Nancy: Thank you for encouraging me + believing in me like I'm sure your mom encouraged and believed in you. <3