Connection and Purpose
At a Vietnamese dinner with two young Asian fementrepreneurs I had my blue Kate Spade sunglasses out on the table--the only Kate Spade thing I have ever owned, which was gifted by my parents in part to help distract my mom from a meltdown at the optometrist’s office (she doesn’t like dealing with doctors of any kind in the U.S.). At that point, we already knew of my mom’s dementia, and that perhaps it was triggered by her depression and living alone in Singapore after my Popo’s (maternal grandmother in Cantonese) passing.
That night at dinner, completely engaged in the conversation, I didn’t notice that when my sunglasses had fallen, a part of the hinge broke off leaving the sunglasses to bend funny.
In the days that followed, I would discover that Kate Spade herself had taken her own life because of depression.
At a workplace happiness bootcamp in Mumbai, whenever they played the iconic Star Wars’ themed music, all of us had to get together and connect to each other by placing one finger on the palm of whoever was closest to us…until we were all connected. Over the course of the three days, we talked about how to make workplaces happier. On day 2, I noticed a lot of people were getting frustrated: they wanted best practices, they wanted answers, they wanted a cheat sheet of what worked for other companies. It’s like when you take a course at university, and rather than learning and figuring out how to study, the importance of studying, you just get your roommate to give you all of the answers not ever fully comprehending what the course was about in the first place.
In an exercise on gratitude, I looked around at the Indian men at my table: they had come from different parts of India, from the north, east, south, and west. They were responsible for bringing back what they had learned from the bootcamp to their company, and in a way, I was somewhat responsible for helping them achieve that in the best way I knew how. In an exercise on gratitude, we had to go around the table and talk about what we were grateful for and this is what I said:
“Coming to India for the first time, I couldn’t be happier that you guys were the first people I got to meet, interact with, and get to know. You guys are like my Indian brothers.”
Then of course, I got all shy and nervous, and probably said something weird. We did end the session with a group hug, which was warm and fuzzy, and not-so-awkward.
It was in that moment, I recalled my own purpose and just how important it was. It wasn’t just about happiness. It was about saving lives. And if I could help them bring that back to their company, they could in turn save thousands more lives. I recalled a conversation with an Indian life coach, “Did you know that every hour in India, a student kills themselves? Every hour.”
And at the end of the bootcamp on the 3rd day, as we are saying our goodbyes, Anil turns to me and says, "Kyla, if you're ever in India again, don't hesitate to let us know. Between all of us we have got you covered, we will take care of you." I look up at my other Indian brothers' faces and they are all nodding in agreement. Prakash appeared with some gratitude gifts he had purchased for us and the Delivering Happiness book by Tony Hsieh for me.
Now, that's connection.
"You are pulling off a sari very well, Kyla."
"You look good in a sari..."
People were coming up to me throughout day 3 and shaking my hand while complimenting my sari--the sari. It was the closest I have ever felt to Bollywood royalty...
I briefly mentioned to Jaya, one of the bootcamp staff members who is a communications coach, that it was always a dream of mine to buy and wear a sari. She took this to heart. On our second night together, she took it upon herself to take me to Irya (a part of Mumbai where they sell saris), bargained for me, and the following morning, came to my hotel room to help me put it on. She even lent me her chori (sari top), some silver earrings, and placed a pink bindi on my forehead (!).
Along the way, in our auto-rickshaw, I learned about her extraordinary life view: helping others, spending time getting to know others, spreading happiness, educating others to communicate in a way that was purposeful and connected. I was completely blown away...I mean, it was like taking an auto-rickshaw with a spiritual guru.
About a week ago, a good childhood friend of mine encouraged me to reach out to our old middle school French teacher. So I did. Turns out he remembered me and was happy to hear from me. We connected on FB and caught up on almost 25 years of our lives on FB messenger. Recently he posted how he had actually met Anthony Bourdain many years ago, not even really knowing who he was, and was heartened by how down-to-earth and friendly he was after he found out that he was Anthony Bourdain.
I was struck by how many people I knew had actually met Anthony Bourdain. It was like the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. Everyone began posting photos of Anthony Bourdain on their FB walls.
Gosh, we really are more connected than we could ever imagine…Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, heck, anyone and everyone who has ever been depressed my mom and I included.
The Cheat Sheet
Sitting at the table, our table #4, a table I had hesitantly walked over to on the first day of the workplace happiness bootcamp, and looking at the faces of my Indian brothers on day 3, I understood what that cheat sheet for not just workplace happiness but personal happiness would look like if there ever was one: connection + purpose.
In our increasingly tech-driven world, we are more and more socially isolated than ever. Our ancestors sought solace in communities: eating together, hunting together, protecting, and supporting each other. Those communities are now called workplaces.
But if you can create and sustain connection and purpose not only in your personal lives and work lives, imagine how many Kate Spades and Anthony Bourdains you could save? I thought about all of the rejections I had faced in the past with regards to my own purpose: “Kyla, who is going to pay you for happiness?” “Why would you try to make Korea happy? Wouldn’t it be easier for you to start your business in the U.S.?” “Corporations only care about ROI, not happiness.”
Beyond the data that I live and breathe about personal and workplace happiness and how employees are not only happier, but more productive, more innovative, sales increase, retention rates increase, sick leave decreases, blah, blah blah, isn’t it our moral obligation as humans to help each other be happier? Be more connected? Live our purpose?
And just connect WITH each other. Go on, may the force be WITH you.
*Dedicated to the Kate Spades and Anthony Bourdains we are more connected WITH than we ever thought.
*Inspired by everyone who battles depression on a daily basis. You are not alone. You are more connected WITH us than you ever thought.