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 AJOSSHIS (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 (Thank you in Korean), 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 often feel jealous when hanging out with his friends. He knew he didn't want to feel this way, and he knew it didn't feel good to him, but he couldn't help it. I assured him we have all felt this 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 regarding how my workshop went. 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 was holding up 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.*
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.
I am one of the biggest Taylor Swift fans out there. There, I said it. When I was teaching at Yonsei University, I would often play her music videos to get students excited and to better understand what our theme for the day was. There was "Shake It off" to help students deal WITH those challenging times in life, there was "Fearless" to help us navigate and speak about the dreaded F word, there was "New Romantics" where I pulled out the lyrics "I could build a castle with all the bricks they threw at me" to empower them and remind them how awesome they truly were. Taylor was always there. On particularly rough days, even now, I would go home and watch as many YouTube videos with Taylor in them as possible.
I haven't always been able to admit to people that I have been a big Taylor Swift fan. I thought, I'm not young enough, I'm not in middle school, I'm not and the list continued. Last night, looking out into a sea of LED bracelet lights, I had an LED light epiphany: Isn't that what Taylor always told her fans? No matter who you are or what you do you are just awesome the way you are? And isn't that what you in turn told students by playing her music at the start of each class? Oh yeah, I need to take my own advice.
Recently, I got invited to speak in Italy, and my contact asked if I would need to change certain aspects of my workshop because there would be more people in the room than expected. Something I always try to do, no matter how many people there in my workshops is make them as WITH as possible. Last night, I learned a few lessons from Taylor. Ok, so she had a few million fans there last night...who's counting? I'll get there one day!
WITH HER FANS
At the beginning of the show, she played a clip of "Look What You Made Me Do" and alongside it, she played clips of her various fans' reactions to this video. Everyone knows it is no secret (pun intended) that she has these sessions called "Secret Sessions" where she invites her fans to the different houses she owns in the U.S., and plays the entire album for them before she releases it to the public. They get to dance, hangout WITH Taylor, she bakes them cookies, and just be WITH her. How cool is that?
GRATITUDING WITH US
So Thanksgiving is around the corner and gratituding is a-flowing. While playing the piano before "New Year's Day," Taylor shared her gratitude around the fact that she wouldn't have been there playing if it wasn't for us. I started crying because I thought of my book (my greatest creation thus far) and how it wouldn't have been possible WITHout the many people who have supported me both in the book and on the sidelines of it. I remember looking around at the millions of people who had come out to support Taylor on a week night and thought to myself, Yeah, she would not have been here if it hadn't been for us.
WITH Charlie XCX
Usually the opening singer is just that--the opening singer. You usually see them at the beginning of the performance, and then you don't see them again. Last night, Taylor brought Charlie XCX out again during "Shake It Off," thanked her profusely in front of everyone, and then danced WITH her on stage. Taylor further said, "Charlie XCX is not just a great singer, but a great friend, and it's been awesome to tour the world WITH her."
WITH HER DANCERS
At the end of the performance, she sang "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" and danced around WITH her dancers splashing around in the fountain they had brought on stage. Whaaaat?! It was neat to see that instead of just bowing by herself, she took the hands of two dancers, and ran around various parts of the stage WITH them and bowed WITH them.
So there you have it...my night WITH Taylor Swift.
Is there anything you're doing or holding yourself back from doing? There is still a little over a month left in 2018 for you to truly be WITH yourself, and as the great Taylor Swift says, "Shake it off" and just do it!
On a webinar WITH some awesome European women last Thursday night, one woman asked, "How can we deal WITH negative people or negative co-workers in a WITH way?" I was taken aback. She had asked the question in such a WITH way, and wanted a WITH solution. How cool is that? Following that webinar, a friend of mine posted a FB Live asking for similar advice. This is a sign from the universe, I thought. Oh and I had a shower-piphany (shower + epiphany) about all of this, so here goes.
DEAL WITH YOUR OWN SHIT FIRST
I know you're thinking, this is about the other AT person, not about me. Just like Forgiveness, it never really is about the other person. It is about YOU. When I was at my women's retreat in Bali in December of last year, there was a woman who was particularly challenging to deal WITH. One day when we were out surfing, she made fun of me in front of the other women and the surf instructors: "Hahaha...Kyla actually thought she was surfing on her own!" She was referring to the fact that the instructors would give us a little push, so we could ride the wave easier/faster. I was so pissed. Later talking WITH my friend Nikki (who is also a life coach) about it she said this, "You know, I think you have to ask yourself why this person has come into your life and what it is saying about you and where you are." Nikki was right. People come into your life for a reason and they reflect back what you haven't dealt WITH.
I was asked to write an article for April Magazine (an online magazine by Asian women for Asian women) about corporate bullying. It was telling that I ended up writing about being my own inner bully. I think we all have our own inner bully somewhere that runs wild WITHin us. Before dealing WITH other AT people, we have to deal WITH that inner bully. You know the one that says you can't do something or that you're not good enough. You can check out my article about the Inner Bully here. Remember: You are not alone. One of the key takeaways from that webinar I had on Thursday night: Wow, we all have similar AT voices WITHin us.
LIGHT THEM UP
Ok, so I'm not talking about dropping a match, burning down the AT person's cubicle and walking away Die Hard style. Although believe me, I have thought quite seriously about this with various corporate bullies I have had to deal WITH. But in seriousness, they say people who hurt others are the most hurt inside. Yes, it is cliche, but it is very often true. The very AT people who you want to be AT back to, actually need as much WITH behavior as possible. So find out what it is that lights that person up, what makes their heart sing, and talk WITH them about it. One of my former corporate bullies loved talking about her daughter playing violin. So that is what I would talk WITH her about.
The guru of positive psychology, Martin Seligman came up with something called the VIA Strengths Test, which you can take online for free. Far too often, we focus on negative AT behavior, rather than the AT person's strengths. We all have strengths, sometimes we choose to see them and often we don't choose to see them at all focusing on what we can improve. Just as much as the AT person has stuff that lights them up, they also have strengths. In working WITH a personal trainer, or in my case bootcamp class, my strength training involved building my upper body strength. It wasn't that I didn't have any upper body strength, it was that I had to work hard to build more to strengthen my upper body.
A few weeks ago I was talking a friend into joining an upcoming FemEntrepreneur panel I was putting together. Here's how that conversation went:
Me: Hey, I am putting this panel together, and I think you would be great!
Friend: Ohhhh...I think I have a lot to say, but not much to give...
Me: Imagine if you could empower just one other woman to become a fementrepreneur WITH your story...
And then from there, the conversation took a different turn. Her fear of not having enough to give or speaking in front of an audience was trumped by the empowerment aspect of it all. I think the idea is when you find an AT person, ask yourself: "How can I empower MYSELF and that other person as well?" Oh, and you've sidestepped FEAR without even having to worry about it (!).
Along the same lines as empowering others, what I realized was so powerful during that webinar was that the other women had so many great ideas. Whether we were talking about AT emotions during PMS, or how to deal WITH men in a WITH way, or just how to be kinder WITH ourselves, they were eager to share what had helped them. You realize you're not alone, you realize you can help someone (GROW x2), you trump fear, and you've been able to use a seemingly challenging AT situation to help someone else. Drop the WITH mic!
Ok, I often tell this to clients: GTFO! If none of the above is working, and you've given it your best go, and you'll know deep down, then let go and go. When I was going through a particularly challenging AT corporate bullying experience, a lot of friends would say, "Oh, just stick it out. It will look bad on your resume if you leave before the year is out." What I would say is your mental sanity is so much more important than your resume. Without your mental sanity, there will be no more resumes, right?
"Kyla, can I share an observation with you?" He asked.
Gosh, when people ask you that, you can't really say no, even though you kind of want to and just run away as fast as you can.
"Ok, go ahead," I answered hesitantly.
"Well, I have noticed that you are really externally validating yourself all the time..."
If that came from anyone else, I might have blown it off, but it came from someone I really respected--a next level happiness guru someone. I continued the conversation telling him that I had literally just had a conversation with my sister that morning telling her how after meeting him and his colleague, I was so inspired by how ego-less they both were (even though they were both such badasses), and how I was becoming less and less ego-driven myself as a result.
This past week, I had two conversations with two new clients. Both of them asked the question I often get wherever I go, "How come you're always so positive/happy?" I think that is a great question, but a better question would be "How do you accept yourself no matter what crazy shit is thrown AT you in life?"
I spent the week contemplating whether I was externally validating myself. The observation haunted me. I had spent much of 2017 working on myself, getting my life coach certification, working on my book (which deals with a lot of this stuff), and just taking a huge life pause. When I explained this to the guru, he said, "You know the difference between a foolish and a wise person? The fool thinks he/she is wise. You can never stop working on yourself."
I recalled the conversation I had had with the guru to my two new clients separately. They were both shocked to hear that he would say I was externally driven, especially since both had attended my Happiness Workshop where I literally open the workshop with all the external things that used to drive me, and how now I focus more on the internal ones.
The guru probably sensed my denial/defensive nature and simply said, "Don't think too much about this. You know, you can't think yourself out of this. Just feel if there is a lack over the next few days and when there is a lack, try to figure out where that comes from."
CONVERSATIONS WITH GIRLFRIENDS
Over lunch the next day with a girlfriend in my bootcamp class, over shaved ice, we traded over-critical mom war stories.
"Yeah, my mom would scold me for like 15 minutes whenever I spilled milk...talk about not crying over spilt milk," I attempted to make a joke to make the situation a bit less serious.
"Yeah, my mom would do that too," my girlfriend shared. It was the first time I had heard her talk about her mom in that way. It was the first time we were both talking about our moms that way.
"It took me a long time before I realized that my mom was extremely verbally abusive..." I continued.
"Yeah, my mom...(she began crying) was not only verbally abusive but physically abusive..."
Over an iced green tea latte at the last not-so-hipster cafe in Seoul, I met up with Youjin, a former prosecutor who had started an online magazine written by Asian women for Asian women. She was super animated in her facial expressions and body language--I felt immediately at ease around her.
"When I was in Europe, I realized Asian women experienced severe discrimination, and no matter whom I spoke to, they all had similar childhood experiences. They grew up with parents who were extremely demanding of them. But they were all serious badasses...super talented."
HOW TO MOVE FORWARD
To answer that question of LACK (basically asked by my guru and two new clients in different ways), we have to take a step back and figure out when life throws stuff AT us, whether we respond WITH our true selves or our EGO?
1. Feel the lack. Where is YOUR lack coming from? For me, it came from an over-critical mom, which then made me seek external validation from others.
2. Once you figure it out, don't judge yourself, or the other people that might have contributed to this LACK. Forgive yourself and them.
3. Have a little talk WITH your ego. Whenever someone makes an observation about you, or gives you feedback, how do you take it? If it is wrapped around LACK, ask yourself, is it really YOU talking or your EGO talking?
4. If it is your EGO talking, do some mindful breathing, until your EGO is gone, and it is just the REAL and true you.
5. Figure out an action plan. Are there triggers that bring up LACK? Can you use these to instead of bring your EGO out, bring yourself out?
6. Repeat steps 1-5 often.
And remember what the guru said, "A foolish person is someone who thinks they are wise."
Thank you, guru.
It is said that by 2025 Millennials will be 75% of the global workforce, according to a recent survey by Gallup. Just 29% of Millennials are engaged at work, I guess that's better than the global average of 13%? But if we really are to create happier workplaces, wouldn't it make sense that we should start by making Millennials happier?
Recently a good friend asked me, "How do we engage millennials in the workplace?" As I pondered that question, she continued, "Well, I mean, you did that every day as a university professor. You won awards you were so good at it."
Then I thought, perhaps the workplace was not that much different from the university classroom, when done right. People still had to work on teams. People still had to work on goals. People still had to perform well in order to get to the next level. And after all, everyone wanted to be successful.
Last year, I was asked to inspire Merck Millennials in Malaysia. Some of the activities I did in my workshop were no different from the activities I used to use to inspire my former university students.
Maybe I did know a thing or two?
SET THE GROUNDWORK FIRST (CLEARLY)
In the first two weeks of each semester, I work really hard to: memorize names, make sure everyone is on the same page, make sure people respect each other, listen to each other, put their cell phones away, and the list goes on. I learned the hard way that when I didn't do that early on and work hard at it, I would lose people very quickly later on in the semester. Millennials (and employees in other generations!) need to know what is expected of them otherwise it is extremely stressful. In fact, 72% of Millennials who agree strongly that their managers help them set performance goals are engaged at work according to that same Gallup study.
CREATE COMMUNITIES (NOT WORKPLACES)
When students come into my classroom, they are always astounded that I greet each one by name. My classes usually maxed out at 24 students, so I was able to memorize each student's name by taking what my students would call "mugshots" with my cell phone camera. Even in my bigger Happiness Freshman Seminar that I created (150 students), I would sometimes go to class early, and just sit in the huge lecture hall of 150 students chatting WITH a group of students and getting to know them. In Power Your Tribe: Create Resilient Teams in Turbulent Times, Christine Comaford who has been coaching companies for 30 years, says employees just want to have 3 basic needs met: safety, belonging and mattering.
MAKE PEOPLE CRY (NOT WHAT YOU THINK)
Every semester, I have students come to my office hours. Not because they necessarily wanted to talk about academic stuff, but because they wanted to talk about life or some kind of challenge they were facing. I actually loved talking about this stuff--it was the beginning of my life coaching really. Great coaches will tell you though, when you elicit an emotional response, it means you have empowered your clients in the direction they needed to go in. So often emotional responses are frowned upon in the workplace or school place, but when you can make people cry, then you know you have made them realize something so much deeper that they couldn't have figured out on their own. Further, I realized that students were often so touched that I took the time to talk WITH them, listen to them, and care about them that they cried. In Shawn Achor's latest book, Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being, Achor proves that teams with high EQ outperform teams with high IQ (!).
As humans we compare. Social media has not helped with this obsession either. When I ran in my first 100m sprint as an elementary school kids with pigtails flying, I remember my mom's advice, "Don't look at the other kids. Just look straight ahead." Think about it: In this race we often call life, if you look at other people while you are "racing" will you be faster or slower? Actually, what I didn't know at the time is that when you compare yourself with someone else, you actually perform worse, because it is an impossible comparison--there is only one you in this world. You'll be happy to hear, that was the first and last race I ever won, but I've been winning at life a little bit more.
GIVE A LITTLE (OR A LOT)
I have always been a giver. Perhaps it stems from the fact that I was a people pleaser. I have always loved giving things away. When people come over, I pack them home with whatever I have in my fridge. It wasn't until later, I realized what I was doing had links to happiness. People who are generous are happier. But did you know that people who give are not just happier but more successful? In Adam Grant's Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, he proves that medical students who helped other students on their exam, actually outperformed those who didn't. Encourage people around you to give to each other, give back to their communities, give food to cleaners, give to themselves.
*Dedicated to my friend Amanda who asked how to create happier workplaces. Here's to creating more happy millennials together!*
How to Get Away WITH
I know I am a bit late to the game, but I only recently started watching and then getting addicted to Shonda Rhimes' TV drama How to Get Away with Murder on Netflix that came out in 2014. I always was a late bloomer. Beyond the high drama and antics, what I absolutely love about the show is the gender role reversal: a guy going down on a lady, a male assistant to a female boss, a guy wanting to be more than a piece of meat, and the list goes on. I am hooked. Thanks, Shonda. You've done it again.
On my recent podcast with my Finnish collaborator Ilkka, we invited Sani Leino to join us. Ilkka is the Business Area Director of The University of Helsinki's Center for Continuing Education HY+. In the past, Ilkka and I have cross-culturally collaborated on some crazy things: Skyping each other into workshops, inspiring each other's students when he was a lecturer, and our latest and greatest collaboration is a HAPPY Hour podcast. Ilkka is always good for a "YEAH! Let's do it!" Sani is a good friend of Ilkka's and the Sales Director for Europe at Thinglink. He just so happens to be one of the most positive people in Finland besides Ilkka. In his own words, Sani claims he believes in AGGRESSIVE POSITIVITY. Sounds like a total oxymoron, but is it?
Before our podcast session, the three of us had a conference call to catch up and brainstorm for the session.
"You know, it's not like I wake up positive all the time. It's a choice. People have a choice to be positive," Sani said in an upbeat tone reflecting his own mantra.
"Yeah, I would say my whole thing is brutal optimism," Ilkka chimed in excitedly. I looked at these two through my laptop screen feeling so fortunate to just bask in the positive rays they were emanating halfway across the globe in Korea.
"One of my friends passed away recently and on my way to the store the other day I thought: why do people receive so many more flowers when they are gone than when they are alive?" Sani continued.
It made me think back to my days at boarding school when we would take the yellow school bus down to town and buy sunflowers for friends' birthdays or just because (they were bummed out about someone/something). I thought about the time I would visit John (a florist) in Harvard Square when I was at grad school, and buy myself a $10 bouquet of roses every week. I thought about how whenever my mom and I would argue, I would buy her a bouquet of roses, get them wrapped and tied with a ribbon that matched the roses. I thought about how my husband makes sure to buy me flowers on a regular basis (even though they are super expensive here in Korea) just because he can actually afford to now.
Why do we wait? To treat ourselves to things we love, hangout with people we love, do things we love?
The answer lies within our brains. Enter the Reticular Activating System (RAS). It lives in our medulla and basically lets trivial things go and alerts us of "life-threatening" dangers. Well, back in the day, when we were cave dwellers, this was a great system: Lion coming! RUNNNNNNN! Nowadays, Boss coming! RUNNNNNN?! Not really the same threat level. Ok, for most of us anyways.
Our tendency towards negativity and doom and gloom is ingrained. Perhaps that's why How to Get Away with Murder is so addictive?
In a recent conversation with a former student last night he said, "I really have to think hard to choose positivity over negativity now that I am out of college and working." I told him about Sani and his idea of AGGRESSIVE POSITIVITY. He seemed to really like the concept. "You know, I don't want to bring my dreams and hopes to my grave," he continued. I shared Sani's story about the flowers and told him to not wait on those either.
So how do we get away WITH
Aggressive positivity. For every negative thought the RAS puts into your brain, you fight it just as hard as Viola Davis fought to get her role in How to Get Away with Murder as badass lawyer Annalise Keating; and just as hard as she then fought to be the first African-American actress to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2015. Shero status!
So I have a confession: I haven't actually met Sani in person. Last year when I went to Finland, Ilkka put together an incredible dinner for me on my last night there. He called it The Global Leadership Dinner and invited 20 or so people whom he believed were the thought leaders of Finland: it was a veritable mix of the most amazing + inspiring people I have ever met in my life in one room. I didn't know how to thank each and every one of them, so I decided to write them each a hand-crafted crayon card =). I left Sani's at the front desk of my hotel as he was unable to attend the dinner.
A week later, I received a Facebook video message from him: "Some people feel the rain; others just get wet. A quote from an American singer song writer named Roger Miller. I believe you are the type of person who feels the rain, Kyla." He was sitting in his car after he had picked up his crayon card. It was raining outside.
Now that's some aggressive positivity. Thanks Sani. May you continue to feel the rain too.
Happiness coach, Theta Healer®, author, WITH Warrior in Chief <3