where i’m at

I’m surprised y’all are reading me, honestly. Lately it seems I only write crazy dialogues with myself, or I preach — to myself. I’ve always believed people are more alike than different (culture is extrinsic rather than intrinsic, at least initially), and so it is perhaps validating if you can relate to my absurdity. But . . . Really — I’m sorry.

That adult-child piece, though — the idea that when we were kids we thought adults had things all figured out . . .

Oh, honey.

As I have aged, life has (sadly) gotten more rather than less complex. This is of course inevitable as a person assumes self-reliance in adulthood, but I sometimes wonder if the modern world and its Internetopia hasn’t exaggerated this complexity. Now not only am I aware of what was once the “Great Unknown,” the Great Unknown is also available at the opening of an Internet browser. I can access the world with my fingertips.

And not only that, as an adult, I’ve become increasingly aware of the world within. We are emotional creatures with the capacity for both great love and great darkness. The things that make us “us” start when we are young, but it is as we grow and grapple with our genetic and cultural makeup that we can make decisions about who we will become. I myself have struggled with feelings of inadequacy. Why? Many reasons, but it is up to me to determine what to do with those feelings. I have one life to live. Why should I spend mine trying to meet others’ standards?

This is where that “why” I’ve mentioned comes in. If I am tuned into my own values — the morals I learned as a child and the passions that make me “me” — and if I listen to my gut on a daily basis, then I should have nothing to apologize for. I’m me, and I’m on a journey. If you’re not interested in joining the ride, then please, move along. (Easier for a “pleaser” like me to say than do!)

I didn’t make it to my trash clean-up this morning. I wanted to — both for humanitarian and social reasons — but I’m realizing that sometimes it’s okay to take a day off. I needed to write this post as much as I need to think. And to breathe. I hope that, wherever you are, you’re taking a day off and taking care of yourself this weekend, too.

 

 

walking my “why”

The truth is I lied in my last post. My trouble with blogging isn’t work. It’s time management.

Sure, sure — we all have this problem. Who ever does everything they’re supposed to exactly when they’re supposed to do it? Almost no one. That’s human nature — and life. But this flaw has perhaps been exaggerated in my case since moving to Knoxville. I work from home for a company on the west coast. I have class in the middle of the day. I’ve always been a night owl . . .

You see where I’m going with this.

It’s a fine thing to have flexibility and down time, but there comes a point where structure is good, too. Kids need routines and schedules, and so do adults. I like needing to be places and feeling productive. I like feeling like I’m a part of something in a meaningful way.

I’ve talked a lot about happiness on my blog — what it is compared to what we think it is. I’m come to see that happiness is multi-faceted. It’s not enough just to be thankful for what you have. Happiness is not about possessions or wealth. Happiness is much more than that, and part of it is “walking your why” and feeling like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.

Take, for example, the families who have been displaced in places like Syria or Rohingya. Many of these people have nothing except the clothes on their backs. Surely these people are suffering, but something that keeps them going — something that keeps all of us going — is the idea that a better future is within their grasp, that somehow they can create a better life for their children.

But why do I bring up refugees? Why not talk about the Yale graduate who left a prestigious law firm to help save women from human trafficking? Or the CEO who left the big business to start a program to help the homeless? Or myself who moved across country to start school to become a teacher? Those are the kinds of stories you were expecting, right?

Why? Because happiness isn’t limited to “first world” nations, folks. Take a look at that smiling Syrian baby above. Is he not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Indeed, some of the happiest people I’ve ever met were in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Imagine how much simpler your own life would be if you didn’t have all of those “things” to worry about and bills to pay? How much easier would it be to live in the moment? We underestimate the toll some of our privileges take on our overall well-being.

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In her talk on emotional agility, which I mentioned previously, psychologist Susan David talks about the importance of living our lives according to our values when it comes to our happiness. And I feel like that’s what’s really missing here. I say I want to get to bed earlier. But do I? I wake up much more satisfied with myself the next morning when I do! We say we want to help others. But do we? We’re much happier when we volunteer at that food kitchen, or reach out to that silent coworker, or take a leap of faith and make that career change — in other words, when we listen to our gut and think outside of ourselves — yes, when we follow through!

My challenge to myself this Easter weekend is to challenge my habits and actions that are not in line with my true values. I desperately want to be a better person and to “walk my why” on a daily basis. Don’t you?

Just food for thought on this beautiful Easter weekend. And . . . Speaking of “whys” . . . Now that I’ve got this blog post done ;) . . . I’ve got a five-page paper to write, so I guess I’d better get going on that, too!

what is happiness?

I don’t know how others do it. I mean . . .  We’re all different, I get that. But some people can churn out blog post after blog post no matter what else is going on in their life. I’m not like that never have been. When I’m “down,” I shut down. I can’t write about something I’m not focused on.

This would be true even if I had a blog about cooking. Or knitting. Or cycling. I mean, who cares about power meters or crème brûlée when your personal life is falling apart?

In a recent TED Talk, psychologist Susan David of Harvard Medical School says society has trained us to either judge ourselves for having so-called ‘bad emotions’ things like sadness, anger, or grief or to actively try to push these feelings away. “Normal, natural emotions are now seen as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and being positive has become a new form of ‘moral correctness’ . . . People with cancer are told to ‘just stay positive.’ Women, to ‘stop being angry’ . . . But when we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity, we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

A friend of David’s who recently died of cancer put the problem poignantly this way before she passed: “What it starts to do is implicate me in my own death, like somehow I’m culpable for not thinking my way out of ill health.”

 

. . . Well, okay. But you’re not dying of cancer, Jess. (Sheesh, Jess. Get a grip!) And outlook is everything, right? Like I stated in my last post, how you see yourself and what you put out into the universe is what you get back, right? There is always something to be thankful for.

Well, yes. And yes, and yes, and yes. But can you do all of these things and still remain true to yourself? Is it possible that sometimes your best self is the one that’s sad because something didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped? The one that’s disappointed because you didn’t get the position you applied for? The one that’s grieving because your relationship ended? Life isn’t all cupcakes and roses.

I suppose I’m often silent because I feel I have to choose between writing something positive and not writing at all, and because the last thing I want is to either a) appear to be looking for sympathy (we’re all going through something), or b) to hear, “Cheer up!” or “Hope things look up for you soon,” or “Tomorrow is another day!” Because folks, no. The only thing that’s guaranteed is now, and like it or not, happiness is not a goal. Happiness is a byproduct of living according to our values and striving to be our personal best through the good and the bad. Happiness is showing up and working through life’s problems authentically, recognizing that life is rarely if ever ideal but that there is beauty in its fragility.

Ironically, then, happiness doesn’t always mean being happy, just as courage doesn’t mean being without fear. I liked the way David described courage in her talk. She said, “Courage is fear walking.” I would even take it a step farther and say that happiness is courage. Incidentally, then, it is also within our control.

I don’t know about you, but at the end of my life I want to be able to look back and know I did the best I could to leave the planet a better place. Lately I’ve worried about whether or not I’m achieving that goal, but in this world of false positivity, David’s words give me hope. “Tough emotions are part of our contract with life. You don’t get to have a meaningful career or raise a family or leave the world a better place without stress and discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

With courage, I will find the light at the end of my tunnel. Happiness is my authenticity and the torch I’ll take with me to show the way.

The above is a preview of David’s TED Talk. The full TED Talk, which is less than 17 minutes, can be found here. She also has an interesting free Emotional Agility quiz, which you can access here. It takes less than five minutes to complete and aims to help readers make everyday choices and live their lives with more intention and insight.

sorry, not sorry

I sit at my laptop, looking out the window — a blank stare.

No, not blank. There’s a lot going on inside the walls behind my glasses. There’s always a lot going on there.

I think too much.

I watched a movie last night. In it, Reese Witherspoon delivers a spot-on line. “You know what the difference is between men and women? Men just do. They decide what they want to do, and they just do it. Women always have to think about the consequences.”

Like today. After days of rain, it’s finally beautiful outside. I’ll be out on my bike soon, but even then, where is my mind?

With the victims of Parkside, with the gun war, with social media and online identity. With what it takes — what it really takes — to become a writer. (Do you need a degree? Dickens didn’t.) With passion versus practicality. With “forge ahead” versus “let it flow.” With “be yourself” versus “be what others want from you.” With finances. With family. With faith versus real-world experience. With famine versus plenty . . .

With race, privilege, power, poverty, circumstance, personal responsibility, finances, friendship, loneliness, thankfulness, climate change, litter, recycling, consumerism, capitalism, love, hate, tradition, change, aging . . .

Did I mention that I think too much?

I’m tired of being sorry.

Sorry, I’m not sorry.

i am . . .

It’s a quiet night on the home front. Bike is put away; swim gear is drying. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow — had to get in as much today as I could . . . in honor of my birthday.

I’m calmer this year facing my birthday than I’ve been in years past. I don’t have any plans, and I don’t mind. It’s just . . . The days drag and the years fly on. Where does time go?

I must be the oldest almost 34-year-old on the planet.

I’m learning to accept myself this year. Calling myself beautiful instead of calling myself names. It’s not easy to change the way you see yourself, but it’s worth it. It sets the course for the rest of your life — and, in some cases, for others.

I saw this video recently and really liked it. Please, let me know what you think. :)

The most powerful force in the human psyche is how we describe ourselves to ourselves. Who’s giving you labels?

34 is going to be my best year yet.

the key to success . . .

Confession: I’m a failure. I fail every day. But I’m also a success. I keep trying.

How do I mean? I’ll give you a few examples:

  • I applied to graduate school four times before being accepted. When I finally got in, it was on uncertain terms. (I’ll explain later.)
  • I didn’t complete my first half Ironman. I was anemic and had to withdraw. The next year, I finished two half Ironmans and several other triathlons. I have my sights set on completing my first marathon and first full Ironman in 2018/19.
  • I started a blog while I lived in Taiwan, Tai Tao. It never took off. When I moved to Hong Kong, I started Shift. Today I have more than 2,400 followers (and hope to gain many more).
  • I’ve lived in seven cities in ten years. Each relocation has been difficult. I’ve never given up and moved home (wherever that is). My life perspective has grown ten-fold because of this.
  • I’ve loved and I’ve lost. I’ve learned something valuable from each relationship. I’ll be swimming  and not out on a date tomorrow night. (Valentine’s Day sucks, anyway.)
  • I’m trying to eat healthier. I had a vegetable smoothie with tofu for lunch. I also had gummy bears. :D

I like what Will Smith has to say on this topic, too. In truth, the only way to truly fail is when you stop trying.

What’s your relationship with failure? Do you agree with Will?

 

 

 

 

the devil’s advocate

Whenever I write, I play devil’s advocate. Writing makes me think. Hard. I say this, I think. But what if it comes out like this? What if I were approaching this from this?

Will Smith’s message about fault and responsibility is true. But what if, through no fault of our own, we are rendered incapable of dealing with the trauma we’ve been dealt?

It happens all the time. Take the THIRTEEN kids of the couple who were arrested for torture and child endangerment in Perris, California recently, for example. The children were chained to their beds, not allowed to use the restroom, starved, filthy. Authorities were finally notified when a 17-year-old escaped and called 9-1-1 for help. Thanks to malnourishment, she appeared about ten.

Now . . . How this could have gone on for 29 YEARS (the kids are ages 2 to 29) without someone noticing is beyond the scope of this post. (In truth, it appears many are at fault.) Instead, my question is, if we are to take Smith’s “fault vs. responsibility” concept at face value: How are these malnourished, psychologically-abused individuals supposed to take responsibility for turning their lives around? It took 17 years just for one of them to figure out how get away. Can they be held to the same standards as Joe Schmoe down the street?

Now, this is an extreme example. I wasn’t planning to go so extreme. In truth, I was planning to share a personal story related to self-esteem. I’ve hinted in years past at internal battles I’ve had with my appearance and feeling like I’m not “good enough.” It’s taken several years of counseling to understand where my emphasis on appearance came from and how this has translated into the way I treat myself. Yes, I’m “owning” my issues — recognizing the role others and (impossible) societal standards have played, but not blaming them for my struggle — but it’s taken me a LONG time, and I couldn’t have done it on my own.

And I guess my point is, before we judge others, we need to walk a mile (or twenty) in their shoes. And before we worry about others, we need to worry about ourselves. Sure, at some point, some people cross a line. There is NO excuse for certain behaviors (more on that soon), but even so, people’s lives are rarely improved by critical barbs or blame. Instead, they’re changed by compassion. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the video below. How many times have you walked past a homeless person and wondered, How did they get there?

I know I have.