On Paying it Forward…

We have all been offered a hand up at one point or another. It could have been something as simple as a smile, as complex as a chance, or as generous as a financial blanket. Whatever it was, it helped us survive. But how many of us are paying it forward?

I am surprised by how often people criticize others for the same faults that once belonged to them. For example, the man who has survived the gruelling life of homelessness looks upon a homeless man today with contempt, rather than mercy or compassion. The now successful man believes he achieved his success by the sweat and blood of his own brow and judges the homeless man for sitting on the ground and begging for money. Does he remember that, before he could stand up, many people passing by lent him a hand? How could he not remember?

The confident executive, with chin up, may look at the young woman biting her nails during an interview with a piercing gaze. The candidate has glowing credentials, but she isn’t dressed well. Her hands are shaking. She looks like a deer in headlights. Does the exec recognize her reflection sitting there? Does she remember that she once was that girl, and that someone looked beyond her fears and chose to be confident for her? Or does she walk away with eyes rolling, wondering why kids these days have no spine, and never give the young woman a call back? How can she not remember?

The man and his wife having breakfast at a family restaurant snap at the new parents beside them because their children are being too loud. “Can you control your kids?! Some of us are trying to have a good time! What’s the matter with you?” they exclaim. They react without considering the embarrassment they are subjecting the parents to in front of their children. When the young family goes home, the dad might tell his child to go do his homework, and his child may snap back: “what’s the matter with you?!” Society has successfully taught him how to disrespect his father like that. And meanwhile, the couple trying to enjoy their time do not recognize the harm they have caused, nor do they remember how difficult it was to raise children in a judgemental and impatient society. How can they not remember?

We have all been given a hand up. Whichever way you slice it, even if you are convinced you are the victim in every situation in your life, or believe you have succeeded single handedly, you have been helped. One hand cannot clap alone. Perhaps you have not noticed the help. Perhaps you don’t remember it. But that doesn’t mean that it was not offered to you. And so, when you have a chance to be helpful and kind to others, take it. Try to see the world through other people’s eyes. Be compassionate and kind. Remember that, no matter how successful one might become, he is worth nothing if he cannot love.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Flying Solo…

Photo republished courtesy of Dean Petersen ©2018 all rights reserved. Check out his work at: @deanventures

Picture this:

You have a brilliant idea! You’re inspired to do something tangible to bring it to life. You excitedly call someone to bounce the idea, hoping for some cheerleading. They offer you a few “mhm” and “yeah” as you explain what you are setting out to do. You finish speaking and eagerly wait for the response. When it comes, it sounds something like:

“I mean, sure, everyone could do that if they could afford risking the money.”

“Are you sure this is such a good idea?”

“Why do you want to do that? You have it better than all of us! Just be grateful.”

“Well. Sounds interesting. Hopefully you’ll actually stick to it.”

“You don’t need more work!”

“That’s a great idea! I’m going to do it too. No harm in a little competition between friends, right?” Smirk.

“How are you always in dream land? I’m too busy keeping my feet on the ground.”

“Yeah, yeah. You and your big ideas. You’re always lucky, so I don’t need to wish you good luck.”

Sound familiar?

Each of us bears his/her own collection of dismissive, negative, and discouraging statements from friends and family. Over time, we carry more and more of them, and they become grey clouds hanging over our future adventures. Everything from taking a new job to changing up our nutritional menu is contested by people around us. Now, don’t go trying something really crazy, like moving across the world or going back to school to become a doctor.

Eventually, we start to doubt what it is we really want, and what we can really achieve. Whose voice is in your head telling you that “it can’t be done”? 9 times out of 10, it’s somebody else’s.

Keeping this in mind, I’ve learned something extremely valuable which I only put into effect recently. When trying to achieve a goal, there is nothing more powerful than keeping it secret. Being very selective about who we divulge personal information to is fundamental to our success, because we are easily manipulated creatures. No matter your confidence or faith in your idea, it requires protecting while it’s still a budding thought so that you can focus all your efforts on bringing it to life, without risking being swayed by others.

People can be risk averse self-doubters. Often, when standing in front of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, I’ve overheard tourists say things like “it’s impossible!” Even while cranking their necks back 90 degrees to look at the peak of the tallest building in the world, they express disbelief. If people have this reaction to what is already there and has already been achieved, why entrust your dreams to them?

People will tell you to fight for your dreams and be deterred by no-one. They will throw cliche quotes at you like a hail storm. That is, until you have an idea. It is only after the idea is born that the same people who once wrote you soliloquies about reaching for the moon suddenly become doubters.

When you set your mind to something, wisely and carefully select who you let in. If you cannot think of someone who has already proven unfailing confidence and support, someone whose criticism only serves the purpose of elevating, rather than destroying, your ideas – fly solo.

There will come a time when the idea has manifested powerfully enough that you can share it without leaving it vulnerable in destructive hands. Even then, be on guard. Remember that Burj Khalifa has an elevator that swiftly and smoothly moves up 148 floors in 60 seconds without a single hiccup, and that people make it all the way to the top and still don’t have the capacity to believe that it can be real.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Homesickness…

Anyone who knows me knows that I struggle with the occasional bout of homesickness. A privilege reserved for Third Culture Kids, expats, immigrants and refugees, this is the sense of belonging everywhere and nowhere, all at once.

Every year, September brings a crisp freshness and a promise for change. We know what’s coming next… a cold, hard winter that will most certainly seem impossible to crawl out of. But, before that, there is Fall… the time for contemplation.

The homesick among us quickly learn to greet the changing environment with open arms. We know that it is futile to hang on to the fleeting, so we might as well enjoy the new view. It is during this season that we remember the cyclical nature of life, and recognize the absurdity of existence. Here today, gone tomorrow. The Phoenix must burn to ashes before it can be reborn.

Only when we stand amongst the trees do we begin to understand the nature of our own lives. As we feel the first and final breaths of life at our fingertips, the homesickness begins to bubble up again. The imminence of death sparks the nomadic instinct to go, go, go. Hit the road, Jack, it’s time to go back home.

Every year, I ignore this instinct, nestle into Autumn jackets and decorate my house with pumpkins. I cocoon myself into that warm shelter, close my eyes, and visualize the places and people I love. I vow that my love will persist, even through the piercing winter. Over the years, as I braved every falling leaf, I somehow learned to love the foreign just enough to let my anchor rest a little longer.

But Spring is always just around the corner, despite the perceived endlessness of the winter, and the wind of change is bound to blow. Every year, it’s a little louder. How long can sleeping dreams lie?

Hit the road, Jack. It’s time to go back home.

And remember… you design your own luck!

M.

On “What If”…

By the time I hit my mid 20s, I could already see that much of my life has been shaped by patterns of small, often seemingly irrelevant, decisions. Like a “choose your own path” storybook, life unfolds in a boldly unique direction whenever we make a series of choices or, sometimes, even a single choice.

It is no wonder then that so many of us are plagued by the curse of “what if”. What if I had not given up on playing the piano? What if I had taken up the Political Science degree? What if I had chosen the other job, when two offers came on the same day? What if I had been more patient? What if I had apologized? What if I had stood up for myself? What if we were still friends?

Nobody is immune to contemplating their choices and imagining alternative results. Who puts down a “choose your own path” book without turning back the pages to read through all the alternative endings? Not me. Our natural curiosity about how our lives may have turned out differently, had we made different decisions, is a testament to the human will to always grow, learn, and improve. Learning from past trends in our lives helps us steer the direction of our future.

This is the upside to asking ourselves the question. Looking back is a fundamental element in growing forward. However, “what if” could also be heart-wrenching, and it is at those times that we most need to trust that our instincts have served us well.

In the attempt to find out what could have happened if we had chosen differently, we tend to reach back into the past and try to find some clues. Have you ever reached out to someone from ten years ago in pursuit of that friendship you lost? What did you learn from this?

I’ve learned that, if someone is no longer a part of my life, there is probably a good reason for that. Now, this doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends going forward. After all, time persistently regenerates and makes new people out of us. But there is no use in wondering what could have come from a different decision in the past, because nine times out of ten, we followed our instincts and they led us in a particular direction for an important reason. The reason may not always be clearly known, but that is where faith comes in.

Have you ever contemplated going back to school to pursue another career path, or even gone back to school for it? When you take a few classes, you will undoubtedly draw connections between your past and present learning. My undergraduate degree theoretically had nothing at all to do with my graduate degree or my career, yet it somehow still plays a fundamental role in my success. I went back to school to fulfill my “what if,” and ended up discovering that nothing learned is in vain.

Every small decision you make can alter the path of your life forever. I once decided I was too shy to ask my friend’s dad to pick me up, despite the fact that he was such a kind man and would have certainly agreed. I didn’t go to the party and went to school the next morning wondering “what if” I had missed something fun, only to be greeted by the somber eyes of all my friends who knew well ahead of me that there was a big accident… and he did not survive. I learned that day that there is no use in the fear of missing out. There is only what we decide, and what is written for us.

A few years later, I met a brilliant 18 year old man on a trip and we instantly got along. He was one of few people who seemed genuinely interested in my writing, and I expressed to him that I was experiencing some severe writer’s block. “Why is it that there are no people like you at my school?” I asked him. “Why do I always click with people who I have to leave behind? If I had never left my home, I would have so much to write about!” His response was simple… “don’t worry so much about “what if”. Things happen for strange reasons; we only understand in retrospect. Just make the most of what you do have, and write anyway.”

Before I said goodbye, I told him that I would write, eventually, one day. He laughed and told me that indeed, I would, perhaps a few years after he’s gone. I rolled my eyes at him, not knowing how soon he would be gone. “Don’t be so dramatic. You’re 18. If I have to wait till you’re gone to write, I’ll be like… 90!”

“Don’t forget to dedicate the first book to me!”

He died two years later.

For four (or so) hours spent with someone I will mourn for the rest of my life, I understand now that God was doing his protective work.

There is only choice, and what is written for us.

Forget about “what if”.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Resolving Pain…

My readers know that I am an advocate for making the most of the present moment. I am always writing about the importance of intention and mindfulness when making decisions about how we live, think, speak, and feel. For the most part, I try to live my own life in this way, constantly checking myself in to the present.

The truth is, however, that fully immersing oneself in the present moment does not mean that the past can remain ignored. We are all products of our personal past, and of our ancestral past. Our histories are boundless and they extend well beyond our own life experience. Dissociating from our past can be incredibly dangerous because, one way or another, the pain bubbles back up.

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On the Shoulders of Trees I Stood…

Do you have a favourite tree?

People tend to look at me funny when I ask them this question. Surprisingly, while just about anyone can pick out a favourite flower, I haven’t met too many that have an attachment to a tree.

My memories are full of trees. Perhaps this speaks to my observant nature, but I think there’s a little more to it. For those of us who have lost their motherland, there are few reminders of home around the world, so we rely on the few things that can consistently be found in foreign lands.

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On Mementos…

Image property of Hack: Dream life [Marian D.] ©2018. All rights reserved.

Human beings are collectors by design. Since the beginning of time, we have collected objects in the effort to tell, and to retain, our stories. We’ve also built, painted, sculpted, made music, and wrote in an effort to create souvenirs for our children’s children, so that they may have the chance to experience their history long after the primary actors are gone. After all, it is only in this way that they can continue the mission forward.

We are storytellers, and we are quite good at weaving the webs of memory into powerful tales that sustain us despite the grip of death.

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