Things Life Taught Me

I’ve always been optimistic about aging. Although I was never a kid who was dying to be 10 when they were 9 years old or the 19-year old that was desperate to be 21 so I could get into bars, getting older was never something I longed for nor dreaded.  I distinctly remember a time when one of my friends had a meltdown because he was turning 28 and was nearing the 30-year-old mark, which seemed like middle age back then. That seriously makes me laugh out loud when thinking back to that moment.

Recently I saw this article: 30 things you should know before 30 and I equally guffawed aloud. Maybe 30-year-olds these days are this savvy but I swear I learned most of this stuff just last year. (kidding, sort of).  I’ve yet to have a teacher or mentor in my life who has impressed upon these lessons. It doesn’t mean that people haven’t influenced my thinking but most of what I know if from my own experience, which has been my best teacher. There are no college courses like the school of hard knocks. With that in mind, I’d like to add to this list a few quintessential lessons that I have learned that shapes so much of my thinking today.

The 10 Ten Things You Should Know When By 40.

  1. Quit the “Can’t”: With so much research done on neural plasticity and intelligence, there is literally nothing that we “can’t” do. Wgrowth-mindset.027e may not be able to do it this moment, but if we literally put our mind to it, we can become good at something at a minimum of 20 hours and an expert at it within 5 years. The first step is to develop a growth mindset and reframing failure. You can unravel long seated habits and create new skills when you omit this sort of language and thinking in your life. Period. Here’s an example: I became an “expert” at non-smoking because I practiced being a non-smoker. If I made a “mistake” and puffed on a cigarette, I wasn’t harsh on myself but admitted that I am learning a new habit of non-smoking and got back to trying my best. Over time I got momentum with longer times of non-smoking and eventually I no longer identified with this addiction. Now I the only thing I “can’t” believe is that I thought breaking this addiction was hard. It’s not when you embrace the right mindset.
  2. Travel Opens Your Mind: People are a product of their culture + experience. These 2 things create the majority of their beliefs. And our beliefs create the filter in which we see the world. If their culture is rigid and experience is limited, then their problem-solving skills are few and they often feel victimized by the world. Travel exposes people to new ideas and gains a variety of life experience, they can break out of their culture’s restricted perspectives and be more resilient and creative.
  3. Anger Must be Fleeting: My friend Shannon actually taught me this. She experienced a really big betrayal in her life but she explained to me that she could only be angry and rant about it for 3 days. After those 3 days, she no longer permitted this concern to dominate her thoughts or conversation. She set time limits to her emotional investment in the “wrongs” in her life. I loved that and have used that experience in my own life. I actually think 3 days is too generous, but that’s because I have practiced this enough times. I try to let go of my irritation within 24 hours. There are 2 thoughts that usually release me from the grips anger: compassion for others (“If they knew better, they’d do better. They aren’t evil, they just don’t have all the facts/skills”) and compassion for myself (“You made an error of judgement, but now you know. Now that you know better, you can do better”). If I am in a red hot rage, then I do eft/tapping on my meridians points. It looks weird (unless you live in China–you see this sort of thing all the time) but it really helps to diminish negative emotion. Then when I am cooled off a bit more, I make a list of all the things I appreciate about this person or myself. This really helps to reframe the emotion attached to the person.
  4. Life Is A Yoga Tree Pose: Have you ever tried to balance one leg at a time? Sometimes you can stand on one leg for a long time before switching to the other. Other times, you keep toppling over. This is how life goes. Sometimes we can maintain a “posture” for a long time, which I often equate with emotion, but eventually, we have to switch legs. So goes life. Sometimes life is full of absolute joy and sometimes it is shit. But whatever it is, these emotions and situations will pass; and I can always choose to stand on my other “foot” if I want to change my perspective.
  5. Give to Get: True relationships are built on trust and support.  Your generosity is proportional to the generosity you experience. It’s not that you only do things quid pro quo but what you practice in abundance (patience, appreciation, kindness) is tantamount to your experience.
  6. Ask, Not Assume: Misunderstandings happen. Best to ask questions rather than assume someone is doing you wrong intentionally. But don’t be patronizing–be genuinely curious. I gain a lot of insight into their perspective when I ask thoughtful questions and it improves my relationship overall. I do this all the time with my daughter and I can’t tell you how much this has helped me of be a better parent.
  7. Shut Up and Sit Down: Meditate Daily. Your brain and body will thank you. The amount of time isn’t as important as the consistency of the practice.
  8. Three’ss the Charm: 3 is the magic number so they say. Take a hint. When I hear something 3 times, I know it’s something that the universe is telling me to pay attention to and I do.
  9. It’s All Good: Our life’s tradegy is often our best blessing. Lately I was discussing my father’s death and how it took a toll on my adolescence but how I no longer look back with grief and longing. Although I wish he could have been a part of my adult life, I know that my life is for the better as a result of his loss. That trauma in my life helped cultivate so many important life skills that I might not have developed if it hadn’t have happened. There are No Victims, only people who give away power to circumstances. You can make diamonds out of life’s pressure if you choose to do so.
  10. Don’t Wait For The Lesson: If you know what you are doing is not helpful in pursuing the type of dreams you have or develops you into the person you want to become, then STOP it! Don’t wait until there is some drama that you have to contend with. Be smart in advance and make changes that will produce the outcome you want. Right. Now.

What am I missing? What would you add to this list?

 

When Your Cultural Identity is Adrift

Who Am I? That’s a difficult question for anyone to answer, let alone expats nevermind the children of those expats.

I remember my first time living abroad. As an American, we delight in our ethnic heritage, saying something like “I’m 50% Irish, 30% Polish, 10% German and 10% Cherokee”. I had said something to that effect to an Irish guy at a pub one night. He lashed out at me, ” You are NOT Irish. You are American. Nothing about you is Irish and you know nothing about Ireland, I bet.” It stung, and he shattered my cultural paradigm. I was deeply humbled. Although I might be a 3rd generation Irish, he was right, there was nothing about me that declared I was Irish other than this family history. Culturally I walked, talked and dressed like an American. I thought like an American. I liked American music and movies. I cared about American politics and issues. It was really the country and culture that I identified with. From that point on, I embraced being American, rather than caring about my genetic lineage.

But technically I haunaltered home.jpgve lived over 12 years overseas, a significant portion of my adult life. When I come back to America, I often go through reverse culture shock. I have a hard time relating to other’s view of the world, and what they feel is culturally significant like the Bachelorette or Unicorn drinks. This past summer was so challenging for me, with all the politics, I really struggled with all the intensity and polarization. Moreover, I really couldn’t understand how we had come to such a juncture in our history that hatred and misogyny were becoming a “thing” again. It really devastated so much of the tenderness and appreciation I have for my country and the people who I love there. So now I find myself in a strange sort of void, in which I do not really resonate with the culture I live in geographically but don’t really feel American all that much either. Although my accent remains, so much of national pride has withered away with my lack of attention and focus on America. It’s a strange and terrible feeling. It now seems like my cultural identity has become untethered, and will remain adrift.

For my daughter, she too is somewhere in between 2 worlds–the worlds of her parent’s heritage and the country in which she lives. They have a name for her kind: Third Culture Kids. She has lived most of her life outside of her parent’s culture and is used to traveling and living in different places in which things are foreign. She connects with others not through language as much as feelings. However, I didn’t expect last year’s summer trip to impact my daughter so greatly. As much as she loved being with my family and friends, enjoying new foods and experiences, it really stressed her out. She stared at these “real American” children with confusion and amusement, literally, and at one time, when we were camping, some boys called her a freak and pretended to shoot her. It genuinely stunned her. Luckily since she is so well traveled and resilient, she managed it well, but as one month turned into two months, her nerves did fray. My husband told me about one day when she fled downstairs to the basement in tears, wondering if the “black men” were coming and how he could protect her. It was all the conversation and media messages that she was exposed to with the “Black Lives” vs. “Blue Lives” Matter debate that got her feeling paranoid, which was sad since ironically she is a child of color, as my husband is dark skinned.

In 2 months from now, we will touch down in Chicago, spending 3 weeks in America– a much shorter visit this time. As much as I look forward to seeing my family and friends, I absolutely dread this feeling of disconnection, especially with Trump’s presidency bringing tension and conflict to an all-time high. After this brief visit, I will step out of my homeland and my foot will land upon a new country, Laos, with its own complexities and challenges which my family will have to navigate. I remain hopeful that we will set down roots there, an antirumi field.jpgdote to this unease, making friends and building a life of joy and peace there. However, Who Am I? clearly is not a question that can be answered with nationhood or birth origins. Its answer, I imagine, that is somewhere in a vast space, the field that Rumi writes about in his poem.

Perhaps I will see you there.