Learning how to dance in the rain (or snow!)

It’s been a terrible winter we’re experiencing here in Chicago. Everyday in the past two weeks I’ve been back from my trip to India, the weather has been below 10F. Wind chill has been below zero consistently. Everywhere I go I see people miserable with the cold, including me. Snow is an unnatural occurrence in my life, since I have been lucky enough to live in tropical or temperate climates. It’s frustrating to have to put on layers of clothes and lug around bulky snow boots. I’m tired of it.

Of course, I have to blog about the bitter cold in Chicago at some point.

But negativity is also something that I try not to dwell on, and in order for me to get through this winter, I need to think about that which is good and comforting. Whenever I curse at nature for the icy cold wind that slaps me in the face whenever I go outside, I remind myself to say a little prayer, instead of muttering curses under my breath as I walk toward the bus stop. My walk to and from work in total gives me enough minutes to pray the whole rosary. I feel great afterwards, because it calms me down, and also because I know I’ve invested that time into something worthwhile and diffused off negativity.

It is not always easy to see the positive when the situation is thick with disappointment, fear and stress. Sometimes, at work, when we feel under pressure, we resort to negative actions. Today, we had a big team meeting and one of my junior coworkers clearly was demonstrating negative attitude toward the project, raising her voice and talking over others who are more senior than her. It probably feels good for her to do this, but it is only instant satisfaction. She is too young to understand that the longer term ramification is negative perception of her because the higher ups who have more experience can sense this. Especially when one of the higher ups is only a few years older than her; I’m sure he has an acute sense of the emotional states junior people feel, because he’s just been there (or is still going through this stage). I cringe at her behavior but cannot do much. She will learn in time, I thought.

How do we exactly learn how to dance in the rain? I think it’s driven by our attitudes and mindset. It is a conscious decision, to go toward the positive, and keen acknowledgement of the negative situation at hand. You can’t leave a negative state when you’re so caught up by it, you’re unaware you’re in it. It takes time to see the situation for what it is and detach yourself from, and it is not easy to leave what is negative and plunge into positivity. Sometimes, we are tempted to dwell in that which is harmful, and dwell we do.

I think it’s a constant exercise to train oneself to handle pressure and stress. Learning to dance in the rain is in itself a process. We are not born resilient right away. We develop this trait when we face events that test our wits and patience. I consider myself to be a resilient person, and I can tell you it is not an inherent trait, but an outcome of all that I’ve been through. I still get nervous at work, when presenting, or speaking to a crowd, or talking with my manager sometimes. I stutter when there is so much I want to say and feel like I don’t have enough tools to articulate everything at a given moment. But I know that I still have room to grow, and growing personally is a priority for me, so I ride through the discomfort and pain. I know I will come out more courageous, and better able to manage it all next time I’m put in a less-than-stellar situation again.

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Post-travel Blues

After our travels, why do we get so lonely upon returning home?

This was a question that lingered in my mind the first few days of being back home in Chicago. I feel a lot better now, almost a week after I returned home from my trip. I thought I was the only one who left this way, but I just talked to my best friend and she told me she feels the same way after every trip she has. I was reading a few travel blogs and I realize many have written about the loneliness they feel when they return home from traveling, too. I’m writing about what that loneliness felt like for me, since I know it’s different for each individual.

I’m usually a happy person. I’m one of those people who smile a lot, giggle a lot, and looks at the positive side of life. Many think it’s a child-like quality, but for the most part, I think its just my personality.

So I was puzzled about how I felt after my trip to South America. It felt like something was missing. It’s not exactly depression, although some people may feel it more strongly than I did that they name that feeling depression. I just felt the blues. It feels like a loss. I think it’s because I miss the place I had just traveled to, the people I met, and just being on the road.

Yet when I was on the road, there were times when I wished I could have the comforts of home, especially when things got uncomfortable (ie. no a/c, humidity, small spaces, etc).

What was it then that was causing my loneliness? My attempt at an answer is this: when I’m traveling, I feel at home. I can relax, put my hair down, let the wind play with my dress. I’m uninhibited for there are no rules to follow about how to be. In the States, in the city, at work, and at any number of situations, we are expected to behave a certain way. To stand up straight, head high and never looking down, a deadpan expression on our faces to control our emotions, a stern voice reprimanding our direct reports, a power stance in front of a management meeting, etc. There are unwritten rules that exist, which we follow since we are only malleable humans capable of being influenced by situations around us, without us realizing it.

But when I travel, all bets are off. Me and my travel companions are just ourselves. We were t-shirts, shorts, plain sneakers. We don’t compare brands of clothing or jewelry worn.  We don’t discuss salary or position or hobbies that show our status. We are just people traveling together. We sweat, hurt, cry the same way. We eat and drink the same things. No one looks at each other as an outsider, nor even examines race, because we are all foreigners of the place we travel to. No one belongs there, and for these simple reasons, we uncover our commonalities.

My life in Chicago is filled with abundance and blessings, and I am grateful for it. But I miss the freedom that traveling brings. I miss the openness people have toward others. I think I was able to open up during that trip, to care less about the daily worries I have back home. I felt a sense of great opportunity and possibility not only in terms of the friendships I can forge, but also with the life I can create for myself. Sitting on a plane for 12 hours high up in the clothes made me dream. It drew courage out of me as I let myself be inspired by my ambitions,  no matter how outrageous they are. Anything was possible in the air, among those clothes, looking over the sun shining down the long Amazon river amid the lush, treacherous jungle.

The Amazon river from above looks like a slender snake crawling through a dark green, fertile land. I had a window seat on the plane and it was a very sunny day, and I was very tired, falling into quick pockets of sleep. The scene from below captured my attention, and I pulled the window shade to its fullest, even if the sun was shining so brightly. There, I saw the Amazon river. As the plane cruised mile after mile in the air, each segment of the river looked like a xylophone being playfully hit by the sun. The sun would shine on a part of the river, then it would appear again in another section, then again in a farther area of the river, When the sun shone on the water, it was golden, bright, full of life. I felt a manifestation of the universe from that scene, a greeting from God. It was very calming. I prayed to ask if it was a message, a sign I should heed that would answer many of my questions and wishes. But I was content just witnessing such beauty, in a moment I was not expecting. I took it all in and make sure to mark it in my memory. It’s one of the sights I’ll never forget, and that I will always be thankful for witnessing.

These are the kind of situations I missed when I returned home. I was open to the world, and I let the universe embrace me back. We were riding on the bus one day and I could see endless views of the mountain range outside the window, the winding road making us feel uncomfortable, the loud singing of our busmates in a language we didn’t fully understand was grating in our ears… and I was resisting all of it, I was getting annoyed, but suddenly, I told myself to look within and just let it take over me. And that’s what I did – I felt  the place, culture, language more deeply. I let it awaken me, and it did. In those simple yet long, lazy but sensory bus rides, the universe charged at me.

I think this is what I miss the most: the changes in us, and the changes we see in those we travel with. Maybe I felt that it ended when I left South America and returned to Chicago. But this shouldn’t be so. I can practice being open even when I’m not traveling. To have the traveler’s mindset even when we’re home is a skill, and an enjoyable one, since we see more beauty in things, we notice our environments more, and we’re more compassionate. It’s not always easy to have this mindset back home, when our guard is always up. Our defenses are up back home because there is something we are keeping safe, or we think there is something external that has the power to destroy us. The consequence of this is, we close off. We shut down. We want to hold onto something dear and we don’t want others in. There are two ways to solve this: 1) to tame our fears that something will be taken away from us, 2) to be kind to others so they won’t start feeling we are out to destroy something they hold sacred.

In between travels

As I’ve alluded to recently, 2014 is turning out to be the year where travel reached a new level in my life. I describe every year as the year of travel ever since college, and it seems like each year surpasses the previous one in terms of the number of times I travel and my relationship with it. From traveling to conferences in college, to sightseeing tours domestically, and then, when I was able to scrap enough money together and straightened out my citizenship, traveling internationally had been a priority. Of all the things I enjoy, travel tops the list.

My relationship with travel has transformed from the simple excitement of being on vacation, to the palpable exhilaration of seeing new places, to a deeper commitment to understand different cultures and people, and now, to a greater identification with a larger world. The way we move in this world has an effect on people: directly, on the people around us, and indirectly, on others that people we’ve influenced would encounter.

Travel has always been a part of my life, ever since my parents uprooted the whole family to live in a new country. I didn’t know it was in my future to live in the United States when I was younger, and when we braved the challenges and came face-to-face with the realities of migrating, I knew that I was changed forever. I lamented the comforts of growing up in one place since I didn’t have that experience; as my life was shaken, my peers in Manila and Los Angeles continued to develop with people they grew up with in their own little neighborhoods. As a teenager, I wanted that more than anything else. Over time, I’ve learned to come to terms with my own unique experiences. And embraced it, I did. I identify fully with the idea of being a global citizen, that I am not only of one place or another, but a product of living in multiple places and being exposed to differentiating experiences, and it is with this identity that I feel most at home.

Right now, I’m sitting at a coffee shop in Chicago drinking a pepper fig latte, and listening to songs on queue in a playlist that seems to comprise songs I replayed in college: those of Corrinne Bailey Rae, Jack Johnson, The Shins, Coldplay, etc. These songs remind me of the great experiences I had in school back then, as I was introduced to some of the very best things in life: education, people, ideas, livelihood, lifestyle. My time at UCLA acquainted me to the possibilities of what I could become in life. I understood then that whether I like it or not, I am being propelled toward success by a strong current of forces all around me. There was hesitation, of course, and doubt because I didn’t believe that I had it in me to succeed. But my education, travel, mentors, support, helped me overcome the fear to succeed. A great responsibility is placed on someone successful, and perhaps I didn’t know then that I can do it, and I shared this sentiment with many of my peers.

Since that time, I’ve grown so much. The growth I experienced mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually from the beginning of my twenties to today (and I’m not even 30 yet), is something that would be hard to surpass. Of course, I don’t know yet what the future has in store for me, but I am proud of what I’ve become, and I am confident I have it in me to handle anything that is thrown my way with the support of everyone around me. The songs I’m listening to now reminds me of myself several years ago, and while it transports me back to that old self and compels me to feel and re-live all the positive and negative experience that happened then, there is satisfaction in knowing that I’ve grown, and I’m progressing.

I’m writing this on the weekend prior to my trip to San Francisco for work, and my trip to Chile and Argentina with my sister to celebrate her birthday. Three weeks after my trip to Amsterdam, Brussels, London and Edinburgh, I will be on the road again. In those three weeks, I couldn’t erase from my mind the idea of living in another country, and upon returning back from Europe, I’ve contacted people I know in other parts of the world, seeking to get their perspective on living where they are currently based. As much as I didn’t know that moving to the United States was inevitable, now I know for certain that living abroad is in my future.

The question is: in which place? This question has an existential underpinning, but to answer this simply, I would acknowledge that I am uncertain of the location. When I was in Asia for summer study abroad last year, I felt I could live there. When I was in Europe this past summer, I knew I was going to come back. I was entertaining the idea of moving to either place, with my career as the basis and anchor for a potential move, but then I came across my list of goals and it hit me: one of my most simple, but long-standing goals, was to live in a Spanish-speaking country. I’ve had this desire since college, when I planned to study abroad in Argentina but because it wasn’t a match academically for the courses I needed to take to complete my degree, along with the complication of securing a visa, it never came to fruition. In the years that have passed since then, I’ve taken Spanish classes, attempted to read Spanish literature again, but I’ve accepted the fact that living in a Spanish speaking country is a pipe dream that will not happen.

10 years since the dream of studying abroad in Argentina, I’m now about to embark on South America. Preparing for this trip has rekindled the spark of that simple dream. Maybe it is something that can happen if I will it. I recently took a Spanish placement test and I scored at the intermediate level, three sessions away from receiving a certificate of fluency. It will take some time to complete these sessions, but I know I can do it of I commit to it.

I’ve been doing some research about the best place in Latin America to learn Spanish, and right now, I’m settled on Colombia as a potential location since I heard they speak excellent Spanish there and they have a great intellectual culture. We’ll see what I find in Chile and Argentina – I might change my mind after the trip. Of course, there’s a lot of questions in my head (and a slight dose of fear) as I think about a move abroad, but I think out of any time in my life, now is the best time to do it. It will be a calculated risk on my end, and if it doesn’t work out, I can still come back to the States and direct myself toward success here. We shall see.

Weekend Self vs Weekday Self

I’m realizing there’s a stark difference between how I am and what I think about between weekends and weekdays. I already knew this as soon as I started my first job out of college, and I’ve given this some thought before, but this time it is something more real because this distinction is something I willingly create.

It used to be that I wanted to make my “weekday self” different from my weekend self because I thought it was the way I would succeed at work. I had to be a certain kind of person at work; I have to do and say the perfect things all the time, and there was a lot of pressure. These days, while I still know that I have to be a certain kind of person at work, the person I think I have to be doesn’t have a superficial basis. What I have to be is a leader, be responsible and accountable, and do good work. Whether I say the perfect things is irrelevant, as long as I explain things well and show my skills through actions, then I’m golden.

Now, even if I’m on my weekday self most of the week, my “weekend self” is more important to me – this is the self that tells me what my heart truly desires, and what kind of person I want to become (compared to what kind of professional I want to be at work with my weekday self). The more I empower this weekend self, the better I feel. The more I think I’m contributing to the world, and exercising my values, the more my existence feels natural.

The Answer to This Quote Right Now

It’s Sunday evening and our 3-day weekend is now just tapering off. It was a wonderful weekend spent with friends, going out to lunch and dinner multiple times throughout the break. It didn’t start off as well as I wanted because a lot of people I know were out of town and there was nobody to see the fireworks with, but I ended up seeing a glimpse of two fireworks shows from the convenience of my apartment. It was a pleasant surprise. If I had gone to Navy Pier to see the city’s official display of fireworks, I probably would’ve been inconvenienced by the crowd of people that events like this attract, and I would’ve only seen that one fireworks show that I see almost every year. But I saw TWO fireworks show, both of which I haven’t seen before since I always go to Navy Pier.

Sometimes the universe surprises you with more pleasant things than what you’d originally asked for.

I’m at Starbucks and I will be writing my analysis paper on General Electric’s marketing strategy for my independent study class. However, before I do so, I’m basking in this nice evening by the window, sipping a lovely serving of chai.

While I’m here, for some reason the image below recurred in my mind throughout the weekend:

If you are to ask me what I think is the answer to the question where my mind wanders, I think I know what the answer is right now. Previously, I had a feeling I knew what it was but wasn’t too sure. But now I have a better sense of certainty, even if it’s not 100% yet.

It’s this: traveling, writing stories, doing yoga and meditating/praying. All of which are rooted in connection and inspiration, both of which I seek for myself, and I want to create for others.

I feel so much more empowered to pursue my dream of living abroad. All I see is opportunity. I know it will be a big change, and perhaps a challenging move, but my gut this telling me there is no better time, and that I have enough resolve to make it happen. I must make it happen.

I just need to plan certain things, like create a plan on what I want to do, what my goals are, the time duration, line up financial resources. And I know I can make it happen. This is a promise to myself: I will do my best to make this happen, no matter how hard, especially when it’s hard.

Taking a Break at Home and Thinking of Life Plans

It’s Memorial day weekend, and I’m back home in LA, spending time with family and friends. I’m here for a celebration of us three graduating in 2014. I love being at home. I’ve made many trips back home while living in Chicago, and I think this is the first time that I feel the most content. I still have homework to do, study proposal letters to write, and a list of things on which to follow up, but I feel a sense of calmness and stability these days perhaps due to the point in my life I’m in right now. I’m doing well at new job that was a source of a recent promotion, I just moved to a beautiful apartment, I’m about to graduate from my master’s degree, and I’ve been checking off a lot of things on my bucket list. Life is good, and I am very thankful for everything I’m given.

They say that you discover what you love best when you let your mind wander and see what you always come back to. If there is a recurring thought in my life, it’s traveling, exploration and writing. When I graduated from undergrad, I told myself that I am going to make it a point to travel the world. I’ve been to my share of great destinations and adventures, and I seem to want more. It’s when I’m out there– in a different place, or getting lost in an unfamiliar city, or even waiting for hours in an airport hearing different languages– that I feel at home. It’s when I’m in between places that I feel like I’m in the right place, and this theme is definitely a thread in my life. Growing up in a different place, living between different cultures (both my own and my friends’), and now based in a city that is entirely different from everything I’ve known before moving there 3 years ago… these are the factors that further reinforces this hybrid thematic in my life.

Every time I catch myself having some free time, how ever long or short, whether I’m on the bus, walking or even laying in my bed just after waking up, I’m always thinking about where I’m headed, both in terms of location, and direction in life. I dream of having a bit of time to travel many different places and exploring as much as I can, and right now, these are dreams. I haven’t thought about the details of activating them, because whenever I begin to, I’m always stopped at how, from which I can never proceed on the next thought. How am I able to do this when I have a job to keep? How am I ever able to do this without my savings taking a blow and possible detouring other plans that I have? The easy answer to this is to take a job abroad, and I’ve been researching options currently that will take me in this direction.

I’m always in the mindset that I can pack my bags and leave, and this drives a lot of decisions in my life. It affects where I put my money, the job I take, the degree I pursue, how much stuff I accumulate, where I attempt to make connections, and so on. I also always dream of writing, more so before graduate school when I have more time to dream, but writing is something that can be done anywhere and I will always have. The only key element needed with writing, is time, which sounds simple compared to what’s needed to travel, such as financial resources, personal connections, among other things on top of time. But time may be the one factor that is scarce in my life right now, which hopefully won’t be for too long since I am about to complete my master’s degree.

Life is great right now, and I am always trying to steer it in a direction that makes it even better. Right now, I feel that I can accomplish anything I want to do, I have the support of wonderful people in my life, I enjoy making new friends and I believe in myself. I also acknowledge that all of these– the ability to do anything I want, and all that is present around me which enables this– are great luxuries for which I’m thankful, and I hope to further use toward that which is good.

Developing Weaknesses into Strengths

Yesterday, I came across the Pantene commercial portraying the differences between women and men in business settings. This commercial, which ran in Southeast Asia last year, illustrated how the strong qualities in men (ie. directness, assertiveness, workaholic nature, etc) are perceived as weaknesses when women possess those same qualities (ie. aggressiveness, defensiveness, and selfishness). It’s a relevant commercial that received much acclaim and shared widely in social media.

As I think about the feedback I’ve gotten from people around me over the last few years– from friends, coworkers, managers, etc– I see the differences in how they perceive me. My friends and family see assertive actions as strengths, and modest actions as examples of humility, while my manager would see both types of actions as weaknesses. I’ve been told that I’m too defensive and have a strong personality that people don’t know how to handle, and that I need to develop more confidence at work– in the same meeting no less. When asked for examples, my manager cannot give one on the spot.

When you get feedback like this, do you dial down assertiveness, or do you further demonstrate it? Should I speak up more for to be “perceived” as having more confidence, or should I be more accommodating to be perceived as having a gentler personality?

I think there are situations that calls for being assertive, and I try to play that role when the situation arise, and there are also times when I may seem more modest depending on the context in which I’m placed. All of us are like this, because we balance multiple sides of ourselves on an on-going basis. Where we’re caught in the middle is when we’re given such conflicting feedback, where there is a direct attack on our traits, rather than being mentored to better understand the situations that require the demonstration of a given trait.

Ultimately, I think it is up to us to choose how to act in a given situation. People around us may tell us to tuck in our weaknesses and show more strength, but when our strengths are construed as weaknesses, we must stand our ground and further demonstrate that the weaknesses others see in us are actually are greatest assets. First, we must learn to be honest with ourselves and determine if our traits that others perceive as negative are harming others, and if they do, we must transform them into more positive ones. Second, we must weigh if the feedback is coming from someone who has our best interest at heart, or if criticism is being used as an attempt to place us in a position that will garner them political gains. Lastly, we must show the world everyday how our perceived weaknesses can be judged as a strength that is in line with the shared direction of the relationship, whether it be with our employers, coworkers or friends and families.

People around us will always tell us what to do, but in the end it is up to us to take their feedback or do a better job to illustrate that their criticism of us is misinformed. I’ve been blessed to be self-aware and reflective enough to know how others are perceiving me, and everyday I try my best to transform my weaknesses into demonstrable strengths. There have been many times when I’ve failed, but it is an iterative process, and I try again everyday, and I can say that this same process has contributed to my successes, my professional growth, and has extended to personal development in my own life.