It’s May again, the month I dread, and every year for the past five years, I’ve written similar blog posts for Mother’s Day.
2012 is exactly the same.
Five years after my Mother’s death, I have nothing new to report, no wisdom to drop, no life changing epiphanies about dealing with grief which sounds somber, but really not. The death of a parent is tricky, but even more, confusing. There is no one magical formula or guideline, step-by-step instructions, something – anything, on how to feel, what to feel and why.
For the longest time, I thought there was something wrong with me. There were no unanswered questions, zero regrets. No confusion, extreme sadness, just logic. My Mother was no longer on the planet and I immediately dealt with that reality which didn’t seem…normal. So I questioned myself. What’s wrong with me? Do I not know how to feel? Am I out of touch with my emotions? Is my coping mechanism abnormal?
I would search deep within for indicators of hidden feelings but nothing. I was simply dealing with my reality. Then, I start questioning myself again: what is wrong with me, this doesn’t seem right. Where are my feelings? Perhaps I am selfish, self absorbed or worse, a sociopath…then I look for feelings again. That process is a bit of nuisance and sometimes, it drives me so batty I’d want the voices in my head to stop. Then as I am annoyed with myself and the voices, it’d start all over again: stop that, self reflection is important. What’s wrong with me, am I selfish, etc., etc.
Back to square one.
Recently, an important person in my life lost their mother. I wanted to have all the right things to say, but aside from condolences, the words from my heart were: it’s ok to feel however you want. Whether it’s anger, sorrow, confusion, regret, relief that she is no longer in pain or even numbness, there is no one way you are supposed to feel so allow yourself to just…be. I know. I was there. I am still there.
Then I realized, I wish someone had given me that advice.
It took years and someone I deeply care about to lose their mother to see: we are different. We have different relationships with our parents, different coping mechanisms and various life experiences that make it necessary for us to come up with our own answers. It’s scary and unsettling but that’s the way it is. The way it has to be.
Hindsight, perhaps that is the life lesson that comes from death. That as we seek answers, we soul search and face demons that help us grow and become better people. If anything, my Mother’s death has taught me to be vulnerable and more open with my feelings. Something I always thought of as a weakness but more accurately foreign, as we are not taught to be emotionally attune in our culture. Emotional intelligence is something I force learned and still learning every day. See? We are all different.
So if you or someone close to you is dealing with death, please remember to allow yourselves / themselves to feel however you / they want. It’s ok. It’s the way it has to be.
In closing, I will share the story of my mother’s death which is more inspirational, than sad. Just like I do every year.
Happy Mother’s Day :)
Mother’s Day 2007 to 2008…
…what a difference a year makes.
As some of you may or may not know, I lost my mom to cancer last year around this time. Since it’s Mother’s Day, I wanted to do something for her but wasn’t sure what…
After some thought, I decided to share what I wrote after she passed. I am normally an extremely private person, but her story is so amazing, if anyone (aside myself) is inspired, that would be the best ode to her… :)
Read the rest here.
People have contributed their own stories and feedback on my G+.
If only I were 5″7 instead of 5″4. I wish I were five lbs lighter. I’d rather have straight than wavy hair. If only my eye sight were 20/20. Shoulda gone to Harvard. Or Stanford. Or maybe Yale. Why didn’t I marry the one who got away? He was and still is the perfect man, you idiot. Would life be easier if I weren’t Asian? Do I lose out on opportunities because I’m female??
…we all have them. Secret desires. Insecurities. What ifs. Traits we wish we could change, because we think of the cards dealt to us as flaws, holding us back from being a CEO. Having the perfect man/woman. An A-list actor. That famous singer or even a super model. We are the hardest judges of ourselves, for not being __________ enough and allow so called shortcomings to hold us back.
Knock it off.
It is impossible to be Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Bill Gates, President Obama, Tom Brady or even the colleague, friend or family member we envy. We are all different and that’s what makes life so fucking fantastic.
Do I ever think any of those thoughts up there? Sure I did. But I learned as a child, dwelling on things we cannot change, 99% of the time leads to negativity. I’ve attempted reshuffling the cards that were dealt to me, by trying to be someone I am not. I’ve watched others live as people they thought they wanted to be. In the end, that mentality of our twisted minds leads to endless misery.
Success, only comes with confidence. Confidence is bred through a mindset to know, accept and use our strengths and weaknesses to achieve goals. It’s the only way to live. The only way to succeed.
Why am I bothering to blog about this?
Well the other day, I came across this piece: “Four Ways Women Stunt Their Careers Unintentionally” via HBR. The gist, is how an extensive study via Europe’s Institute of Leadership and Management, found women in the workplace generally have less confidence than men, and how that gap holds women back from achieving our full potentials.
But this excerpt in particular, resonated:
The study also found that this lack of confidence extends to a more cautious approach to applying for jobs and promotions: 20% of men said they would apply for a role despite only partially meeting its job description, compared to 14% of women.
Lack of confidence, doesn’t apply only to females. It applies to 80% males, too. Sure, with females, we tend to be more timid but if you ask me, the number of people -male and female- going for the ask, is too low.
So if you are one of the % of people holding back from reaching your potential: whatever the mental block may be, tell it to fuck off. I say this over and over and will continue saying:
Life is too short.
We are 1 of 7 billion on the planet. We have nothing to lose, but time.
So screw pride.
Forget your ego.
We only have one life. Just fucking LIVE.
The worst that can happen, is a no. Don’t let fear of rejection ever get in the way of living. Who cares what one, two or even ten people think about you.
There are 7 billion people on this planet.
There is only one life. Don’t ever waste it. LIVE.
(ps: thoughtful comments here, too.)
The last time I felt this numb was when my mother left the planet…which probably sounds silly, dramatic and insane, to compare a complete stranger’s death to my own flesh and blood’s.
You see, I was taught to suppress emotions. To be as private as possible, and sure enough, that is the way I have always been…or was. Recently, I started noticing that I may not be the person I was raised to be, for with every instance I do open myself up, I realize I am growing stronger. The more vulnerable I become the stronger I feel, which is something completely new to me. Fast forward a few months of trying this thing called opening up, and I am now a believer in the power of vulnerability.
With vulnerability, I now have the strength to be honest with myself. That honesty, is enabling me to be more in-tune with myself than ever before…and because I know myself, there is nothing — nothing, that scares me. Don’t get me wrong, I have always lived life with almost zero fear, taken risks, never afraid of failure, followed my gut and found ways to just…figure it out — traits that were passed down from my father. Because of that DNA, I have seen things, been places, experienced more lives that even I at times have a hard time believing.
Then, my mother died.
Pick one: love or money?
Seems like such a simple question with a no brainer answer. When I asked my Twitter and Facebook friends, I got a bunch of immediate responses. Of course, most said ‘love’.
After purposely waiting for some time, I then asked:
I’ve had someone choose money (well, a lifestlye) over me – and it sucks. I have and always been a person who places more weight on a person’s abilities to be honest to and with themselves. It’s near impossible for humans to always say what they mean or mean what they say. To me, it’s more about having the courage to be honest with yourselves and those you care about. Though lately, I’m starting to wonder if this is too much to ask of others.
But at the end of the day, I’m with Arrington all the way who expressed it best:
Dear self, permanently bookmark this post as a reminder you choose honesty. That you are honest to yourself and those around you. That there are others like you who can be honest to themselves and those they love. And most importantly, do not ever doubt yourself for having standards and expectations.
(ps: I know the math up there is wrong — silly little thing called details ;))
Recently, I noticed almost every successful manager, C-level exec and CEO I’ve met* had an overlooked common characteristic: clean inboxes. Whether they were high level decision makers in Fortune 50s or start-ups, their emails were always organized. So I started aiming for constant Inbox 0, as I’m one of those crazies who emulates behavioral patterns of people I respect.
Well, whaddya know? I think it worked. I started noticing fundamental thinking patterns changing.
My brain now naturally:
organizes — most email programs have filters, folders, labels and other misc. tools to assist with organization. Since I constantly think of ways to keep my inboxes organized, I trained my brain to framework problems with the end goal in mind. i.e., how do I manage massive email loads (work-flow) for constant and consistent tidy inboxes (end-goal).
prioritizes efficiently — everyone has different prioritization methods when it comes to email. I’ve found that when I do not reply right when I read the mail, the probability of not responding is almost 99.9999999999991%.
So I figured out a system. If the email needs a response, I reply right away. If the email is a task, I label it as a To-Do (with a fire engine red label so the email is right in. my. face.) and keep it in my inbox. All emails I do not respond to, are immediately deleted/archived.
Sounds like a lot of effort, but as soon as this work-flow became routine, I do the above every time new mail comes in while working on other things. If something urgent comes up or I am interrupted, the current task at hand is in my inbox as an incomplete To-Do. Multi-tasking at its finest? Naaaah. It’s simply habit that came to be, as the end goal (tidy inbox) is always in the back of my mind. It also helps my email programs are off the hook: Gmail, Sparrow and the number one email client used the most: iPhone.
Now, my brain automatically prioritizes most efficient ways to achieve goals even outside of email.
focuses on what I will do vs. what I won’t do — we all strive to be efficient, responsible, responsive and reliable. My daily goal of inbox zero forces prioritization in order to be efficient, responsible, responsive and reliable. The one thing I found through many many (and I mean A LOT) of mistakes, failures and OOPSIES is: honesty is a must. The countless number of trials and errors of:
- taking on too much
- inability to delegate
- not knowing what I will realistically accomplish and what I can not
have taught me the importance of knowing myself, realistic time/workload management and how to be and stay the best I can always be.
The above may sound a bit hokey, but it just so happens to mirror characteristics HBR and best selling biz management books says are success factors. And look! Those skills also resemble Bill Gates’ fundamental framework - who, you know, is kinda sorta successful.
So unless you’re a journalist or spammer, Inbox 0 is an attainable daily goal.
Try it. I dare you.
Suggested reading: “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” – David Allen (Over drinks, a CEO friend of mine who I respect and adore told me in passing about GTD. I downloaded and read a bit – it’s pretty amazing. Good luck!
“It’s complicated.” is the biggest bullshit excuse. But more so than a load of crap, those three little words are toxic. They have the power to lead our minds into a rabbit hole of inevitables. Once our brains go down that path, it’s over. We sit, ponder and get stuck in our heads: ”What if ____” or “Should have ____” and “Could have ____”.
I know. I’ve been there. We all have.
Some of you may still be there but don’t get caught in the downwards spiral. There is always a solution – we just need the courage to face the solution. Sure, it is easier to say: “It’s complicated.” and push our realities away. But take a step back, breathe and think of ways to change whatever is causing your pain.
Am I making this sound too easy? Well, it is. Everything in life is really simple. We are the ones who choose to make things complicated. Things don’t change. People don’t change. The only thing we can change, is ourselves. And by changing ourselves, we become a solution and while we work towards solving the problem, things change. We change. It’s really that simple.
These are lessons I picked up along the way, but a dying parent had the most significant impact. My mother passed away from cancer in 2006. There is no solution to a dying parent – especially when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness. What I did do and still do on a daily is tell myself how grateful I should be that with my mother’s death, she left behind wisdom that takes people a life time to learn: life is too short.
So change yourself. Your situation. Do something. Change something. We only have one life.
Where there is a will, there is always a way. Look at Alan Turing who spent his lifetime to prove all problems can be solved. But even after all of his accomplishments, Turing’s legacy (at least to me) is: given the right approach and with time, there is always an answer.
We are not genius mathematicians like Turing but we are humans just like him. Take the lessens he left behind. Don’t waste precious time. Train the brain to approach things head-on and as soon as you empower yourself with the comfort of knowing that everything will work out and things do get better, you will find the courage to simplify yourself and your life.
Here’s a challenge. The next time you find yourself in your head, try thinking as Bill Gates does:
- Ask smarter questions
- Make data-driven decisions
- Divorce your ego
- Frame the problem
- Get perspective on the problem
- Model the problem
- Think of the system and the ecosystem
- Think of the problem over time
- Think strategically
With that, I leave you with words from the great Steve Jobs, who keeps me practicing what I preach:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.“
The other day, a friend mentioned in passing how I am very zen-like which made me, well, a little uneasy. Me? The one with no filter? The one who inappropriately curses like a truck driver?? Zen like? ZEN LIKE? Really? REALLY??
After skimming through my Twitter and Facebook, my face flushed. He was right. A lot of my shares lately have been cheesy inspirational crap. An over abundance of Steve Jobs quotes. Tips on minimalistic mindsets. How to find your center, balance, how to hold hands with your worst enemy, etc. etc.
Seriously. I should rename my blog to butterflies-and-rainbow-kumbaya-vomit.
Well. Perhaps it was the rough month of August. Or it could simply be my old age but all the inspirational reading helped a lot. Needed a few reminders about what I knew. Or what I thought I knew as the more I grow-up, the less energy I spend on things that are out of my control. On a superficial level, it’s easy to be and stay composed, as I’ve mastered the art of determining how much time, effort and emotions I want to invest in almost every thing I do in life. That way, if I make a mistake or bad judgment call, I brush it off and happily go on with my day. But on the true, real, where it matters the most level? FAIL.
The one thing that’s helped me, is figuring out long ago: people do not change. Since the only thing I can change is my self, subconsciously, I became well versed in self-control and discipline (or stubbornness) especially when emotions are involved.
But as I become more honest with myself, the more I become in tune with myself. The more I become in tune with myself, the more I see: the majority of my displayed strength is a facade. A defense mechanism, if you will, to never let anyone see my weaknesses. Vulnerabilities. Frailties. Now that I identified, acknowledged and embraced weakness, vulnerability and frailities, the need to work on how to be strong and weak at the same time. To find balance. To remain true to myself, while allowing myself to live. To love…is clear. Crystal frickin’ clear.
So I’m learning. I want to learn. I have to learn, to be the best I can be every second of every day.
So pardon all the cheesy junk that may flow through your streams.
My hope is, if articles that touched or inspired me affects even one person, I will happily take all your smack talking. Because I am still me. The one who has no problems telling people to ‘SHUT YOUR TWITTER/FACEBOOK/INTERNET-HOLES’ ;)
Until then, remember that I am perfectly flawed. A constant work in progress. I am weak and fragile just like any other person.
I am human, too.
(Ok, fine. Sometimes binary. 0101, Mona)