dreams

immune to failure

There is a famous question that shows up, it seems, in every single self-help book ever written: What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?

But I’ve always seen it differently. I think the fiercest question of all is this one: What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?

What do you love doing so much that words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?

-Elizabeth Gilbert

“What would I do even if I knew that I might very well fail?”

I’m always up for self-reflection and knowing my heart a little deeper. And so I pose this new question to myself, excited for what I may uncover, and I feel stuck. As if I am providing an answer to the wrong question. Then it dawns on me: I’m doing what I love, and I cannot fail. This may sound presumptuous, but let me explain how failure and success have indeed become entirely irrelevant in my life.

I cannot fail at what I love most.

The first love that comes to mind is motherhood. I have felt weary cleaning up after another messy mealtime and bewildered as to why Atlas won’t stop crying, but I have never felt like a failure as a mom. I am not claiming mastery at parenthood, but I don’t need anything from my kids to constitute success. I may not be as consistent with discipline as I would like, but the only way I could fail at motherhood is if I no longer mothered, if I no longer loved.

The second love is writing. I have yet to be published and I have yet to write a book, but writing is the one and only thing I have loved since childhood that has always loved me back. Writing is my artistic outlet, my internal processing, my life documentation. I have created things that aren’t well-written, and I may never produce a bestseller, but I don’t need writing to accomplish anything in order for me to keep returning to it.

The only way to fail at doing something I love is to reject it.

Since mother and writer are core facets of my heart, I can no sooner deny those labels than I can refuse to be myself. As long as I am mothering and writing, I am succeeding at being a mother and writer. While ideas and projects may flop, they do not inform my identity. I can do things that fail, but I am not a failure. Motherhood and writing are fulfilling in themselves and not for any level of achievement that they might generate.

Only if I require a certain outcome, e.g. insist my children exhibit good behavior or depend upon a book to make a profit, am I at risk for expectations falling short. But when I love truly, I don’t make any demands and there are no attached conditions. I am free to be me and do the things I love, simply because they are what I love to do and who I love to be.

I love nurturing, caring for, and being with my children. I will continue to be a mother, no matter what happens to them or how their lives unfold. I love partnering with inspiration and expressing my thoughts in a tangible way. I will continue to be a writer, regardless of financial success or if anyone reads another word I write.

So the questions: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” and “What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?” are more appropriately rephrased: “What would you do if you believed it was who you are, if you could not fail as long as you kept doing it?”

Whatever question resonates with you, whatever it is you love that makes you come alive, I hope you’re doing it, and that you never stop <3

//

I’d love to know about the things you love to do, the ones that connect you to the deepest part of yourself. Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you :)

 

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living my dream

For several years, Noah and I were in a dreaming season. We asked, “If resources were unlimited, what would our life look like?” At night, we drove to the beach with a cooler of beer & cheese and took turns sharing our heart’s yearnings. We gazed into the starry sky and across the endless horizon, exploring the infinite possibilities of life.

A year and a half ago, we began walking out some of our long-awaited dreams. We left Florida and moved west — closer to Noah’s parents and his two youngest sisters. Noah started his PhD in Neuroscience. I became a mother, completed my yoga teacher training, and launched a business. It has been quite a journey.

Sometimes you dream, and sometimes you work towards that dream. And it is work. I love motherhood, but my days can be long and tedious. I love my direct sales company, but the system can be inefficient and unsupportive. I love Colorado’s mountains and family-friendly culture, but I am still trying to create home, find belonging, and make friends.

I did not anticipate the transition to Denver would be this difficult. Life still feels unsettled, shifting — and maybe rightly so. Dreams unfold as life unfolds. My daily life may look monotonous, for the laborious actualization of one dream and the steady investment into the next is not for the faint of heart.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12) But before that tree is big and beautiful, its roots dig deep and there are little signs of life above the ground. In the beginning, from the outside, it seems that nothing is happening.

On the surface, I do not feel I am making much progress, but I know my roots are digging deep. Being confronted with the difficulties of how to live well in this hidden season has matured me in ways I did not know I needed. And instead of running away, I am more self-aware, receive more wisdom, and feel more free.

Living my dream is not a dream life. But I look at the snow-capped mountains and see grandeur. I look at my marriage and see a wonderful friendship. I look at my 10-month old and see joy. Hearing Atlas laugh and teaching him to walk — all of this is treasure. It is not always shiny, but it is still beautiful.

{Photo Credit: Jonathan Sharpe}

 

finding my purpose

Dear younger self,

I know you are obsessed with finding your purpose. You say you don’t care about making friends, getting married, having kids — I admire your focus and conviction, but you don’t have to sacrifice relationships in order to be successful.

In fact, there is one relationship in particular you need more than anything, and you have ignored it your whole life: your relationship with yourself.

Before you can find your purpose, you will need to find yourself. 

You will discover self-connection is your first purpose. That giving your life away before you know its value rejects your worth and the worth of anyone you want to impact. That the most powerful knowledge you could possess just might be the knowledge of who you are.

One day, you will believe God loves you, personally and intimately. That he sees you and speaks to you and just wants to be with you. That there may be accidental parents but there are never accidental children. That with his love, anything is possible.

You will learn to process pain, to forgive, to release. As you become whole and free, you will start to dream. You haven’t really dreamed before, but you will uncover so much of your heart in the process. You will realize relationships are what makes life worth living.

One day, you will have a husband. He will choose you again and again. He will show you that you don’t have to be strong all the time, that you can let your walls down and still be safe. He will love you so well that you will learn to love yourself.

You will fall in love with yourself. You will be content that you are enough, so you won’t need to prove yourself to anyone. You will want to take care of yourself, so you will learn to say ‘yes’ to what is helpful and ‘no’ to what is harmful.

One day, you will have a child. You will be fulfilled as a mother not because of anything your child does, but because his existence creates in you the purest love you have ever known. This love will inspire you to lead a life worth imitating, a life worth celebrating.

You will watch your child grow and change so quickly that you will want to grow and change as well. You will want to be brave. You will take risks to live more authentically, more intentionally, more passionately.

Pursue love, and you’ll find freedom. Pursue your dreams, and you’ll find your calling.

Getting there won’t be easy. You will sacrifice ambition for the sake of love. You will decline your dreams and wait for the right timing. Some nights you will cry yourself to sleep and wonder if it will ever be your turn. You will whisper your dreams into the darkness and hope beyond hope that one day they will become your reality.

Your calling will come as you go. When your purpose calls you, it will be a call you can’t ignore. Your spirit will taste eternity and know it is just the beginning. Your heart will confirm it as you sing a prayer, as you feed your squishy baby, as excitement wells up inside at the prospect of a new opportunity. Your days will be full of life and possibility.

I know you are afraid you have missed your prime, that it’s too late for you, but that is a lie. You are not behind. You are exactly where you need to be. Your best days will come as you become more and more yourself.

You have yet to find your purpose because you have yet to find yourself, but once you do, you will understand that finding your purpose happens through living on purpose. Through embracing each season, owning your choices, listening and trusting and trying.

You will find your way as you find yourself, and I’ll be here every step of the journey.

With love,

Your older self

when it works out better than i could have imagined

When I started my first big-girl job, I loved many things about work. It was meaningful and busy and I was good at it. But I was also frustrated with obligatory paperwork, limited vacation days, and the inability to go to the bathroom any time I wanted. The usual growing-up woes.

“I am going to plan my career break!” I declared, wanting to play all day and travel the world. But Noah said I had to first have a career in order to take a break from it, and yes, that meant working for more than one year.

“I am going to be a stay at home wife!” I declared, tired of the 8 to 4 monotony. But I would have been bored and depressed and fat with all the emotional eating I did, not yet skilled in the arts of being content in my identity and dealing with my feelings in a healthy way.

So I learned to be an adult and also create a life I loved.

Fast forward several years. It wasn’t part of the original plan where I would work my full-time job at least until the baby was born, but I am pleasantly surprised at how wonderful my life is right now. In fact, I couldn’t have planned it better myself.

I quit my job in September and took on a part-time nannying gig for two months. It was low-key, peaceful, and in light of my previous stressful work situation, extremely appreciated.

Yesterday was my last day as a nanny. As of today, I’m a full-blown stay at home wife. I have more time for the things I love: second breakfasts, FaceTiming my sister, practicing yoga, reading, and writing. I write for myself…and for the first time, I write for clients.

Small steps can make a big difference.

Freelance writing doesn’t pay much, but it allows me to write consistently, receive feedback, and build my portfolio. I am finally doing that one thing I always loved since I was a little girl, but would regard as an aspiration exclusively reserved for the far-off distant future.

“Think of it like a free creative writing course,” says Noah. And I do. It’s my first one! I never took an English class in college because I didn’t think I could handle it. I never even went to the Writing Center for help with assignments because I was intimidated by the writing fellows.

But I don’t want fear to have power over me anymore.

I don’t know what my experience of motherhood will be like. I don’t know if I’ll have energy or interest in doing work on the side. I don’t know where life will take us once Noah finishes his PhD: where we will live, what field of work he will be in, what kind of lifestyle we will have.

I know one thing: I want to be a mom who leads by example, who embraces a life she would want her children to live. I want to be brave and follow my dreams, regardless of whether or not they’re on pause for years before I see them come to pass. I want to own all my choices.

I would rather my kids say: “We didn’t have a lot of money, but my parents loved each other and loved us. They went after their dreams and inspired us to do the same,” instead of how I hear my parents lament about their regrets and the ways they would have done things differently.

We moved to Colorado primarily for Noah’s program, but it turns out it was for me, too — to have this dream-come-true season. 

I love being Noah’s biggest fan. I am happy to support him and choose what is best for our family. We’re investing in his education, and later, if it’s what I really want, the right timing will come when I go back to school as well.

But the decision to stay home for now doesn’t mean my life is at a standstill. Noah is my biggest fan, too. He is always looking to empower me, to find ways for me to pursue my dreams, to choose what is best for me. My future is as exciting as it ever was.

This season is temporary, as they all are, and I will be thrilled when my world is turned upside down at my baby’s arrival. But for now, I am soaking up these quiet days by myself, and it’s a beautiful life. An open Word document, a hot mug of tea, and a heart full and free.

the graduate wife, year one

Sure, he gets to do cool things, like have lab meetings in bars, dive in the Bahamas for class, tag sharks, prepare for a career, pursue his dreams. I bring home the bacon and cook it, too, but I never think of my life as being the working wife of a full-time graduate student. I’m just a grown woman with a grown job. Lots of adults do it. I’m an adult.

Our lives aren’t all that different from last year when we both had jobs. Spending and giving have decreased, savings are nonexistent, and our schedules aren’t the same, but my husband is so much happier going to school than working the jobs he used to have. It makes it financially easier that we aren’t directly responsible for any other living creatures, e.g. baby humans. It’s also emotionally helpful that I don’t have any deep-rooted vocational aspirations for myself.

MY FUTURE DREAMS

This past spring, I took a grad class towards a M.Ed. program I ended up turning down. This past summer, I took four undergrad classes towards my teaching certification. I discovered I don’t want to be a working student, at least not with my current job that often leaves my brain thoroughly ineffective after 4p each day.

One day, I’ll go back to school, but I don’t know what I will study. One day, I’ll write a book, but I don’t know what I will write. One day, I’d like to run a hostel or bed & breakfast, but I don’t know in which country. One day, I’d like to get yoga instructor certified, but I enjoy my practice quite well without having to speak and pay attention to anyone else.

MY PRESENT DREAMS

I’ve been working at my school for two years now. Teaching at-risk teenage girls is draining, but it can be incredibly rewarding. I don’t get summers off, but I’m starting to accrue more vacation days. We share one car, but it only takes me five minutes to walk to work. I’m constantly on my feet entertaining my students, but I choose to never bring work home.

Noah’s current goals are primarily academic, but mine are personal. Right now, I just want to be healthy and whole. I want my body, thoughts, feelings, and spirit to be in the same place at the same time. And so, he goes to class and I go to counseling. He plays in the water and I play on my yoga mat. He publishes scientific papers and I write journal entries. We’re both going for it, individually and together.

SPONSORING THE WINNING TEAM

We have come to realize that our hobbies and interests are completely different. His masters is in marine biology, but I don’t really like animals nor do I care to understand a lot of what he’s learning. The interdisciplinary ideas pique my curiosity, but the various fish species bore me. And that’s okay. Being in different worlds makes our combined world even bigger.

I don’t understand how married couples have separate bank accounts. How do they do it? We’re one. We have one income. We have one family. Maybe when I’m a mother and he’s working on his PhD, it’ll feel more like a sacrifice than it does now. Research says that married men have better graduate student outcomes than single men. I like to believe that I contribute to my husband’s academic success. In fact, I know I do, and it makes me successful, too.

the secret to happiness

My whole life I have tried to prove that I am not a victim, but I have ended up carrying more of a victim mentality than I ever knew. It is common for people to view themselves as victims of negative experiences, but I have more consistently been a victim of success. I guess I was something of a child piano prodigy, but only because I’m Asian. I was valedictorian, but only because my peers were not very smart. I went to one of the best colleges in the country, but only because it was the only school to which I was accepted. I received a Fulbright fellowship, but only because the country I applied to had favorable statistics.

I was convinced I had never done and could never do “hard things.” I used to travel a lot, but only because it was fun and flying was free (my father is a flight attendant), and it does not take much effort or courage to live in a different country. You aren’t achieving anything; you are just living. There is nothing impressive about taking advantage of free opportunities.

When I got married, my victim spirit rose to the surface. I was depressed for the first few months and hated my life, and blamed Noah for much of it. This past winter, I was quite sad. I struggled with thinking I didn’t have any dreams, any hobbies, any prospects in life. I didn’t think I had any skills, any talent, anything to offer. During spring break, without a car and not able to spend money, I felt especially stuck. I realized that since my childhood, I had developed a victim mindset that was intertwined with low self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness.

A week later, I started teaching. Though many factors were at play, a significant element in my newly acquired aversion to the classroom was that there were not enough hours in the day to do my job sufficiently. It was impossible for me to meet my own standard, and it was too hard to revise my philosophy on teaching in that environment without sacrificing my own ethics on education, so I concluded that I was not a good teacher, and I might as well just give up.

Then I read Brian Klemmer’s teaching* on responsibility, in which he introduces the idea that we are “at cause” for everything we experience, and it changed everything. Klemmer writes:

The victim and responsible viewpoints have nothing to do with the truth, but everything to do with what we experience. Hold yourself responsible for everything, not because it is true, but because of the exciting possibilities that the viewpoint creates. When looking at [something] from the responsible viewpoint, where you are ‘at cause’ for your experiences out of the choices you have made, solutions become possible. (64-66)

Being responsible does not mean I am at fault — it has nothing to do with it. Every time I want to put the blame on someone or something else, and claim to be the victim of my schedule, my job, the government, or any other circumstance, I end up feeling annoyed or sad. Every time I am tempted to say, “I have to,” I take away my options. When I say, “I choose to,” I gain power and freedom.

For example, this morning we were late for work. I blamed Noah for making us late because he decided to make coffee at 7:55 when we have a staff meeting at 8:00. When we finally left, I was obviously frustrated, which caused him to feel hurt and walk slower than usual. We did not have time to talk before class started, but after the students were dismissed at the end of the day, he apologized. I forgave him, but I did not see any reason to apologize for anything until long after Noah went to Friday night church service without me and I sat in my usual corner of my red sofa, pondering the events of the day.

I can easily remain a victim of Noah’s decisions to make coffee and walk slowly, or, with a little effort, I can see how I made choices that contributed to this situation:

  • I chose to value punctuality over loving my husband
  • I chose to walk to work with him, instead of walking on my own
  • I chose to be impatient, which created a stressful environment in our home and caused Noah to feel disrespected and dishonored
  • I chose to make Noah breakfast and make our lunches
  • I chose to not wake us up as early as I usually do
  • I chose to not go to bed earlier
  • I chose to go to work today
  • I chose to have a job
  • I chose to marry Noah, which was one of the best decisions in my life

Sometimes it takes a while. Today it took all day, but I am learning to be responsible. With each choice, I am less angry and more happy. Life is choosing to live.

>>>

Note: This is not to ignore facts and deny that people are hurt and mistreated and made victims all the time. However, being victimized does not have to remain someone’s identity; there are still choices, e.g., forgive or hold onto bitterness and resentment. Although taking the responsible viewpoint is about perspective and not about finding truth, the purpose is to see solutions and find freedom from feeling trapped in a situation. For example, sometimes responsibility is choosing to be at cause in the healing process and not fearing the past.

*Brian Klemmer, If How-To’s Were Enough We Would All Be Skinny, Rich & Happy, Oklahoma: Insight Publishing Group, 2005.

post-wanderlust

Soon after we moved to Florida, we looked around our newly-Ikea-furnished apartment, small, simple, and happy, and observed how surprisingly easy it was for people to settle down. To create a safe place, grow roots, get comfortable.

Originally, all I wanted to do was be abroad. I planned to live overseas for the next five years, teaching and traveling. I planned for excitement and adventure and spontaneity, figuring out my identity, learning about other people and places to learn more about myself and what was most important to me. I wanted to be uncomfortable, to know Jesus in other cultures, to know love universal. I wanted to take risks, avoid familiarity, to know who I was at the core, regardless of environment and circumstance. Was it even possible?

My dreams of flight keep me grounded, the part of me I have always lived, the only part I have always known.

Originally, the last place I wanted be was in America. When I got married in July, one of my fears was that we would become like another of those couples who genuinely desired and planned to go abroad but got trapped in white middle-class suburbia.

But somehow, traveling does not hold the same personal exigency it once did. It no longer represents the path to finding myself; I’m discovering who I am right now in part by pausing long enough to explore inward. It is no longer the journey of carving a new life into an unknown community; now, wherever I go, I will be part of an already shared life with Noah. It no longer entices me to be everywhere but nowhere, ready to be uprooted at whim, since now I have stability and belonging to someone.

Leaving was not about running away. Direction mattered less than the ability to go. Maybe the fulfillment in serving others overseas can be found here. It was never about a specific place for me, and maybe it is not really about that at all. Maybe I am learning to be still. Maybe there is more freedom in choosing to stay. Maybe movement happens and paths unfold more within myself than I used to think.

Footsteps echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
–T.S. Eliot

Are my desires shifting? Or am I falling into the very trap I wanted all my life to escape?

*

Related posts:

On the biggest change in plans of all

On pilgrimages of the soul