identity

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 :)

 

versions of me

WHAT IF MY LIFE LOOKED DIFFERENT?

It started in elementary school. My kindergarten teacher recommended I skip 1st grade, but my mom didn’t want my younger sister and I to be farther apart in school. I always wondered, if I were a year ahead, would I be more motivated? If I tried harder, would I have a better work ethic? I graduated valedictorian in high school, but it was something I expected, something to which I felt entitled.

My early 20s were haunted by the “what ifs?” surrounding my college decisions. What if I hadn’t taken two years off to go to Bible school? What if I hadn’t been afraid of failure — if I kept auditioning for women’s choir, even though I didn’t make it the first time, because I love to sing? If I took an English class, even though I was intimidated, because deep down I wanted to be a writer?

And the “what if” that was my greatest struggle, the crossroad that held the most obvious divergence in life direction, the internal conflict that started this blog: what if I had accepted my Fulbright to Bulgaria instead of getting married and moving to Florida to join a church I had never heard of?

HOW DO I DEAL WITH IT?

I don’t regret my decision in the least, but at the time, I couldn’t move on. I tried different strategies to intellectually convince myself to “get over it,” unintentionally ignoring how my heart was still crying, begging to be noticed, validated, embraced without shame. I assumed that by recognizing the reality of my present circumstances, I was fine. I wasn’t aware my heart was filled with pain, bitterness, and anger.

There were so many things from my past I thought I had taken care of that didn’t actually need handling — they needed healing. But I didn’t know how to grieve — solely because I never learned to sit with my emotions. I was taught that my heart was not to be trusted, that being emotional was weak, that logic and reason were the only way to process anything. But my feelings are part of me, and to deny how I felt was to deny my whole self.

WHICH VERSION OF MYSELF IS THE “RIGHT” ONE?

In my mind, there were numerous “potential versions” of myself that could have been and still might be. But even if those versions were legitimate possibilities, they didn’t exist. Sure, I could have been a woman who chose career over family, travel over stability, cynicism over faith. But that isn’t what I chose, so it isn’t who I am. Owning my decisions empowers me to take responsibility for my life and everything it holds.

It was only after I got connected to my heart that I discovered which “version” was the most “me.” I wanted adventure, but more than that, I wanted love. I wanted independence, but more than that, I wanted intimacy. And a decision I recently made: I want my master’s degree, but more than that, I want to spend time with my children. But it’s no longer a battle within myself; it’s a liberated choice in agreement with myself.

Years ago, it was difficult to make decisions because I was so detached from who I was. Knowing myself makes it easier and easier to determine what is best for me. It’s still sad to let go of a dream, but as I sit with my sorrow and let it take its course, after an hour, or an afternoon, it passes. By nurturing my heart — my core, the deepest part of me — I become more and more myself.

I am whole, healthy, and free. And I like this version of me.

//

Inspired after reading Laura Barnett’s Versions of Us. It was disheartening to watch her characters accept lies, betrayal, and turmoil in order to make sense of their lives. I realized I didn’t think that way anymore, that I’m no longer confused about who I am. I chose this version of myself and I’ll keep choosing it.

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

living wealthy

My husband is a full-time student and we live off of his stipend, while I stay home to raise our three-month-old son. We made much more money at the beginning of our marriage when both of us earned full-time salaries, but we are wealthier now than ever before.

Although wealth is about money, it is not just about money. Money beliefs are strongly connected with identity and worldview. Anxiety, insecurity, and close-mindedness are all reflected through a poverty mentality, regardless of much money one actually has.

Growing up with a poverty mindset, I lived a life of a victim:

  • I focused on what I didn’t have
  • I was attached to possessions and had difficulty letting go
  • I overate because I wanted to indulge and I couldn’t be satisfied
  • I spent money on what I didn’t really like, just because it was a great bargain
  • I viewed money to be the greatest expense
  • I dwelt in the past and was consumed with my memories
  • I unknowingly gave up on my dreams because they were “unnecessary”

It takes practice to replace thoughts of limitation, lack, and inadequacy with thoughts of sufficiency and expansion. My wealth mentality gradually evolved as a result of learning to heal from pain, love myself, and dream again.

I am confident in who I am, so I don’t need things or status to validate myself. I value intangibles more than objects, so I truly have acquired great riches. I have more than enough, and more importantly, I am enough.

With a wealth mindset, I live a powerful life:

  • I practice gratitude for my abundance
  • I am not weighed down by possessions
  • I grow increasingly emotionally and physically healthy
  • I invest in what I really love
  • I view time, energy, health, and relationships to be the greatest expense
  • I live in the present and for the next generation
  • I find a way to make my dreams come true

Although our income may be small compared with our peers, Noah and I are debt-free and thriving. It isn’t easy when neither of us has a “real” job, but we are purposefully investing in our family, our education, and our future.

We spend according to our bank account, but we live in agreement with our values.

The cost of being miserable is not worth sacrificing every luxury to save every penny. The cost of a beer is worth the value of having a date to invest in our marriage. The cost of a plane flight is worth the value of visiting family to invest in relationships.

The cost of this hard season is worth the value of sowing into the life we are creating. Jobs and paychecks will come and go, but prosperity begins as an internal treasure. A full life starts with a full heart <3

 

and what do you do?

It’s a question that many people loathe, yet ask anyway. But what if we changed how we answered it? What if, instead of responding with a title, we responded with our actions and impact?

We all have sticky titles, ones we aren’t too eager to claim, ones we preface with clarifications. I want to be proud of my decision to be a stay at home mom, even when society doesn’t think much of it.

As the eldest daughter of a single mom, I was raised to be an “independent career woman,” but independent women can also choose to give up their careers. Lisa Miller writes:

If feminism is not only about creating an equitable society but also a means to fulfillment for individual women, and if the rewards of working are insufficient and uncertain, while the tug of motherhood is inexorable, then a new calculus can take hold: For some women, the solution to resolving the long-running tensions between work and life is not more parent-friendly offices or savvier career moves but the full embrace of domesticity.

But the “new calculus” is still measured by a professional metric. Women who exchange a full-time career with full-time childrearing often pursue part-time work as a means of identity and social affirmation. And while there’s nothing wrong with multi-level marketing, motherhood is invalidated when women are pressured to have a job in order to feel competent and skilled.

I say I am a freelance writer because it sounds worthwhile and intelligent. It doesn’t matter that I don’t get paid much and haven’t had a commission in months. The title implies I am “more” than “just” a mom.

But I shouldn’t have to legitimize my work as a mother by also working a “real” job.

So here’s the exercise: Title. Actions. Impact.

What do I do? “I’m a stay at home mom.” The title doesn’t sound prestigious or impressive. To qualify, all I did was give birth and quit my job. But there’s more to the story.

What do I do? I could list my routine actions of every three hours: feed, burp, diaper change. Or I could say: “I devote my days and nights to raising a child who can receive love, love himself, and love others. I attend to his needs to teach him trust, stability, safety. I play with him to teach him joy. I travel with him to teach him the world is bigger than himself.” 

The hardest answer to give is my impact. It might sound unrealistic to you, or even presumptuous:

What do I do? “I create a safe space for love to flow freely and I empower the next generation to change the world.” That is the influence I want to have. That is the story I want to share.

This paradigm isn’t restricted to stay at home moms. It’s for all of us who have the option to complain or celebrate. We can limit ourselves to labels or we can expand our everyday to something greater.

You probably have a title that doesn’t sit comfortably with you. So instead, lead with your actions and impact, and tell me, what do you do?

//

Inspired by a recent yoga class with Ellen Kaye at Kindness Yoga

i am every year i have ever lived and every person i have ever been

At 23, I had an epiphany about my identity: I am becoming a new person again and again.

It was my last year of college. Since I did not do any homework, I had an endless supply of free time on my hands to think about life. I had been in the same physical place on and off for the past six years, but Amherst still felt strange to me, an uncomfortable constant that was my closest thing to home. A lot had happened since I was 18, and my senior-self felt very detached from my first-year-self.

In between my years on campus, I went to Bible school, studied abroad, and travelled as much as I could. I found my faith and lost it and stumbled back again. I concluded upon my life’s purpose and questioned it. I embraced Asian culture and challenged it. I travelled because I did not want to waste the opportunity to do so and I travelled because I did not want to do anything else. I was passionate and judgmental, carefree and lonely, hopeful and entitled. Each year, I looked back and felt relieved: I am so glad I am not like that anymore.

At 25, I had another epiphany: I am the same person.

The “old” me and “new” me have different beliefs and goals, but they are the same person. At face value, who I was at 23 is completely different from who I was at 24, but remnants of past thoughts and experiences are still present memories within me. The convictions I maintained and aspirations I pursued continue to shape my values and ideas. I might not agree with my previously held opinions, but I would not interpret the world as I do now if I had never seen it from a different perspective.

When I graduated college, I wanted more than anything to live a wanderlustful life, but I also wanted more than anything to be loved. The latter desire was suppressed for years, tucked away under an attractive cloak of spontaneity, transatlantic flights, and faraway lands captured in photographs. I wanted both, and I chose between them. It was a long transition, but I grew to love my life as a wife and the freedom, power, and friendships I never knew I could have. I did not change into a new person; I uncovered roots of the same person I always was.

At 27, I understand more than ever: I am becoming new and I am the same.

As I grow older, I want different things out of life, but there is little change at the core of those desires. They are either hidden until the right time or reinvented time and time again. For example, my 9-year-old obsession with purple roll-on glitter sticks now takes the shape of wanting a nice peach shade of blush, but both stem from the same desire to feel beautiful, and accentuating my cheekbones is a great start.

On a more serious note, my dream of getting yoga certified was hidden until I learned to connect with myself. I did not know how much I had deceived myself until I began to take time and listen to myself, to sit with my emotions and acknowledge what they were telling me. I learned that the deepest longings of my heart are constant, but take on different forms as time goes on.

Pregnancy is the ultimate reality of becoming new while remaining the same.

At 35 weeks, my uterus has grown about 1,000 times its original size and my brain-cell volume has decreased. My body, mind, and emotions will continue to undergo drastic transformation through labor and postpartum, but I will still be 100% me.

At first, it was a big deal for me to consider stepping down from my role as primary breadwinner and be a stay-at-home mom. The prospect seemed foreign and unfulfilling and the antithesis of the successful life. Then I realized this is not an incongruous step I am taking, but completely in line with who I am and what I want. I never had to shift my priority from career to family.

I have always prioritized family over career.

Recalling the pattern of decisions I have made, I see how my profession was never number one. Instead of internships, I spent my undergrad summers volunteering at camp, in large part to work alongside my sister. Instead of trying to get ahead academically and professionally, I took two gap years from college and went to Bible school, the second year again to be with my sister. While we were both students, we spent nearly every school break traveling together and exploring the world.

Family has always been important to me, and I long to be surrounded by those I love. It is why my relationship with my mother continues to hurt, it is why I never want to cut ties with my step-dad, and it is why Noah applied to school in Denver in the first place — for us to be closer to his parents and two youngest siblings. It is why making the decision to support my husband by staying home and caring for our son is an easy one.

Twenty-three feels like a lifetime ago, and I anticipate feeling the same in several years when I reread blog posts and journal entries from my late twenties. I look back and feel very thankful: I am so glad for how much I have grown. I am every year I have ever lived and every person I have ever been, and I am becoming new and becoming myself all the time.

How do you view who you are in light of who you used to be and who you want to be?

the hardest thing i’ve never done

In kindergarten, it seemed like all the other kids had gone to pre-k and were already best friends and had played on a soccer team and that it was too late for me. I felt like I had already fallen behind.

In kindergarten, they told me I was smart. My teacher, Mrs. Killian, recommended that I skip 1st grade. But my mom didn’t want my younger sister and me to be far apart in grades.

In 2nd grade, I started taking piano lessons because Laurel told me I was a natural. After a few lessons, I switched to her piano teacher, Morton Estrin. I always dreaded piano lessons because I hadn’t practiced the week prior and would just fake it during the lesson. Mr. Estrin always knew.

After a few years, I was supposed to put on this fancypants recital at Hofstra University with another Asian pre-teen prodigy, but I was wasting away my discounted lessons and nowhere near ready for performance. Mr. Estrin said I could either pay full price and start practicing or he would have to drop me as a student. I was relieved.

There opened up to me the glorious world of quitting.

Such has been the pattern all my life:

I try something new.

  • Option A: I’m good at it. Not surprised. I stick with it until it requires effort. Then it becomes too hard. I guess I’m not good at it anymore. I quit.
  • Option B: I’m not good at this. But aren’t I smart? If I’ll ever be good at this, I need to be good at it from the start. I’ll never be good at it. I quit.

My freshman year of college was a big transition from my small public high school to an elite private institution, where expectations were higher and it seemed like everyone was destined for great things.

It kind of felt like kindergarten all over again.

I felt like I had already fallen behind before I even tried. I truly believed I couldn’t do my homework. I couldn’t read five books in one week. I couldn’t finish my classes. I couldn’t take my comprehensive exam for my major requirement. I just couldn’t. I barely graduated.

Then, during a typical study break of procrastination, I read this article about pyschologist Carol Dweck’s research on the inverse power of praise:

Dweck sent research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.

Since I was little, I grew up thinking I never had to try.

From a young age, I was frequently told how gifted and talented I was, and I assumed that i should only pursue those endeavors that came naturally to me. Unfortunately, I ended up not learning how to try, or rather, learning to not try.

I look at my sister and I’m in awe. Growing up, I always thought of her as “the cute one.” In full disclosure, I never considered her to be smart until she was in college. That’s when I realized she was accomplishing things and learning multiple foreign languages at the same time and receiving fellowships and still finding the time to be nice and loving to everyone. She does all her homework. She tries. And she does.

I took the GRE this morning. I didn’t do very well, but at least I passed the minimum for my master’s program. I tried to study this past month, but a week before the test, I still hadn’t prepared. I’m done making excuses, but it is so challenging for me to break what has become my lifestyle and just study.

I want to put consistent effort into long-term goals and stay motivated in light of delayed accomplishment. Or in the absence of immediate praise. It truly is the hardest thing I’ve never done, or at least never done well. Yet.