Stumbling towards something better

As I was nearing 13 kilometers, my longest run since my half marathon in May, I caught my toe on the curb and stumbled into a Superman dive. I would like to think it was the dive of a superhero, and that’s why I walked away with just a few scrapes and bruises. Lately, I do feel like I have superhuman powers as I juggle my three jobs, but today, as I nurse my wounds, I’m realizing that I can’t do it all. I need to stumble towards something better.

Honestly, it wasn’t just today that I had this realization. It’s been building up. I guess it started a few months ago when I bought a Hallmark birthday card, just because it spoke to me. “The little things in life are the big things.” Inside it reads, “Happy Birthday to someone who’s always known that.” It sits on my kitchen table, a daily reminder to appreciate all the wonderful little things, and to remember that my decisions, no matter how little, will lead to something bigger.  A series of decisions have led me back to where I was a year ago.  Indeed, it is bigger – more responsibilities, more challenges. Both are good, but my work-life balance is going out the window. And when I do indulge in things that bring me joy, like running or spending time with loved ones, I feel guilty because I am thinking about work or receiving work-related texts.  I know I shouldn’t whine – we all go through periods like this, right? And I chose this. Even though I knew it wouldn’t bring me joy-money-flow, I chose it.

What is this “Joy – Money – Flow” formula? Back to the build up of my realization. Last month, on a day that I was feeling particularly frustrated, I took an extra long lunch at a bookstore.  Chris Guillebeau’s, Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant To Do (The Crown Publishing Group, 2016) spoke to me, so I bought it. (Just so you know, I don’t buy everything that speaks to me!) I loved his $100 Startup (The Crown Publishing Group, 2012), so I thought I could also gain some inspiration from this book. Tonight I finally dove in.  In Born for This, Chris outlines his formula for what we should be looking for in a career, as follows:

  • Something that makes us happy (joy)
  • Something that’s financially viable (money)
  • Something that maximizes our unique skills (flow)

This combination always seems to allude me. I’ve been lucky enough to have work that has brought me the joy and flow, but the money rarely follows. When I was younger and living in the East, I was able to let this slide as the cost of living was cheaper and I was still developing my skills. However, now that I am older and living in the West, the money part is a key ingredient for stumbling towards something better.

It goes beyond the money. I want to feel valued, and know that my work makes a positive impact. I want to build a full life for myself, a life in which I am more than my career, where I can cultivate my hobbies and develop my skills, and  be there for those who matter to me. My Superman dive, my brush with the unforgiving pavement, has made me realize that I am not super human, and that I need to find my balance and a space where I have Joy-Money-Flow. I may stumble towards something better slowly, but I need to make a move in that direction.  “The little things in life are the big things.”

But sometimes we can’t and that’s OK!


NBPM #15: Creating routines

I’ve reached the half-way point, NaBloPoMo day 15. Honestly, I wasn’t sure that I would make it this far, but here I am. Last night, I almost didn’t make it. I posted at 11:55pm, and then returned after midnight to edit my post. I’m taking this blogging thing quite seriously, you see. It feels good to get into the routine of writing everyday.  It feels good to get into another routine. I like routines – they ground me.

I’ve continued my routines in three different countries.  Although my routines have varied, they have most definitely been established.  Even when I travel, I like to create somewhat of a routine, and do things that I might do, if I lived there, like eating croissants, sipping on cappuccinos, and staying ‘home‘. I like the consistency of routine; I like having an element of predictability in my life. I like knowing that I have a plan, and that there are certain things that I do on certain days. Life is filled with uncertainties, and having elements that I can count on, brings me a sense of peace. And with routine, I am the engineer. I’m not leaving it up to chance. I’m the one creating my own habits and rituals; I’m creating my balance. However, at times, routine has crept into my life, and it wasn’t all my own engineering.

As a student in Salaya, routine crept into my life.  First, I started wearing a school uniform, then I offered a ‘wai’ twice a day after the national anthem, and  stood at attention in the movie theatre to show respect for His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. I also started creating my own routines –   Monday to Friday aerobics to ’80s music, Friday lunch in the  market, Saturday morning in the campus pool, and Sunday temple outings and dinner with Thai friends. When I returned to Thailand to work, I created more routines.  Although I no longer wore my school uniform, I wore the appropriate colour for everyday of the week. (Mondays are yellow, Tuesdays are pink, Wednesdays are green, Thursdays are orange, Fridays are blue, Saturdays are purple, and Sundays are red.) During mourning periods, I blended in with the Thais and wore black, grey, and navy for three months. And I still did aerobics to ’80s music, but this time it was in Bangkok, and my Sundays were reserved for laundry and somtam. Near the end of my five years in Thailand, I was an office worker at the university where I was once a student, and I resumed my routine of Friday market lunches. When I tell people I lived in Thailand for six years, they assume I must miss the food and the people.  I do, but more than that, I miss the routine, which made it my home.

As a teacher in Uijeongbu, routine was something I created in my life over time.  I also chose to opt out of some ‘routines’. With odd working hours, 2:30pm to 9:30pm, I let myself fall into some laziness in the beginning, but I soon realized that I could do a lot in the morning hours. I reconnected with my love of running, and went for morning runs along the Jungnangcheon River, and took Korean lessons at my Canadian friend’s hagwon. After work, I would join friends at Kimbap Heaven for a late dinner, and then head home to bed. As time went on, I started volunteering one morning a week with North Korean refugees, and going on Seoul excursions, and out-of-town hiking trips on the weekends. I never fell into the after-work drinking and socializing with co-workers routine, because it didn’t mesh with the rest of my routine.

Back in Victoria, my routine is still evolving, but it’s not so different from my routines in my other countries. I am studying Arabic every Tuesday night, I go to the market and volunteer every Saturday, I do laundry every Sunday, and I’m trying to develop a daily exercise routine. Actually, routine seems more difficult to sustain in my home country.  I’m not sure why. For a long time, I think it was because I felt unsettled here, and didn’t have a stable job.  Now, I think it is because I’m still adjusting to a fulltime job, which isn’t always predictable, and a side job, that has it’s own set of demands.  Like I said, routine is grounding for me, and I know I need it to weather the changes, and become more settled in my life.  For me, writing is my new routine, and I hope to continue writing, even after NaBloPoMo ends.


NBPM #10: Change of plans

change of planIt’s NaBloPoMo day 10, and I am going to tell you right away that this post is going to be short and sweet.  Do you ever have those days that are filled with little twists and turns? I say ‘little’ because the changes in your day aren’t major, but they’re definitely noticeable. Today was one of those days for me.

After turning off my alarm several times, and rushing around to get ready, I finally bit the bullet and fired off a text to my colleagues. “I’m running late….about 15 minutes late. Sorry. 😦 ” Anyhow, the extra 15 minutes gave me time to prepare lunch and put some eyeshadow and mascara on. It gave me time to walk to the bus stop, instead of running at full speed, like I usually do. What can I say?! I’m not a morning person.  Today, I gave myself permission to NOT be a morning person. I did stay an hour and a half late today, so I don’t feel guilty about those 15 minutes!

Allowing myself to go to work late was the first twist.  The second one came at work, when I felt like I could breathe, and that I was on top of my to-do list. It was an empowering feeling, one that I haven’t felt in a long time. Although I was busy with students and teachers, I felt like I was sailing smooth seas.  The day was going so smooth that at the end of the day I thought I’d give my boss a little scare. In my most serious and official voice, I told him that we should talk in private. I could tell he was apprehensive. My colleague had handed in her resignation two weeks ago. Anyhow, once behind closed doors, I presented him with a Thank you/Farewell card for that colleague, so that he could sign it before he left for his business trip. As he was writing away in the card, he let out a sigh of relief. I chuckled to myself. Sometimes, I have an odd sense of humour.

Another turn was in store, after I finally committed to taking the bus, on such a chilly night, to my Arabic class.  On the bus, I connected with a fellow student and we chatted on our way to class. We had never had an opportunity to talk before, and all I knew was that she was born in Saudi Arabia, left when she was a baby, grew up speaking Arabic with her parents, but soon English took over, and now she was rediscovering her mother tongue. On our way to class, I learned about her studies, her time spent abroad, and her interest in going to law school.When I found out that our class was cancelled due to reading break, I was disappointed, but happy that I had made the bus journey and a new connection.

After we parted ways,  I walked to the bus stop and mentally prepared myself for an early night. Then a voice in my head said, “Why don’t you go to a movie?”  So, that is what I did.  I went to see Mr. Holmes. It’s not the kind of movie I would usually watch, but then again, it wasn’t a usual day. In the end, I was glad I went, and I enjoyed every twist and turn in the story, right along with the beautiful scenery.

As I was riding home on the bus, I recounted the day, and all the unexpected twists and turns.  When I had woken up in the morning, I had had my day all planned out. None of it went according to plan. I never expected that I would go to work late, exchange numbers with a fellow student, not go to Arabic class, and instead  go to a movie. Sometimes, plans change and the day turns out to be a little more extraordinary than you expected!

P.S. I guess this isn’t as short and sweet as I thought it would be.  I’m just trying to stick with the theme ;-).

NBPM #4: What if I had called in sick?

flowersNaBloPoMo day number four is knocking on my door. I only have three more hours to get this post published. It’s been a long day and I would love to just curl up in bed, but I must persist. I feel drained; from the moment I woke up to the moment I perched myself here, I’ve been missing that fall-back hour, and wishing that I was elsewhere.

It started with turning off my alarm five times, thinking about not going into work once my eyes opened, and then wondering what would happen if I didn’t, while I was running for the bus. If I had called in sick, when the first alarm went off, my day would have looked quite different.  It’s not that I had a bad day today, it’s just that I was nostalgic for my freelancing days. Those were the days when I could work in my pyjamas, enjoy a mid-morning coffee with friends, and then meet a client in the late afternoon. I could sleep in, or go to bed late — it was all up to me. Now, I must be at work no later than eight, sip coffee at my desk, and go home no earlier than five. Usually, I stay much later and go in much earlier. I am part of the daily grind.

What if I wasn’t part of the daily grind? What if I hadn’t gone into work today? What would I have done?  I know I can’t press rewind, but I can imagine.  I would have slept in until about nine or ten, and then laced up my runners for a run along the ocean. I wouldn’t have let my mind wander and worry like it usually does — I’d have kept it in the present moment with the chilly wind at my back, the ocean in front of me, and the smell of the sea all around me. I’d have smiled at all the joggers running past with their dogs in tow. When the run was over, I’d have enjoyed a cappuccino and the morning paper, and then I would have started to think about the rest of my day. The rest of my day might have involved some writing, some tutoring, or maybe just time with a close friend. It would have been a slow and simple day, a day where I wasn’t constantly worrying about my neverending to-do list.  Well, I guess one can only dream.

Now, dreaming is what I’ll do. Good night, NaBloPoMo!


NBPM #2: Making small changes

So, it’s day two of NaBloPoMo, and here I am again, perched on my chair, critiquing my thoughts before they even reach the keys, wondering if I am really cut out for this blogging month.  Lucky for you, I’m not going to bore you with my negative self-talk — I’m going to nip it in the bud, as my grandmother would say. This nipping it in the bud is a practice that I am perfecting these days.  It’s one of the small changes I am making to lead a life with less stress, and a life that will leave me smiling at the end of the day. As I tell my students, step by step you will get there…..wherever it is you want to be.

  1. Nipping it in the bud. As a perfectionist, I’ve mastered the art of worrying, over-analyzing, and finding problems where most sane people wouldn’t. Lately, I’ve had to be stern with myself. When I see myself going down a negative path or a path that will lead to a sleepless night, I take a step back, and redirect my energy into what is going right, and what I actually have control over.
  2. Caring less.  This is my biggest challenge. I care deeply in all areas of my life. I go to work early and leave late; I buy the office B-day cakes because my company won’t; I say ‘Yes’ when I mean ‘No’. When I think about caring less, I immediately think about shrugging responsibility, and that does not sit well with me. However, day by day, I am learning how I can ‘care less’ and still do a good job, even if I don’t please everyone. In my personal life, I am learning that I can only give so much, and that relationships based on respect and reciprocity are the ones worth nourishing. As sad as it is, sometimes you just have to let go.
  3. Exercising my mind. Sounds simple enough, but it is so easy for me to get into busy, auto-pilot mode, and neglect my brain. I truly believe that you need to feed your mind before you can relate meaningfully with others. This year I’ve taken a couple night classes, tuned into some insightful podcasts, read some wonderful books with the book club and on my own, and deleted the Facebook app and replaced it with Pocket.
  4. Exercising my body. When I was sixteen, I started going to the gym with my grandma, and rekindled my elementary school love for running. Over the past fifteen years, I’ve done a few 5 and 10k runs, and learned so much from my buddies. I haven’t always been consistent, but as I get older, I realize that fitness is critical to my physical and mental well-being. It’s not only a stress reliever for me, but a social outlet, and sweat has also fueled some great blog posts — like this one.
  5. Speaking up. This is another tough one for me.  I feel much more comfortable speaking up for others than I do for myself. I have no problem putting in for raises and writing stellar reviews for others, but when it comes to a promotion for myself, I shy away. This hasn’t always been the case. In Thailand, I did speak up, and got myself a nice little living allowance.  At times, I forget this, but lately I have been vocalizing my concerns and my plans. Even if nothing changes, at least I’ve been heard, and being heard is half the battle.
  6. Making ‘me’ time. Surprisingly, I’m getting really good at this. I leave work on-time, at least twice a week, so that I can go to the gym, and I even negotiate a later start-time after long days. On my way to work, I stop in at a coffee shop to read my book, and I only feel a tinge of guilt. Some Sundays are for manicures, others are for pancakes and meeting up with friends, and then others are for long, solo runs to a favourite breakfast spot.  Having ‘me’ time helps me recharge.

These small changes make smiling easier at the end of the day. Although I may not be exactly where I want to be, like my students, I am taking it step by step, and embracing the journey.

Coffee time = Me time