Thursday, May 13, 2010

You Never Really Know...

Hi everyone. Here in Japan the weather is getting warmer and nicer, and I couldn't be happier. For a few weeks there, we had horrible weather. It was rainy and cold for much longer than usual, and it put a real damper on the cherry blossom season this year. Last week what Golden Week, a series of national holidays where it seems like everyone in Japan makes a great exodus at the same time. I usually choose to stay home during this time, and this year was no exception.

I have started my next coaching class, and despite feeling a bit hesitant prior to the class starting, after our first class I felt motivated and ready to continue my studies. This class is much smaller than my intro class, with only 6 students. We will be full-on coaching during our classes with volunteer clients and receive evaluations afterwards. These observations are stressing me out a bit, because being watched and evaluated always makes me nervous. However I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Today's entry is something I've been pondering in my head for a while. I wasn't quite sure of the focus of the story or how it would be of benefit to those of you who are reading. But the two experiences I will talk about greatly helped me to be more understanding and compassionate with others. Because you never really know what's going on behind the scenes with another person, and their obnoxiousness / defensiveness / attitude could have very different origins from what you might assume in your daily interactions. Being more "neutral", for lack of a better term, will decrease your stress and irritability, and allow you to conserve your mental energy for other tasks.

These two stories in particular involve individuals who were not abrasive or offensive, but from these interactions I was able to alter my reactions or assumptions with other, more stressful situations, and it has really helped.

A lot of you know that I teach ESL part-time. This involves interacting with dozens of different people every day. A lot of these people can really try my patience, especially when I'm having a bad bout of insomnia. One particular student started coming in for lessons about two months ago. He seemed very upbeat and motivated about his studies, which is a rare treat in the Japanese ESL industry. However, the first time we worked together, he plopped himself down across from my next and matter-of-factly said,

"My wife just died, so I'm here to learn English."

I was having a particularly good day that day, and this confession out of the blue floored me and really bummed me out. (I have since learned to protect myself from being too affected by these random confessions. Happens more than you would think.)I was speechless for about 5 seconds but expressed my condolences and went on with the lesson.

He has come in several times since then, and always is in a very good mood and studies hard. He has since told me that he is planning a trip around the world (in only 10 days) in August, something he promised his late wife he would do. Whenever he comes in I always find myself observing him, thinking, "How does he really feel? What goes on with him when no one else can see? Why isn't he taking time off to grieve?" Seeing him continue on with his life has given me a lot of strength and reaffirmed that, no matter what, we all have to keep looking forward. No matter what, a smiling face and upbeat attitude does not mean the person's life is all roses, so no need to feel envious about another's perceived happiness.

The second also involves a student of mine, a young woman. I have never seen this woman not smiling. Ever. She is always very cheerful, friendly, and laughs it off when she makes mistakes. Of course, she makes so many mistakes that the anal part of me has sometimes gotten irritated, thinking she wasn't taking her studies seriously and was wasting my time. Until one day a couple of weeks ago when I asked,

"You are always smiling. You look so happy all the time. What's your secret?"

She told me that, when she was young, she almost drowned in the bathtub. Her mother saved her. She didn't give me anymore details than that, but she said in Japanese, "After that, I decided that simply being alive was reason enough to be happy."

To make such a profound realization at such a young age really moved me. I complimented her on her strength and courage and continued on with the lesson. In this case, her reason for being happy was triggered by a very traumatic event at a very young age, which shaped her way of thinking for the rest of her life. And here I was, being irritated because I thought she wasn't being serious enough.

Again, my realization that a person's current state of happiness is no way indicative of their entire life was reinforced. After having these two experiences, I've made a point to be much more patient with my other students, because I have no idea what's going on behind the scenes. I've also become more patient and open-minded about strangers I run across every day. Because you never know what is going on with that person.

Someone bumps into you on the sidewalk and doesn't apologize? Sure he or she might be rude or aggressive. In fact, that's often the first thought anybody has. Then you get angry because the person didn't properly apologize and you carry that anger with you the rest of the day. Perhaps bumping into someone else, and not apologizing to them! Paying the anger forward, so to speak. However, maybe the person who bumped into you is normally a very nice and considerate person, but something has happened that has caused them to drop that considerateness for the time being. Unfortunately, the both of you crossed paths at a bad time. However, keeping an open mind helps you stay stress-free and keeps those negative, emotionally-draining thoughts at bay.

You never really know what is going on with another person, so try not to let their behaviors get to you. More often than not, it has nothing to do with you. By keeping an open mind and exploring all of the possibilities, you have more compassion for your fellow man, and you keep your spirits up. This is difficult to do when you yourself are in a bad mood, but I encourage you all to try it. Keep an open mind and focus on your own happiness, and other things will fall into place.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Life Happens...

As they say in coaching, "Life happens between calls". I suppose life happens between blogs, too!

I set out to do a bimonthly blog, very eager to reach people looking for coaches and to offer my readers inspiration and get them motivated to make positive changes in their lives. Perhaps I was a tad too bold in setting that type of commitment.

As I make my list of blog topics to muse on, I sometimes get the feeling that everyone has heard the same things before. I am a voracious reader, and read all kinds of self-help/self-improvement/empowerment books and take the parts that I like to craft my own coaching style. I read things from the clinically mundane to the way-out-there, new age-y stuff. If someone was willing to publish it, then someone found something of value worth sharing with the world.

So my question for my readers is, what would you like to hear about? What kinds of topics would benefit you the best? What are you interested in? What topics are you NOT interested in? Any feedback would be appreciated. I also have a mailing list in the works so that I can deliver my content to my readers directly, for people who prefer that style.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Being all right with your flaws

Hello everyone! I hope the year has gotten off to a good start for all of you. As for me, I have started my second course in coaching, and plan to take a third starting in May. It's interesting since the majority of my classmates tend to be 10 to 20 years older than me, with established careers, families, lives, etc. Sometimes I feel I'm a bit "young" to be getting into this kind of work, but then a new person will come into my life, whom I am able to help, and I get right back into my studies with renewed vigor.

Sometimes it can be difficult to live authentically, since we get so many messages from the media and those around us on how we are supposed to be. When we are unable to fit that mold, it causes a lot of stress and self-resentment. If your strengths are thought of as flaws at a societal level, it can be very difficult to feel alright with being yourself. For example, classic American values place importance on individualism, responsibility, directness, and efficiency. In Japan, as I'm sure most of you are aware of, society values harmony, dedication to a larger group, deference to authority, and self-sacrifice.

What if you are American, yet prefer deferring to the group? You are criticized for lacking decisiveness and leadership, when maybe it's just simply all about you enjoying being left alone and just doing your job and going with the flow.

What if you are Japanese, and want to go home from work at a decent hour, because you love your family and want to spend time with them? You are criticized for not being a team player and will be passed over for promotions since you lack the self-sacrifice that will benefit the greater good of the company. Thankfully, this is slowly, slowly changing. But what if you are really a team player and do work hard at your job, yet it's simply about wanting to spend more time with the people you love?

People will always criticize 1) what they don't understand (and don't want to understand) 2) what they fear out of ignorance 3) what they secretly desire, yet can't have, for one reason or another. On a social level, where certain traits are highly favored, this can leave a large part of the population feeling unwanted and unnecessary.

There is variety and diversity in the human race for a reason. The flaws people and society may see in you are a blessing in other ways. The universe desires a balance of traits.

You are who you are for a reason, and you have been blessed with gifts that, despite what others may think, are very powerful in a good way, and can be used to create a fulfilling life.

I'd like to close with a Chinese parable called, "The Cracked Pot". After reading, take some time to ponder how your perceived flaws might not be flaws at all.

A water bearer in China had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck. One pot had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his house.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After 2 years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream:
"I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house."
The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?

"That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I planted flower seeds on your side of the path. Every day while we walk back, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Year, New Beginnings

Better late than never, right?

My time home was very enjoyable, and now I am back in Japan and ready to make some progress in my studies as well as in my coaching business. Previously, I wrote on the importance of self-care, and despite feeling knowledgeable about the subject, my time home and my subsequent time off when I got back really drove home how important this is, especially with regards to making sure you have ample reserves of energy, sleep, patience, and time to deal with unexpected changes that are part of everyday life.

Truth be told, due to some personal issues, I returned to Japan with a less-than-enthusiastic mindset about my coaching business and my future in general. I felt depleted, desperate, and totally opposed to giving my energy towards the betterment of others. Then, I had a week off where I holed myself up in my apartment and slept until I felt like getting up, did meditation and yoga, practiced mindfulness, and burned lots of incense. I initially felt guilty about "wasting" so much time, as sitting at home when I could be traveling or meeting with friends is what I felt I should be doing. (Note: more on those pesky "shoulds" at a later date)

When I stopped feeling guilty about what I thought I should be doing and instead looked at this time off as an opportunity to recharge, something remarkable happened. My first day back at work was fun, I was less irritable, I enjoyed my time at work, and had an overall feeling of well-being. Through this experience, I learned that I need to incorporate time into my schedule where I am not doing mentally-excitable activities like socializing, traveling, studying, etc. This puts me on the fast track to severe mental drain. Hot baths, vegging out in front of the TV, reading, meditating, and just unplugging from the grid for a couple of days can mean all the difference to me.

I am happy to see 2009 go, as it ranks up there with the worst of my years on earth, to date. The big plus that came out of 2009 was making a new group of friends which have had an extraordinarily positive influence on my life and I feel very blessed to have crossed paths with such exciting people. I come into 2010 with a better sense of my personal needs and desires, and a better idea of the balance I need to consciously create in my life. I hope everyone out there has also reflected on the previous year and come out of it with more knowledge about themselves and where they want to go.