Growing up

The Importance of Connecting with Your Heart

I was recently reflecting on a time when I was at a crossroads. I needed to make a decision about taking a job that I felt was a good opportunity even though it meant taking it even though my heart didn’t feel into it. The job was one I really admired and wanted in the past because I felt that it was a very prestigious and highly acclaimed place to work. Years later, upon returning to my hometown, I approached them to see if there was a need for me. They interviewed me and offered me a job. After the interview, I surprisingly didn’t feel exceptionally motivated to take it. Learning about the opportunity made me feel that I already received experience in those same arenas elsewhere. And taking this role would allow less family time with my then 18-month old daughter. But, I felt obligated to take the position. So I took it out of fear. At each point in the process I felt less and less connected to my heart. Even to the point where after I started the onboarding process, I felt dead inside.

About a year later, I finally let this part-time position go. It was, indeed, a position I had outgrown before I even started. Taking it drained my life energy and happiness. It also took a toll on my home life. Within the year of working there, things happened in my personal life that brought up old wounds for me. Being overworked and overtired, I had no energy reserve to garner my strength to deal with these deep-seated issues and very little strength to fight back, which magnified these issues for me. The job didn’t directly add to my experience or my happiness.

This experience made me realize how vitally important it is to follow our hearts and to remain connected with our hearts. It’s in these times when we are following our hearts that we are our best selves. We are our most creative, most genuine, most loving selves. It is then that we can perform our best work and make the best choices. It’s then that we can persevere through life’s inevitable challenges and keep going despite facing obstacles. It’s then that we enjoy and love what we do and are available to love those around us.

One night before the pandemic rendered us unable to go out to work, I came home after working late multiple days for nearly a week without a break day or night. I was the most tired I had been in a long time. On my way home I mulled over this idea of connecting with my heart. So, when I parked in front of my house, I said a quiet prayer– that I would remain connected to my heart that night. I took this quiet moment to set this intention, knowing I’d be very tired and have a level of difficulty being present, engaged, and a healthy communicator with my daughter and my husband. This simple gesture was so profoundly helpful that I wanted to incorporate it into my daily practice.

I realized my daughter was where my heart was– and remaining connected to my heart helped me to connect with her. I was able to maintain my calm, collected demeanor despite her periodic screams of highly emotional, over-tired cries. I remained grounded in a sense of inner peace. It was a major breakthrough for me and one I want to continue to explore. Now that the pandemic has struck and changed the very fabric of what our daily routines look like, I’m still exploring what the idea of connecting to my heart means and how I can incorporate small practices to remain grounded and connected to my heart in these trying days.¬†I still try to find small moments throughout my day to set my intention, or to say a mindful prayer for remaining grounded and connected to my heart. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worthwhile and something that pays dividends.

You are Enough: Sharing the Message We all Need Right Now

One of the healing messages that carried me through the tumultuous aftermath of my birth family reunion was the mantra, “I am enough.” It was a message I was learning to tell myself in place of prior messages that I often told myself that contradicted that. They were the steady stream of messages that used to barrage my psyche and dictate my self-worth and they were often based upon my fears. It was healing to find messengers like Brene Brown, Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert, Maya Angelou, my therapist and my acupuncturist and even my lovely badass hairstylist to give me the wisdom to draw out the strength inside of me that steadied me in the fact that I am enough during those years.

Recently, as a new mom, I’ve been struggling with how to tell myself that I am enough. That I am doing enough. And in the space of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic where all hell has broken loose on our lives, how do we tell ourselves that we are enough?? We are under constant pressures to be more than one place (home and work; work and school, etc.) and to be doing more than what we can (working full time and full-time childcare and… and… and…). I’ve read self-help books, gone through hours of counseling, and done a lot of personal work to manage and even overcome my anxiety in the past pre-mommyhood. But in the first years after becoming a mom and even moreso during the current pandemic, I was really struggling with anxiety about not feeling like I had enough _________ (e.g., time, energy, money, resources, plans for the future) or was enough for the people and things in my life. I asked my husband, who is a mental health counselor, how I could reduce my anxiety. I talked it over with my counselor. I did readings. But I was still feeling so anxious as a mother. Was I doing enough? The countless hours I spent typing on my computer while she lay watching TV or playing on her tablet was haunting me. Am I enough? Am I doing enough? It was interacting with my own trauma as a child of feeling like I was without then. And this time, I didn’t know how to shake it. With so many nights staying up late working, my daughter was also going to bed later and waking later and later. I felt horrible about that. But I couldn’t and do anything about that at the moment. In the mornings, when she’s sleeping, I needed the time to work. Late at night when she was waiting for me to wind down for the night, I was still working. And all the while, feeling like I was failing– my jobs, my daughter, my family, and myself. It was all too much.

Then this week, at the close of a late afternoon of a crazy frenzied day, something shifted. A breakthrough happened for me. I was looking at my three-year-old daughter making a squinty-face at me. Usually, when I looked at her, the messages that rolled through my mind were how much I needed to be doing for her and how much we needed to do (e.g. bath time, brush teeth, dinner, get dressed, clean this, clean that, learn this, learn that, do this do that, you know all that stuff) and how much I was failing at it. But today something was different. And I don’t know exactly what was different. It was definitely a supernatural-God-universe-moment because it was bigger than me. It was a raw moment of surrender because I was just too exhausted to ‘try’ to do anything at that moment. Rather than striving, I just looked at her and felt that she was exactly enough just as she was. And something broke inside of me. The anxiety I was placing on myself. All the stress and the worry lifted as I gave my daughter the message I had been learning that I needed to hear all these years. That she was/is enough. ūüė≠

Years of anxiety melted off of my shoulders in that healing moment of clarity. I could see with fresh eyes. I could deliver that message to my daughter in a new way. Out of the challenges in my life and in my situation during this pandemic, something new was born. Instead of striving for what I believed I needed to do to make her life better or easier at that moment, I realized she was already everything she needed to be. And I, in turn, was everything that I needed to be. I didn’t have to do anything to be more deserving of a good, wonderful, smart, thriving child or of the title of being a “good mother.” She didn’t have to do anything to be more deserving of love, acceptance, respect, or praise. She was already whole. I was and am already whole.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or that tension of feeling like you don’t have enough ____________ (insert anything here) today, may I encourage you to surrender? To surrender your plans and efforts up to the message that you are enough. And if you struggle with telling yourself that, as I did over the past few years of being a new mom and especially so since this crisis, take a moment to look at someone you love and send out that wholehearted message of love to them: that they are enough. Just as they are, they are enough. They don’t need to do anything to deserve more love or acceptance. They just are wholly and fully enough. Let go of your expectations. And if during these times you need encouragement or support as we all do, please contact me or someone you know that can remind you of this message that we all need so desperately to hear: You are enough.

 

I’m rooting for you!

xoxo

-Rachel

 

Putting the Pieces of My Life Together: Discovering How to Choose Joy

In the years following my birth family reunion, I read a book called, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It’s now one of my favorite books. This book completely changed my life and allowed me to connect with my feelings in a profound way ‚ÄĒ all through tidying up! This book encourages readers to hold each item they own in a systematic program, called the KonMari Method, and ask if the item sparks joy. If the item doesn‚Äôt spark joy, the readers are encouraged to let it go. Marie Kondo outlines which category of items to attend to first (clothes) and then provides a systematic order for which category to attend to next until you’ve organized all of your belongings.

Her method recommends grouping all items by category for each owner within the home. So, for instance, all my shoes belong together in one place and all my husband’s shoes belong together in one place. It makes it easier to find because you know where your designated shoe location is. It also makes it easier to see exactly how many shoes you really own because they aren’t dispersed in many different places. If you tend to keep your shoes in the foyer, that can be their spot. While your spouse may keep his or her shoes in the bedroom closet. The point is that all like items are grouped together by owner. I really loved this because I tend to love systems and efficiency. It makes me happy to feel like I know where all of my shoes are. And having a spot for everything makes me feel like I’m wasting less time looking for things when I need them. This method also helps me to feel distinctly differentiated from my husband. With all the meshing of stuff between spouses, it’s nice to have your own spot for your things and a separate spot for your spouse’s things. It provided a sense of ownership and order.

I started writing about what this book meant to me in a previous blog post. And I noticed that there were certain themes that arose that I wanted to explore. Each theme centered on a change in the way that I thought. So, I created a list of the ways that my thinking changed. In other words, myths that were busted. Here’s the list that evolved:

MYTH BUSTED: I don’t need confidence

Having a system like this gave me confidence in myself and confidence that I could take control of my possessions and my life. It broke the huge task of organizing my house into smaller component parts. It gave me a layout of what to do first, second, third and so on. I’m realizing that confidence is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal. I used to believe that I didn’t need confidence. I believed that I just needed to “push through” and not think about things or even to feel things to get them done. But now being more attached to my feelings, I definitely see what a powerful tool that confidence is. Breaking up the huge task of organizing my belongings into manageable parts helped me to feel confident that I could perform each part. This helped to jump-start my endeavors. Then, after completing each portion of the project, my confidence grew. This newfound confidence was not only invigorating, it actually fueled my efforts to do even more and to be even more productive.

MYTH BUSTED: Possessions need to be expensive to be valuable

The idea of joy in this process wasn’t associated with how expensive my possessions were, or even what others thought of them. It was about how I connected with the items and what they meant to me.

MYTH BUSTED: Aesthetics Don’t Matter

Again, it wasn’t about how expensive the item was. It wasn’t just about the superficial appearance of an item. It was about what the items meant to me personally. It was about what they meant in my life. We deserve to do more than kill ourselves working. We deserve to care about beauty. And even more importantly, we are allowed to enjoy beautiful things. Aesthetics speak to our joy and add a sense of peace and wonder to our lives. It takes us to the next level from just surviving to thriving. Each of us deserves to find happiness, joy, and beauty in our lives. We are allowed to care about that. And we are allowed to shine. We are allowed to love things, people, experiences, and moments. And, for a brighter, happier, kinder world; it’s imperative that we do.

MYTH BUSTED: A home-base doesn’t matter

I was exploring the idea of living everywhere but nowhere. But the idea of home matters. The idea of stability matters. The idea of reliability matters. The ideas of routines and habits matter. They allow us to forget about the mundane steps involved in everyday tasks like making your morning coffee and gathering your belongings to head out the door so that you can focus your attention and energy on a fresh day ahead of you. Having free brain-space means that you have the available cognitive power to notice moments of beauty and peace throughout your day, which makes life enjoyable and meaningful. And having free brainpower allows more energy for creative problem-solving during the inevitable challenges of your day as well as more energy for innovation in your work and home. Not to mention that it gives you a sense of settledness.   

Feeling like you belong somewhere matters. Feeling like this is your space makes a huge difference. I recently began a new job, and I wasn’t sure if they were going to have space for me because office space is complicated there. Being a busy environment, I also wasn’t sure if they’d be ready for my arrival. To my surprise, they had a desk and an office space ready for me with my name printed on the door. It meant the world to me. I felt like I had arrived. It speaks to our soul to belong. There’s something innately important about a sense of belonging to our human spirit. Not to mention the power and confidence that comes in knowing that you are meant to be exactly where you are.

MYTH BUSTED: My possessions don’t matter

My possessions matter because they matter to me. Your possessions mean something because they mean something to you. I matter. You matter. Period. Having a sense of pride in your life, including the life that you’ve built in your home, your belongings, your clothes, your routine, and your work, makes a difference. When I don’t feel a sense of pride in something, I can definitely feel my confidence, my motivation, and my inspiration waning. With those down, I am not as productive or efficient. Not to mention that a lack of pride (e.g. shame) can wear on your mental energy, draining from the reservoir of cognitive and emotional capacity to make decisions wisely and to think creatively and constructively.

MYTH BUSTED: Having a system doesn’t matter.¬†

Having a system helps keep your mind and your belongings organized. Our brains are wired for organization. The tasks that we do are organized not only spatially but sequentially. So, timing and order matter. The more things are organized in a meaningful way, the more efficient you can be. The more that systems make sense, the more powerful and accurate your decisions become. The better your outcomes are, the more confidence and success build upon one another. The more reasons you have for doing things, the more meaningful your life becomes. Meaning, connection, successful outcomes, and true confidence build not only successful and happy careers, but happier, more motivated and more productive people.

MYTH BUSTED: Having a plan doesn’t matter or help.

I used to believe that I did my best work when I was acting on a whim, when I had no set plans or when I was acting in a mad fury to get things done under the final pressure of an impending deadline. But I‚Äôve come to realize that I love planning ahead! I love setting plans and building on them. Not to mention‚ÄĒ it‚Äôs nice to know what to expect.

MYTH BUSTED: What you do doesn’t matter.

In the past, I felt like my house didn’t need to be organized because I was living ‘just fine’ despite the fact that I couldn’t organize everything I wanted to. But, I took this mentality to an extreme, where I began believing that since I couldn’t do everything I wanted, that none of the tasks I did mattered. But, what you do matters. In fact, it seems that this is one of the biggest predictors of happiness. Studies found that doing something and learning a skill contributed to increased happiness and confidence in children. You are bound to get better at what you work on. What you do leads to learning new skills and getting things done, which both add to your sense of accomplishment and sense of confidence in yourself. And these boost your happiness.

MYTH BUSTED: Enjoying things and connecting with your heart is for sissies, or is silly, trivial, and insignificant.

It seems like a silly task and it seems even silly for me to say. But, going through this method changed me. Growing up in a typical working-class east-Baltimore family, I was taught to be tough. You keep your head down, nose to the grind, and just keep going, like a workhorse. The focus was never on my feelings or my thoughts. It was on just getting things done, and working hard. It didn’t matter if you didn’t like something, or didn’t want to do something; you just did it. And when you didn’t like to do something or didn’t want to do something, it was even more imperative that you push through to get it done. I wasn’t shown how to connect with my heart. Yes, my feelings mattered to an extent, but what I cared about didn’t really matter when it came head-to-head with tradition, work, or duty. Those “should be” ways of living always overrode my feelings. As if my desires and my feelings were second-rate citizens. Or as if they were trivial and insignificant. I think this is how I became such a dutiful workaholic who grew up feeling guilty whenever I couldn’t get something done. This translated to my early adult life when I had difficulty asking for help or saying that I couldn’t finish something.

What you care about matters tremendously. It affects you, your life, your motivation, your outlook, and therefore your performance and productivity. This, in turn, affects the people around you.

It was a wonderful exercise of self-growth for me to take each of my possessions in hand and to search my heart for if it brought me joy. I was able to connect with my heart in a deeper way and to know myself in a deeper way than I ever thought I could. 

During the time following my birth family reunion, my identity felt nebulous, hazy and ill-defined. I felt like I was grasping at my identity like someone trying to grab the wind. I felt like a blank slate. I didn’t know who I was. I was grappling with the idea that I could’ve become someone else if the events in my life were different. I was wondering what elements of my personality were inherent and which were fluid and learned. Of those that were learned, what was shaped by the family who raised me. Of those that were inherited, what did that mean? Did that mean that I was destined to have those traits? Could I choose who I wanted to be? Did I have a say in the life I wanted to lead going forward? Could I still just be me? And if so, who was that?

I came to realize that no matter what inherent traits we were born with and no matter what we were taught by our families or by our environment, we all have the ability to choose the people we are. And that’s a lot of power. In fact, it could be the difference between a life filled with peace, contentedness and joy and a life filled with emptiness, unsettledness, and depression. We have some agency over our lives. We can’t control what we were born with or what happens to us. But, we can definitely change elements of who we are. We can shift our own viewpoints and modify our own perspective. We can be creative thinkers. We can be dynamic problem-solvers and innovators. We can build the life we want, beginning with our own thoughts and ideas.

During this time when I felt devoid of personality that was my own and devoid of an identity that was mine, I found the KonMarie method to be a wonderfully transformative process. As I connected with my own thoughts and feelings about each of my possessions, my experience and outlook of the items within my house transformed. And therefore, my life experience changed. I disregarded the opinions of others during the process and connected with thoughts and feelings that were uniquely mine.

And I found that I could not only know what I was feeling, but I also connected with my heart: who I was at my core. And this is something that people need to do more. Doctors and healthcare professionals, business people, law enforcement, artists, anyone and everyone can lead happier lives by paying attention to what sparks joy for them. And when we are doing what we love, it shows. When we are motivated and inspired, breakthroughs happen. And we do more. We have more endurance to do more over the long-term. We have more resilience to bounce back after challenges, setbacks, and distractions. And this, in turn, can help us to be a more creative, innovative, and productive society.

How Marie Kondo Changed My Life: Finding Joy in the Mess of Life

A few years ago I read Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” It encouraged people to hold each item in their hands and ask if it sparked joy for them. If it did, they were instructed to keep the item, then ask it where it wants to go, and create a special place for it. It was amazing to think that such a small, unassuming book about organizing could change a person’s life. But, it did. It did something, indeed magical, in my life. So much so that I’m still processing all of what it did, how it worked, and why.

I’ve wanted to write about what this book meant to me as a way of processing my thoughts and feelings about the book: to not only pay homage to this incredible collection of thoughts and words, but also to place words to the overarching principles that I learned from the book that I can apply to other areas of my life. Since the book brought so much joy to me in the areas of my possessions, I knew that the principles could be applied and sprinkle happiness on other areas of my life too.

One of the things this book allowed me to do was to recognize the sensation and the beauty of joy. Growing up in a tough, blue collar working-class family, I was taught that hard work was not only paramount; next to family, it was everything. I was never given deep instruction on how to interact with joy, nor was I given a strong model for embracing joy by those around me. My family and those around me were very loving people. But, joy just wasn’t on their radar. Family made you happy. But, apart from that, speaking about joy was almost obsolete. I don’t remember hearing people ask or comment about emotional feelings amongst one another at all. I remember people showing signs of stress, but I don’t remember anyone ever talking about how stress was affecting them. I can’t say that I ever heard, “Do what inspires you” or “What speaks to you?” or “What sparks joy for you?” I heard plenty of, “Just keep going” with the idea of just get it done. Prior to reading Marie Kondo’s book, I don’t think I even knew how to really allow myself to embrace my joy. Without being able to acknowledge and value it, I couldn’t really navigate the space of that emotional state let alone to lean into it and cherish it.

I was raised to be tough, hard-working, respectful of others to the point of many times silencing my own thoughts and feelings, incredibly pragmatic to where I buried anything lighthearted and frivolous deep beneath my sense of duty, and responsible to an extreme. Desires were discussed as dreams or fantasies, not reality. Sometimes desires were even viewed as selfish.

This book allowed me to go easier on myself. It took the enormous and overwhelming task of tidying an entire house and broke it down into manageable component tasks. It allowed me to say that making the steps smaller and manageable was okay. It gave me a game plan so that I had a fighting chance in the form of somewhere to start, and a reliable, organized system that I felt good about. It allowed me to take each item in hand piece-by-piece and make a decision on it. And it allowed me to feel more comfortable following my own intuition. It allowed me to feel the confidence that I could make decisions and do something really daunting and typically-overwhelming if I had a system and just started.

It helped me to see that I could pick and choose my life based on my own thoughts and feelings. And rather than focus on worry, negative emotion, negative feelings, and fear, it opened me up to the magical perspective of basing the decisions in my life on joy. That was a profoundly powerful shift in my thinking. And I will be forever grateful. Marie Kondo helped me to go from a mindset of negativity, with a proclivity towards being depressed, worried, anxious, and fearful, to a positive, more meaningful and more productive mindset. She elevated my energetic frequency. She prompted me to live an inspired life: the life I wanted to live instead of the life I thought I should live or the life I had to live.

Before this book, I thought I procrastinated on big projects because I was afraid of doing all the work. But going through this process actually made me realize that I enjoyed doing all the tidying. I wasn’t afraid of hard work. I realized that I was actually just afraid of not being able to do the project (to finish it, or to do it well) or not knowing how to do it or where to start. It’s the unknown of it and the lack of confidence that actually paralyzed me and rendered me unproductive in the past. Going through this program actually helped to build my confidence, because I learned and mastered a skill. I did it! And it felt amazing to feel that sense of accomplishment. Learning and mastering a skill has actually been shown to be really important in the development of confidence in children. And I can see why.

But I think one of the most important things this book did was to demonstrate that I have agency over the way I live my life. What I keep in my life and what I discard of, I get to choose. That’s been a powerful revelation. And it’s something that contributes to happiness. Because we feel happy when we have control over our own lives. It drains our energy when we feel powerless, out of control, or hopeless. I can create a home that I love. And I deserve that. And it doesn’t take a lot of flashy or expensive things for me to be happy. I actually don’t need a lot of material things to be happy. I don’t even need to be wealthy to be happy. I get to choose. And to me, that is a core source of happiness: the freedom and the opportunity to choose the things I love and cherish.

Marie Kondo’s kindness and proclivity toward mindfulness, positivity, and gratitude also gave me permission to be in the moment, to connect with others, and to be seen. To be seen without fear of judgment. To be seen without fear of not being enough. It helped me to see that we are all in a process. But let’s be kind and acknowledge the good that things (and people) have done for us and thank them for it. Because it’s those things that have shaped us into who we are today.

The book gave me permission to be in the present moment long enough to feel gratitude, joy, contentedness and peace. I enjoyed it. I experienced a ton of joy while undergoing the process. At the completion of the program, it allowed me the moment to say, I’m finished. I often take too long getting things prepared for a project that I often don’t get started. Or, once I get started, I tend to take too long on all the details that I never get to the end. But going through the tidying process made me realize that having a distinct ending helps. Liking what you’ve done is rewarding and meaningful. This process helped me get to a place in my life processes where I could say, I’ve done everything I set out to do and to say, I am enough.

Thank you, MK.

-R

Questions Surrounding my Life as a Korean Adoptee

Sometimes it’s really difficult to know what you should fight for and what you should let go. I guess there’s no right or wrong answers when it comes to the life you choose to live. I think the most important thing is to follow your heart, to think through your options carefully without worrying too much, and to be brave.

It’s easy to worry about just about everything –especially our decisions. In reuniting with my birth family a few years ago, I definitely questioned so much about my life. I questioned the decisions I made, the life I was leading, the core relationships in my life, and the career path I chose. I had to take a step back and really look at things. I had to think through my options for where I want to go from here. What things did I want to retain and what things did I want to leave behind. What things did I value and what things did I want to disregard.

What would my life look like if I were raised by a different family? Would my beliefs be different? My interests? My career? My hobbies? My knowledge base? My personality? Would I be the person I am today?

Ultimately, the past is past. I can only do anything about my present and my future. What do I want my future to look like? What kind of person do I want to be?? Who do I want to share my life with? Where do I go from here??

 

Best of luck in your own personal journeys…

xoxo

rm

Decision-Making & Choosing Our Identity

After my birth family reunion a few years ago, I went through a major identity crisis. Since then, I’ve been working out my own identity: What makes me who I am? I’ve been exploring the concept of decision-making. I wonder how much of who I am and the decisions that I’ve made have been formed by my biological genetic inheritance versus the environment in which I was raised. As adoptees, the question of how much our genes (biology) and our family environment contributed to our identity is brought to the forefront in a more direct way than for other non-adopted people.¬†There’s often a feeling of being split between these two things and straddling the line somehow.

My adoptive mom would be the first to admit that one of her main weaknesses is in the area of communication. She struggles to open up and be vulnerable. She’s introverted as an adult and said she never got involved in any social extracurricular activities growing up. I have wondered if I would be a different type of person if I was raised in a different type of environment. What if I grew up watching really great communicators? What if I had exposure to learning life lessons from stellar-communicators? Would I be less backwards and awkward in social settings? Would I have more confidence to put myself out there and be vulnerable? Would I be better at communicating and therefore receive more of what I wanted? Would I be further in my career? Would I have a different career? Would I make more money? It’s a question that I’ve pondered as I grew up and in my adulthood.

After reuniting with my birth family in 2014, my mind has been blown by the ways in which I am like my birth family. Our dark hair and Asian eyes are a given. But more than just our appearances, we also have a really have similar work-ethic. We are both very driven and extremely hard-working.¬† We have similar life-outlooks when it comes to careers, how we spend our time, and on religion. It’s uncanny and unbelievable at times how alike we are in the decisions we’ve made. Certain mannerisms are even the same. Even for small habits that one would never think could be genetically-based, like the way my cousin and I straighten out the little section between our nose and our mouth when we speak. I did this little movement so often growing up, that my adoptive family noticed it as a little mannerism of mine. And it’s not a common habit. Growing up, I thought I was the only one who did that, because I never knew anyone else who did that as often as I did. I was shocked when I met my biological cousin to discover that he did that too even though we were raised in completely different environments apart from one another!

It’s interesting to have a daughter of my own to have a different vantage point to reflect on these questions. My little girl, who is 2-and-a-half years old is one of the most driven individuals I’ve ever met. She works so hard at meticulously setting up her things exactly the way she wants them. And when she or my husband accidentally messes with her set-up, she lets us know! So, in that sense she speaks her mind. When she’s unhappy, the entire house knows it. She doesn’t hold back when it comes to letting her dad and I know what she wants. The other day, we were visiting a neighbor’s house who also has small children. They have a small push cart that goes on a track that you can ride down like a mini-roller coaster train. And the children take turns riding the cart down the tracks. In this particular environment while playing with the neighborhood children, my daughter did something surprising. When it was my daughters turn to ride the push-cart, she liked to push the cart up the track herself, and then ride it down the little track. But each time she went to push the cart up the track for her turn to ride it down, her friend would come and take the cart from her and push it up for her. The little girl was so enthusiastic about it and even said, “I help!” to let me daughter know that she was helping her take her turn. Instead of letting the little girl know that she wanted to push the cart up to the top herself, my daughter visibly caved her shoulders and posture inward and backed up– eventually sitting down on the side as the little girl pushed the cart for her. My daughter wasn’t despondent. She was just silent and unsure of what to do. So she stood back and took a backseat role to this more aggressive youngster. After a moment, she smiled brightly after the little girl pushed the cart to the top, stood up and took her turn to ride down the little roller coaster. I could see that my daughter wanted to push the cart. She loves to push things and feel heavy pressure against her joints as she does something daring and gratifying while playing. I was so surprised to watch her take a backseat in these moments and not use her voice to speak out to say that she could do it herself. I was amazed and saddened at how much this behavior reminded me of me. So many times, I too take a backseat when I should speak out. And for so long, I’ve blamed that backwardness on my adoptive mom. My adoptive mom’s incredibly introverted, and that’s where I believe I learned those behaviors. But in that moment, I realized– it was genetic. And I gave it to my daughter! Yikes!

I recently attended a women’s event at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania’s Business school. I mentioned that it’s often hard for me to answer general interview questions. Those that ask about your strengths and weaknesses or those that ask about a time when you had to work on a problem or work as a team. I just freeze in a panic and really struggle with thinking clearly to articulate my thoughts. One of the speakers recommended that I create a spreadsheet with my responses. Write down the questions that were asked of me, my answers, and their responses to what I shared. This is an excellent idea! How profound to take this process and track the outcomes systematically. Similarly, I’m currently reading a great self-help book called, No Hard Feelings, a wonderful book on how to manage and capitalize on emotions at work. The authors recommended readers to create a spreadsheet to record your decisions and your emotions and feelings in each case to then track the outcomes. This can help identify patterns of what your feelings and emotions are telling you, help you to decipher them, and help you to determine how reliable they can be. In a sense, learning how to decode your feelings.

After seeing this spreadsheet idea in two different venues, and loving both of the ideas, I realized that this would be a great idea to do to help my daughter! Rather than to feel paralyzed by this idea that this shyness and fear to speak up was “genetic,” and that this was destined to be her personality, I decided to start a running spreadsheet of areas that need attention that I notice in my daughter. Then, I will compile a list of ways to help her cultivate stronger skills in each area. Rather than let these parts of her personality be the finale, I’m going to apply some agency into helping her build strengths in these areas of need.

I was able to put these ideas into practice recently with our family gatherings. During my daughter’s last interaction with her older male cousin, she became frightened when he approached her with a loud roar and his hands poised for pouncing like he was a lion. She became so frightened that she started cry. We had another family event coming up at a trampoline park. When we entered the space, I could see fear splashed across my daughter’s face. It was dark, and neon lights were flashing across the ceiling, and there were kids making noises on a background of loud music and intercom announcements. She started to make herself small and cowered down in trepidation as we proceeded through the entry way. In that moment, I knew that this would be an opportunity for her to practice using her big voice and making herself known in an intimidating environment. So, I told her that if things get too loud, she can cover her ears. Because some things are too loud. And when we want to be loud, we can use a loud voice. We can practice doing a loud “ROAARRR!” So we did. And then, I said that if she wants to use her loud voice, she can! When she wants, she can use her voice and say words like, “I’M ALIYAH!!!” So we said that together! And she jumped and shouted and lifted her little hands in excitement. And it was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had as a mom.

We proceeded into the trampoline park, and instead of cowering, my daughter was so big and loud, and I loved every moment of it. She was jumping and having a blast with her cousins, keeping pace with them every step of the way. She wasn’t scared of their big, loud older voices. In fact, she was talking and having fun with them and really standing her ground. At the end of the party, she even gave her cousin a big hug without any prompting from me. It was such a touching moment.

Our own choices are the seat of so much power. This agency is our x-factor. Regardless of what we are comprised of biologically-speaking, and regardless of what our parents were able to teach us, we all have this x-factor: that we get to choose how and what we do with what we’ve been given. It’s a lot of power. And sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the pressure of making the right choices. One reassurance highlighted by the book, No Hard Feelings: when there’s anxiety about making a decision between two choices, usually it’s because both options are good ones.¬†(What a relief!)

I’ve realized a few things: Much more of my behaviors are biologically-based than I initially thought. Areas of my personality that I thought were more generalized into one camp (biologically-based) or the other (behaviorally-based) are actually more nuanced. But, most importantly, no matter where the behavior started–out of a biological response or a learned response, I have the power to decide what to do about it. I can choose to work on enhancing traits that I want to increase within myself and work on diminishing other traits within myself. I can build on my strengths. And I can strengthen my weak areas. And I can help my daughter discover who she is and teach her strategies to choose who she wants to be too. And ultimately, that’s the best all of us can do. To take what we’ve been given and apply our x-factor. I’ve been working with a life coach who really empowered me when he said that the goal is to be the best you you can be. Only you can do it. There’s no other competition as worthy of our time and attention than competing against who you were yesterday to be even better today. No one else can give the unique gifts to the world that you can offer. You are enough. Cherish the moments in your life like gold so that you can give them the respect, thought, and choices they deserve. They are comprising who you are.

I’m looking forward to seeing how you and I apply these ideas in our journey ahead. If you have any stories or thoughts about this topic you’d like to share, please feel free to contact me or leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. I’ve listed a few of my favorite books in Personal Growth Resources. Dive in if you’re looking for some great-reads on how to live your best life. Know that you’re not alone in your search for your identity and your journey of how to live your best life. We are all on that journey together. And I’m rooting for you.

Xoxo ūüėė

-Rachel

Pep Talk from My Birth Mom before my Aerial Show

In the past year following my birth family reunion, I’ve learned some incredible life lessons. Truly amazing! This blog was an incredible space to share these experiences. One thing I’ve learned is that you can really and truly talk to people who are already in heaven. I am convinced of this.¬†

A few weeks ago, I performed in my first live aerial performance at the Founder’s Inn Grand Illumination event with Airotique Aerial Dance Company! Just before it was time for me to stand up and perform my routine, there was a space of time where I was seated on the dance floor awaiting my turn to rise and stand up to climb the silks. I don’t know why my mind wandered to where it did, except that it was really my birth mom poking me from heaven! I sat with my knees leaning toward one side, looking out at the audience, taking everything in. All of a sudden, I had this enormous sense that my birth mom was looking down on me from heaven. She was there to watch me perform in my first show. In my heart, I heard her say to me, she was there. She also clearly told me that she was so glad my adoptive mom, Doris, was there, and that she couldn’t have chosen a better person to raise me. She said she was exactly the person she wanted to raise me, and she was so happy that my adoptive mom, Doris, was my mom.

I immediately welled up with emotion, and my eyes filled with tears! Soon after, I quickly snapped out of that transcendent experience and landed my consciousness back to the dance floor where I was seated, and to¬†the silks in front of me that I soon needed to climb.¬†My thoughts¬†returned to the ballroom just in time before the tears were able to stream down my face, thankfully.¬†It was such an emotional and powerful experience! I’m not sure why it happened when it did– right before my show.¬†I took it as a signal that I was meant to find aerial arts, and connecting with my birth mom at that moment was¬†another sign that aerial dancing was meant to be with me for a while longer. It could’ve also been because my birth mom knew that this was important for me, so she wanted to cheer me on and let me know she was with me. I don’t think I know the full reason yet, but I get the impression I will.

When choosing the photos for this post, I debated between the one at left¬†of me climbing the silks at the performance and another shot of me seated on the ground. I was feeling attached to the one of me¬†seated on the ground because I had a clear look of badass determination on my face, and my make up lines looked exactly¬†like Natalie Portman in Black Swan. However, that photo was a¬†little out of focus. So, I asked my husband which one he thought I should choose based on what I was writing about. He said he liked this one because it looked like I was climbing to heaven. Such a sweet sentiment! He’s definitely a keeper.

Hope this post finds you well this holiday season!

Merry Christmas!

xoxo

rm