Consider your own impact

“You seem to have it all together.”

I’ve been told some version of this by several coworkers. Yet instead of that, my mind is often occupied with comparisons to the other teachers around me and how I *feel* I fall short to them. What I assume are their perceptions of me are actually self-criticisms in their voices. But what about the respect I have for myself and my work? What about the room I give for others to speak openly? What about the time, energy, money, and things I freely give? Have I ever stopped to consider the impact of that?

What about you? Have you ever stopped to consider your own impact? Think back to those nice comments you got that you brushed off. Remember the smile, the sigh of relief, the relaxed shoulders, or the hug that resulted from something you did or said. Choose to believe in those rather than the negative (and often) irrational thoughts swirling around in your head. Do this not just as a January thing, but as a life thing.

Push Through the Discomfort

I’d been wanting to check out the hula dancing class at the gym for weeks, but the time of the class never worked with my schedule. Then a holiday came and I was finally able to check it out. I had not had much exposure to hula dancing before then. All I knew was what I had seen on TV and the little introduction a former teaching assistant had done. When I showed up, I was little dismayed to see all the other ladies in the same long, green, floral skirts they had clearly purchased just for this class. After receiving reassurances I would be welcome with my typical gym attire, I entered the studio.

The teacher greeted me and after making small talk with a couple of the ladies, we got started. Keep my knees bent at all times. Check. Arm swaying. Check. Rapid foot movements…Nope. It quickly dawned on me that this wasn’t one of those classes that you could drop in on from time-to-time: you were expected to practice the moves at home, with new moves added each week. I quite literally spun in circles trying to keep up.

During the brief reviews for each set, I was able to catch a little of what was happening. But overall, it was a difficult 45 minutes. I gained a new respect for hula dancing–it’s certainly not “just hip shaking”. All the moves are intentional and represent something. It’s also quite the workout too. I don’t plan to attend again, because it’s definitely not for complete beginners, but I’m glad I stuck it out for the 45 minutes. Time slowed to a crawl, but I was determined not to walk out of the class.

Discomfort is uncomfortable. I battled the feeling of embarrassment and musings of what others in the class thought of me. But over time my focus shifted to making the best of the moment and assuring myself that this would not last forever. It’s worth it to try something, even if it doesn’t work out. The only way to know if something isn’t for you, though, is to try. That means there is a chance you will experience discomfort. Don’t run away from it. Stay with it and see what you can learn.

Show Up for Yourself

It was a rainy and chilly Monday evening. Despite only being 5 PM, darkness had already settled itself in. These conditions, combined with it being a holiday in Japan the following day, provided enough support for the excuse to just go home. But as I put on my backpack that had the gym clothes and snacks I had already prepared, I knew I couldn’t do that. I normally go to the gym on Wednesday and Saturday mornings because I like to exercise in the morning. The gym is closed on Tuesdays. Also, once in a while, the staff does an ozone cleaning (it’s COVID-related), and this Wednesday was going to be one of those days. This requires the gym to be closed to members. Thursday I had an appointment scheduled. Friday was not an option. So that left Monday. Not the morning because the gym opens at 10 AM and that’s too close to when I have to start work. So that just left the evening.

I thought about just going in on Saturday this week, but decided against it. I had been going to the gym twice a week for the past 2 months, and I wasn’t going to let a holiday and ozone cleaning day being scheduled in the same week get in the way of that. Going to the gym is important to me, so I had to find a way to get it done. I can change up my routine and sacrifice some comfort just this once and go in the evening. Yes, even in the rain (it wasn’t heavy rain). So off to the gym I went. When I got there, I instantly felt better. Seeing a lower number on the scale this week also reinforced that my commitment was yielding results. After I left the gym, I noticed that it had stopped raining. Perhaps God wanted to see just how committed I was to showing up for myself.

This was for me. This was my time to push out everything else and: calm my mind; observe how my body responds to building strength and endurance; engage with people who look different than me but share the same goal of self-improvement. Just because it’s not for work, doesn’t mean that it should be treated as optional or a luxury. I deserve the same amount of consideration and preparation that I give to my job, if not more. The time I invest in taking care of my needs gives me even more fuel to take care of others’ needs.

Imagine if you treated someone the way you treat yourself. If that image bothers you, then that means there are one too many promises you have not kept with yourself. Don’t slack on what you need. Stop pushing it off until tomorrow. It’s time to show up for yourself.

Just go for it

This year, Haruki Murakami fans experienced continued disappointment at him being denied the Nobel Prize for Literature yet again. I was reading the comments below The Japan Times’ reporting of this, and found mixed responses concerning whether he was deserving of this award: enthusiastic yeses and emphatic nos, assertions of his brilliance and scoffs that he is overrated.

I recently visited the newly minted library dedicated to his work (The Waseda International House of Literature – The Haruki Murakami Library). Books from his collection lined the walls of the room adjacent to the entrance as well as the center staircase leading down to the study and cafe area. The leader of my writing circle mentioned What I Talk About When I Talk About Running when I told her what I would be doing, so I searched for it and brought it with me to the audio room. Jazz played as I reclaimed the feeling of being engrossed in a book. I did find myself wishing for more floors to explore, but I enjoyed the outing regardless.

Not everyone is a Murakami fan, and yet, I was surrounded by his books translated by translators who signed up for the linguistic grapple. Reservations were fully booked for the next month by people who saw this library as worthwhile to visit. It was built with generous donations of time, money, and energy by people who felt this project was warranted.

Not everyone likes Murakami’s writing, but there are people who do. Enough people to support his career. Enough people to make this building I stood in a reality. As I writer myself, I know not everyone likes my writing. But there are people that like it enough to subscribe and ask for more (thank you!).

I created this website a little over a year ago with the aim of putting my writing out there. To not worry about pleasing everyone and just stand by what I create. I enjoyed writing what I’ve written and I know there are people who will enjoy reading it. So whatever it is you feel that persistent nudge to do, just go for it. Not everyone will like what you produce, and that’s okay. Enough people will.

How much do you want it?

I had an opportunity to apply for a one-week program in Japan organized by my high school, but I allowed fear to get in the way of me going for it. Five years later, as a college junior, I came across a summer study abroad opportunity in Japan. I was aware of other opportunities, but those were either for fall/spring semester, or a whole year, and I wanted to graduate on time. Finally, it seemed like my moment had come. I had been itching to go to Japan since I first became aware of its existence in elementary school.

There was just one problem: the deadline was a few days away, and two letters of recommendation were required with the application. I knew it was poor etiquette and unrealistic to seek letters of recommendation from my professors in such a short time. I was bummed. As a junior going into my senior year the following semester, this was likely my last opportunity to study abroad. I didn’t want to let go of this chance.

Why not ask them to extend the deadline?

It worked with professors for papers, so I decided to give it a shot and send an email. I didn’t get a response, but when I checked the website, the deadline had been pushed to a later date, giving me a little under two weeks. I decided not to question it and thanked God for it. After I refreshed the page (repeatedly) to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, I wasted no time asking my two referees for their recommendations. One of them was not happy with the short notice given, but supported me anyway. I poured all my hopes and passion into the essay and got it done. Additionally, I went to the study abroad office to keep tabs on the progress of my recommendation letters. On the day of the deadline, they told me that they had not received one of the letters. I went to the office of that referee and swallowed my panic as I gently reminded them that the deadline was 5 PM that day. I decided to carry over the recommendation letter to the study abroad office myself.

With everything done, I hoped for the best. Some time later, I did a phone interview with the program director and from there I was accepted. That study abroad program was better than I could have imagined. I stayed with a lovely couple and two of their sons, took classes at a Japanese university, and got to explore 5 prefectures. I still look back fondly on that experience. It was a stressful two weeks to get the materials together for the application, but it was more than worth it. In that moment, I realized just how much wanted it and how willing I was to make it happen.

Just ask

I had gotten an opportunity to teach employees at my local city hall, and I was excited. That excitement changed to concern when I realized that the classes would be held Wednesday evening, the same day as the weekly faculty meeting. I could still attend the meeting, but it would mean that I would have to either leave early and cause a disruption, or make a mad dash after it was over. In order to get to City Hall, I had to take a train and then transfer to a bus. The commute was about 30 minutes. My energy as the teacher affects the class, so I wanted to arrive early to get setup and be in a calm state of mind by the time class started. There was no way I could achieve that by still going to the meeting.

I could have just accepted that I would have to be in a state of hurry every Wednesday evening for the next 2 months. I didn’t want to miss anything that was required by my job. However, this City Hall opportunity was a partnership with my university. That meant I was representing them when I went there. If I didn’t perform well, it would not only make me look bad but the university as well. I decided to use this to approach my boss with a request to skip the meetings for the duration of the partnership. I asked respectfully and laid out the reasons I felt it would be better for me not to be there at all as opposed to the other two options (disrupt or rush out). My boss agreed and approved my request.

In my professional career, I’ve learned that if you ask for something (with respect and good reasons), you are likely to get it. Almost everything I’ve asked for I’ve received, from salary increases, room or schedule changes, and materials. Sure, you might receive a no, but what if they say yes?

Why just accept it?

During my first year as an undergraduate, I was determined to get as many general education requirements out of the way as possible. One of those requirements was in the wellness category. I had not done much yoga by that point, but a class in which I would do stretching and breath work rather than write a paper appealed to me. During the registration period, students with more credits got earlier access to courses to choose from. Although I had come in with some extra credits from my AP courses, as a first-semester freshman, I was still fairly low on the priority list. That meant that by the time I could access the yoga course, all 20 spots were already taken.

I could have accepted that and signed up at a later semester. But in that season, I was shifting from courses I didn’t care for to courses I was excited about and wanted yoga to be in my schedule. So, I kept checking to see if someone would cancel their registration. For a few days, all I saw was 20 out of 20. Then, one day, at an odd hour of the morning (maybe 3 or 4 AM), I saw 19 out of 20. I quickly registered and snatched that vacant spot.

The class was great, and I suspect that I was the only freshman there. I’m aware that it could have gone a different way: I could have kept waiting, only to find a vacancy didn’t open up. In that case, I would have accepted it and chosen another course. But why not persist and see what happens rather than just accept what seems to be settled? In this case, it ended up working. I can think of other times in my life when it worked and when it did not work. The point is, though, that whether it worked out or not, I was satisfied that I had truly given my all.

Please understand that I am not talking about ignoring boundaries; we still need to use discernment and know when a situation will not change and respect that. If I get rejected for an opportunity, I’m not going to push the hiring manager to change their mind about me. If someone tells me they don’t want to a favor for me, I’m not going to tell them why they should. What I may do instead, is try for that opportunity again when it opens next year (which I have done) or find someone else who can do that favor for me.

Your response to a roadblock or rejection doesn’t need to be inaction. Think about what can you do instead.

What’s your criteria?

In a conversation with a student about the arts, I talked about playing in my high school’s orchestra. It wasn’t just that I liked (and still like) classical music. My being there was part of a bigger, intentional effort.

When I was applying for high schools, my top choice needed to fit three criteria:

  1. It needed to be located in Manhattan. I’m from Brooklyn, and up until that point I didn’t know much beyond it. Manhattan was the center of the city, the heart. I hungered to be in a more diverse environment surrounded by diverse perspectives.
  2. It had to have Japanese as a language option. My interest in Japanese formed and grew in middle school, and I wanted to take classes instead of trying to pick up words on my own.
  3. It had to have an orchestra. The protagonist of a Japanese drama I really liked, Orange Days, is a deaf woman who is a skilled violinist. I was moved by this and wanted to play the violin.

Reflecting on this with my student, I realized that second and third criterions were not typical at all. What I lacked in self-esteem as a child I made up for with an unflinching drive to just go for what I was interested in. I wanted to be part of Japanese cultural exchange events at school, so I did it. I wanted to be in orchestra, so I requested to be pulled out of band when I was placed there instead.

I knew what my conditions were and I stuck with them. I didn’t concern myself with what “made sense” to others. I wasn’t even aware that this is what I was doing: as far as I was concerned, I was simply doing what I wanted to do. Sometimes we adults can make matters overly complicated for ourselves. It’s useful to revisit moments from when we were younger and take notice.

Now, with not only experience but the vocabulary to process this, I know what my criteria are for different areas of my life. As I grow and change, so do certain criteria, and that’s fine–I would not, for instance, expect to value the same things I did in high school. What is important is that I identify what is important to me in the present moment, own it, and ask for it. This is part of living authentically and can be done respectfully without guilt or judgement. The result? Following my criteria in high school left me with many good memories and experiences, like taking part in a tea ceremony as the guest of honor.

What is your criteria? Identify it, own it, and ask for it.

Push through the mess

When I haven’t exercised in a long time, it shows: I’m stiff, the moves that used to be manageable for me are a struggle, and I find myself pausing and/or modifying more than I would like. I do the exercise anyway, knowing that my form is not great and I am moving slower than the instructor. I will still get some benefit out of it and, in the process, remember why I used to enjoy exercising in the first place. I know after a few more sessions, my body will become used to it again and my movements will be better.

Like exercise, writing is a skill that needs to be built constantly. When I sit down to write after not having written for a long time, I am at a loss of where to start. Then I push through, accepting that what comes out might not be good. I’m crossing out words and adding different words and I know while I’m writing it’s not going to be a great read. But as long as I write something, it’s enough. Sometimes, something good does come out of it! In the process, I shut out the editor and just let the writer flow, recapturing the enjoyment I get out of writing. I know the more I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, the better my writing will get over time.

It’s great when inspiration strikes, but that’s unreliable. Writing is often messy. If not on the page then certainly in the mind. But it’s only by working through the mess that the message can come through.

May’s monthly micro

Once a month I post a micro story (a story that is 1,000 words or less). Words are my own. Read and enjoy but don’t copy and pass off as your own. This one is especially fitting for Mother’s Day today. Happy Mother’s Day to all moms and mother figures! I dedicate this to my own wonderful mom.

Through baby’s eyes:

“She’s beautiful.”

Her warm hands encircled my body and all felt right with the world. What do I call this woman? I don’t know. But her love, I can feel it already, seeping through this warm, white blanket touching my wet skin. My wet hair sticks to her chest as I listen to her heartbeat.

Through mom’s eyes:

“She’s beautiful.”

Nothing else matters now. Everything up until this moment was worth it. I don’t want to just see her through to 18 but through the rest of her life? What do I call this girl? It’s so cold in here, but I will transfer as much warmth to her as I can.