Monday, March 25, 2013

A Place in This World

It hasn't been until the last year or so that I've begun to dig deeper into the part of my identity that I so boldly wear on my face, but ignore otherwise. I'm nearly considered an adult now. It's time to put on my big girl pants and confront myself. 

At the beginning of the month, I received the translation of the latest letter my biological father had written to me. I had all but forgotten about it until tonight. 

Well, that's sort of a lie. I didn't quite forget, but after a cursory review of it, I didn't read any further in depth. I read it the way I'd read a story about a stranger's life, and then promptly dropped it in case it would start to sink in that it was, in fact, not about a stranger. 

A couple of weeks later, I had a conversation with one of the staff members here about what I've been struggling with in terms of reconciling my 'too Asian to be white and too white to be Asian' issue as well as a bit about my apprehensions in visiting Korea to meet my family. She put me in touch with another Korean girl in LA who was a fellow at the school a few years ago. 

Nervously I composed my first email thinking, "What the fuck am I doing? Am I just going to pour out my life story to this poor unsuspecting stranger? What am I even trying to accomplish??" Thankfully, she was perfectly accepting and was, mercifully, better at directing the conversation than I was. 

After the exchange of several emails and a phone call, she sent me a list of resources for Korean adoptees. In this list contained a 4-part essay addressing several issues faced by Korean adoptees in the U.S. (If you have a moment, check them out. They're good for a different perspective. And for those of you who are close to me, they're another way to understand me. What's Your Name?When Adoption Became VisibleDating Inside and Out, and Return to the Motherland)

Shit. That's me. 

I read each part, and then read them again. "Holy shit," I thought to myself. "These are my thoughts and feelings written out by someone else." 

As I was reading the third essay, I came across the quote, "As much as I know my birth mother gave me a better life by putting me up for adoption, and as much as I'm grateful for my adoptive parents for doing so much for me… Do you ever feel like no matter how much someone will love you, there may be a day where they'll just leave?"


Looking back over the last 29 years, there's never been any question by me, or those who love me that I have a deeply embedded fear of being abandoned stemming from the adoption. A few people have brazenly suggested that, because I was adopted as a baby, it doesn't really affect me. 

Sure, right. I wasn't 11 years old. That unquestionably comes with its own set of obstacles. That said, who thinks about the ramifications of being inside a mother who is profoundly depressed and anxious for 9 months? About being born and instead of being surrounded by excitement, joy, and love- being met with disappointment, sorrow, and regret? About the first 3-4 months in an orphanage where no one knows if anyone responded to me when I cried?

The people who were supposed to love me forever rejected me the moment they saw me.

It's something I've been working on, and though I've come a long way, I know I still have a long way to go. Thankfully, I am blessed to have a few who love me deeply and have spent years by my side gently coaxing and convincing me that I'm stuck with them.

Love changes everything. It might be slowly, but it brings light where there was none.

After processing what I read, I remembered the letter from my father. After nearly a month, I finally went back to actually read it. 

"...And when I gave you over to Holt Child welfare agency I requested that your name be sent to America with you. However the employee changed the name I gave you "HyoJin" to an American name against my request. About the circumstances regarding your adoption... I was the eleventh generation of a "Kwon" and being the first born and without a son, my great grandmother threatened that if you were a daughter that she would force me to take a concubine so that it is why we eventually chose to send you off to be adopted, not because we had no money to perform an abortion. That isn't correct. I sincerely hope there is no misunderstanding about this."

(The files the agency sent with me said the reason for relinquishment was that my parents couldn't afford to have me abort. It also said I was the third girl. I was actually the fifth and final attempt to have a boy.)

The weight of the Korean culture forced my family to send me off into a world where I would spend many years struggling to find a place to belong. 

Day by day, moment by moment, I am finding my way into what I want for myself and my life. I'm learning what's important to me, and in a weird way, such a brutal form of rejection has been a blessing. It has allowed me to pull close what I know I want in my life in spite of the fear. I have a family who, in spite of our many years of distance and heartache, have been growing closer as times goes by, and a few precious friends who are not scared of my past or the parts that are still vulnerable and healing.

I haven't found that place that feels like home yet. Maybe I never will. Maybe this journey is home, and once I realize it, all my years of searching will find a place to rest.

Friday, March 22, 2013

No Title. Just Thoughts.

"Are you ok? You look really tired."

I feel as though I've been hearing that more as of late... 

Probably because it's true. 

I have been tired. I've felt drained and too full. I need an outlet and to be refilled. I need to be held and to be left alone. I need to breathe and let it all go. For the moment, anyway. 

In the chaos of the daily grind, I say very little about my own life- my personal challenges and the things that weigh heavy on my heart and mind. "Ain't nobody got time fo dat," as my students would say. 

But at some point, I'm going to need to make time for that.

For now, for today, I have some situations to take care of. 

In 25(ish) days I will be home. It's funny to think about how I struggled to get out of PA for nearly 7 years, and that's where I return to find comfort and rest.

What will I need most upon my return? 

To laugh. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Art of Space

To put the world in order, 
We must first put the nation in order;
To put the nation in order, 
We must put the family in order; 
To put the family in order,
We must cultivate our personal life;
And to cultivate our personal life,
We must first set our hearts right.

What if revolutionizing the world lies in our personal relationships- with ourselves and the people with whom we interact everyday? What if it starts unintentionally in a casual setting because there's space for conversation to organically carve the way through to what matters most to each one of us?

What if leaving open time and space instead of setting rigid agendas and goals is what we need to cultivate creativity and accelerate innovation?

What if setting goals actually inhibits our ability to unabashedly reach for our dreams by overly narrowing our focus?

I'm not saying that we should never set goals or agendas, nor am I suggesting that we should sit around silently doing nothing. 

What I am saying is that so often we frantically run around attempting to force improvements, conversations, advances, relationships, revolutions- when in reality what we need is to create an environment where people are able to just be- just be- just for a moment. I realize it seems counterintuitive. I'm asking you to, instead of looking and sounding busy every.single.second, sit still, be silent, and allow all of the genius swirling around inside of you have a moment to materialize and manifest naturally in its own time.

Have you ever noticed that some of your best ideas and most profound epiphanies don't come when you're being told to conjure them on command, but instead surface in some of the most unexpected moments when you're doing something else- showering, riding a bike, talking with a friend over a beer (or froyo, as was the case when this entire train of thought initially began).

There's great value in goal setting. I also believe there's immeasureable value in allowing open space for the unexpected to occur. 

Last week, I asked a friend what was important to him. His response? Leisure. 

My initial reaction was, "really?," but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that perhaps he's got it right. Leisure, from what I took from his response, is that open space to bring people together and just be. From there, a multitude of experiences and conversations have room to unfold in a way they'd never be able to in a structured setting.

I'm about to ask a mind blowing question. Ready?

What if our work/jobs don't have to have the goal of being revolutionary world-changing phenomenons? What if it's ok that what we do to make money isn't necessarily something we're passionately obsessed with, but simply serves as a means to sustain what we are passionately obsessed with? What if that could be just as effective in contributing to a brighter and happier world because a bunch of people are cultivating joy in their lives albeit not through a job? What if learning to balance acceptance and contentment with where we are and striving for more is how we change the world? What if changing the world shouldn't be our focus at all?

Allow me to make one thing clear: those whose work is their obsession- that's awesome. But for those of us who haven't found that niche, are we to constantly feel like unfulfilled failures because we can't proclaim the glories of our profession to the world? I get the argument that our jobs take up a very large percentage of our lives so we should do something that we enjoy, but my point is that we could spend a very large portion of our lives feeling like failures always looking for the next thing while searching for our bliss. That seems like a grand waste of time to me. Maybe it's ok to be ok (happy, even) where we are while being open to other possibilities.

That said, I'm also not saying that we should stay in miserable soul-sucking-spirit-crushing jobs just for the money either. There has to be a worthwhile balance.

I ask this because it is a journey I've been exploring, and the answer I've arrived at? 

No. Not knowing does not equate to failure.

Have I found my calling yet? Nope. Is that ok? Yep. I've had some pretty incredible experiences on the journey along the way. I've learned lessons that I wouldn't trade for the world.

What if I never find a way to reconcile what I love to do with how I pay my bills? 

I think that's ok as long as we keep making space to do what we love- to do what makes us happy and makes the hours fly by as though they were seconds.

And who knows? Maybe in that space, an unexpected transition will happen and we'll find that what we love and our work become indistinguishable from each other.

What's the point of all of this? Simply, that while setting out to change the world sounds like a righteous goal, maybe changing the world starts with us learning to make our own tiny universes better by loving each other and ourselves to the best of our ability by being true to what we believe and know is best for our lives instead of being governed by what we are told we "should" do- even when it sounds noble. Maybe it's ok to sit back and enjoy being around each other without feeling as though we need to charge out and save the world as our profession. Who knows, a life-changing-world-altering idea could come out of nowhere, or maybe, we'll form closer stronger bonds with those around us.

Maybe that's where revolution really begins.

Out on the Edge (also: A Continuation on Uncertainty)

Today, I went to my first yoga class in months.

It was -exactly- what I needed both in asana and in focus. I walked out with this thought resounding in my head:

True living lies in surrender to uncertainty.

We can plan all we want, but in the end, our lives will take twists and turns for which we could have never been able to foresee. My fears about my future being 'uncertain' are a straw man with no real substance. Why? Because my future never had any certainty, even when I thought it did, and the certainty I thought I had was looking rather bleak.

Being out on the edge is as honest as you can get with life. Out on the edge is where you are open to discover your passion, reveal a new talent, and maybe even find the love of your life. The most rewarding experiences in life carry with them great risk. A new job, a new love, a new baby, a new house... Nothing is guaranteed to not fall apart. The beauty lies in our ability to accept the outcome, and if need be, learn to rebuild.

So often the word "uncertain" conjures negative connotations in our heads, but uncertainty can bring a world of positive opportunity. We fear "uncertain" because we don't know what's around the bend, but what's around the bend may be exactly what we need- it could be that thing that transforms your entire life for the better.

In the end, one of our greatest lessons will be to learn to surrender- to let go- and allow life to offer everything it has to give and everything it has to teach us without imposing what we think 'should' happen.  When we surrender, we open ourselves to infinite possibility, and in turn, we make peace with an uncertain path.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Uncertainty and Beyond

I had a moment of complete and utter horror a few nights ago.

It was 2 AM as I tossed and turned in my creaky bunk bed reflecting on the fact that I had taken a giant risk, left behind my stable income, my amazing townhouse, and my closest friends and family in search of a more fulfilling and meaningful life, and was now lying in a creaky bunk bed with just as much direction as when I left Pennsylvania- which is none.


Now what?

"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it," Paulo Coelho says...

I just want some freakin' direction, Paulo. That's all. I'm almost 30 years old and I still have ZERO idea of what to be when I grow up. I've got this giant network of highly motivated entrepreneur friends, who are all intensely driven by a specific goal and are (mostly) several years younger to boot.

I adore my students. They make every moment worth the frustrations and doubt. My time with them has transformed my life in ways I would have never achieved otherwise. Undoubtedly, I will be in contact with many of them for years to come.

That said, when the fellowship is over, I have no intention of pursing therapy as a career.

Shouldn't I have had some grand epiphany? Am I a failure for not having any clarity after leaping out of my comfort zone and free-falling  into a now incredibly uncertain future?

My friend reminded me that it's not so much about the "end point" because what she found inspiring was the courage to jump. And this is not the end. This is only the first step in the journey beyond what was supposed to have been the next 40 (miserable) years of my life.

It's ok that I don't have any answers yet.

And so, in the meantime, I write. I make bucket lists. I plot travel plans. I enjoy the moment I'm in because the illusion that there was ever anything BUT an uncertain future was... well... an illusion.

I suppose that this is really where the over-used cliché quote "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey" regains its meaning.

Because as over-used and cliché as it is, it's true.

Here's to the journey.