What is the Best Way to Thank Parents?

My parents recently did something very nice for us. I wouldn’t go into details here thank-youbut I’m very grateful about it. I’ve been wondering what I can do for them, besides sending a thank you card, to express my appreciation. Generally speaking, my parents and I have a really good relationship and even though we go through the usual ebbs and flows like many parent and child do, we still communicate regularly, we love each other, and also as important, we like each other – a lot.

Of course, they are my parents. They raised me to the person that I am today, and while some of the growing was almost entirely up to me after I left home, the values that they taught me helped to establish a solid foundation from which I took off to explore the world. Yesterday I was talking to someone I just met, she’s from Iran who grew up in London, and she now lives in the United States. Even though we just met, we quickly connected and discovered our life experiences were somewhat similar. At some point I shared with her my religious/spiritual view of the world. She then told me that I am very fortunate that I have been all over the world – I grew up in Japan for the most part until I was 23, but I’ve then lived in Europe and in the United States and have been to many other places. I agreed with her, I am truly blessed to have the life that I do, and for that I am forever grateful to my parents. Even though we Japanese are known to show deep respect to our parents, I am sure that this sense of gratitude for those who raised us is universal.

After pondering the original question (“What can I do to show my appreciation?”) for a while, I tried to put myself in their shoes. After all, I now have my own kids. I will do everything I can to raise them so they can be self-reliant, confident and happy adults and find what they love to do in life. When they grow up and had a similar idea of thanking us and asked us how they could express their appreciation towards us, what would I say?

I’d probably tell them, “It was my pleasure”. Would I want them to do anything for us? Probably not, except that they keep us in their lives and spend time together, call us when they need help and let us know when they are happy. If they are blessed with their own kids, pass on whatever life lessons they learned. I think that’s probably what all parents need and want. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake – right? Would you share what you’d do or have done to show them that you are grateful for all that they have done for you, especially that “icing” part? I need some ideas!

“The End”

The final episode of the TV show “Lost” aired last Sunday. (Spoiler Alert! Stop reading now if six-feet-underyou don’t want to know the ending) Even though I was not a rabid fan who religiously watched the show weekly over the last 6 years,  I did watch many of the  episodes this past season on-line. For the most part I was satisfied with how it ended, and was happy to see the last scene. Depending on your point of view, it was a happy ending. It made me think that dying is not at all a bad thing. It also reminded me of the last episode of my all time favorite HBO TV show “Six Feet Under”. Everyone dies sooner or later, no one escapes from it. But if you have come to terms with yourself as who you are and have made peace with what you have done, or what has happened to you or to people you care about, you can move onto what comes next after you die. The possibility of reuniting with people mattered to me most is definitely something to look forward to when it’s my turn to cross that bridge.

It was interesting to read people’s reaction in the comments section of abc.com where I watched the last episode. Some people were not happy at all about the last episode. It seemed that there were lots of questions unanswered especially about the secrets of the Island. Some expressed their frustration by saying things like “I wasted six years for this ending!?” While I understand their sentiments, I wondered if those who felt cheated really did not enjoy this past 6 years watching the show. I hope they kept watching it not just to learn what happens in the end, but also because it was entertaining, thrilling, or touching. It’s like anything in your life. Like the spiritual teacher in the movie “Peaceful Warrior” said, “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”. If your eyes are only looking at where you are going and not paying attention to the surroundings, you might be disappointed when the view at the destination is not as pretty as you had expected. But if you have immersed yourself in the experience and fully enjoyed the process of getting there, what’s in the end matters less, if at all. In a sense, we all know what happens in the end at this life – we all die – so it should make sense to most people that it’s not what happens in the end but how much you experience in the process of getting there. The last episode of “Lost” also suggested that how you live your life dictates how you die or who would be around you when you die. Did you live your life fully today? Make it count as you never know when you get there.

What Have You Done With Your Life?

About a week ago, I listened to Danielle LaPorte speak during a business forum hosted by Pam Slim and i_did_itChris Guillebeau. I just loved her talk, especially the part where she said “YOU ARE THE ONLY YOU”. I’ve been writing this blog about a year now, and even though I’ve gotten a lot better, I still feel much freer in writing in English than in Japanese despite the fact that English is not my first language. This is a bit of a problem as I am writing a book right now in Japanese and am about to put myself out there even further, to a much bigger audience than I’ve been until this point.

Danielle said that “Often times, people need permission to be themselves”. It might be especially true in Japanese culture. Growing up, I definitely got the messages  like “it is important to fit in”, “you might not be liked if you stand out, or talk about your own accomplishments, as you’ll be seen as bragging”. All along, people are told to put their heads down, be ordinary, don’t stand out, and fit in. You are not expected nor supposed to express how great you are. No way. Only in the 3rd or 4th year of college, people start asking questions like “what are you actually good at?” and “what have you done with your life?”, so the college students can prepare themselves for “the life after college”. That’s when people are told to come out of their shells and start taking a look at their achievements, and telling the world how they really are different from the rest. As if, it was not so before that point. I think it’s a bit of a shock to some people. It was for me, for sure. I think it’s much too late to ask them to start being a self-marketer. The traditional “be ordinary, don’t stand out, be modest and humble until the time you have to apply for your first job” part of our culture does not quite serve us.

I graduated Tokyo University, which is considered the most prestigious university in Japan. For a long time I had this ambivalent feeling about my college education. A part of me felt like I didn’t do as much as others had to do to achieve that goal. It wasn’t that I didn’t have to study really hard; I did, for a good 7 months after I came back from Germany, and a big part of that was definitely luck. Nevertheless, I always felt awkward to talk about it and when I did, I felt like apologizing, as if I wanted to make sure that people still liked me even if I was that “lucky” or “smart” or “different”, or whatever. Definitely I had that “The nail that sticks out will be hammered down” mentality. Talk about low self-esteem!

Not anymore. I want to empower Japanese people, young and old, to be proud of what they do and what they have done with their life. I want them to want to talk about it with joy, not with fear. I want us to celebrate other people’s successes, not hate them for being “better than us”. How do I do that? Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see”. I stop hiding and be my own person, and be proud of all that I have done with my life. I want you to do the same. If you have something you accomplished but felt like not telling anyone for some reason, acknowledge yourself first that you did well. Then tell someone about it! Let’s make it easier for the next generations.

Free Pre-school Option in San Diego

Recently I was invited to do a presentation on Redirecting Children’s Behavior at this pre-school city20college20logothat is organized by Continuing Education which is under San Diego Community College District. It’s a pre-school program where child’s parents come and help run the school under the supervision and guidance of the teacher hired by the district. The school is 3 days a week, Mon, Wed and Friday from 9:00-12:00.  Here is the excerpt from the web-site:

Course focus is on building skills that strengthen families and prepare the preschool child for kindergarten. Parents develop family communication and problem solving skills while expanding their knowledge of the preschooler’s social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language development. The child participates in age appropriate activities in a preschool environment.

After my presentation, I had a chance to talk to one of the mothers who attested that it’s a wonderful program where you can bring in your child to have a pre-school experience and at the same time connect with other mothers. While you have your child at the school, you are assigned a specific role to help out at different activities the school offers, so you are not in the same place as your child all of the time, but it gives both you and your child a chance to have a new experience as well. While this pre-school program is completely free of charge, it does require a time commitment for the parents to attend 3 mornings a week, plus weekly meeting on Monday evenings. This semester is ending soon but if you are interested in joining for the next school year, check out their web-site!

Letting Go

Last week when I was in St.Louis, my mentor Pam took me to this place called “Black Madonna Shrine”. It img_0658was a sacred place to honor all mothers. We walked around a bit and found a place to perform a little ceremony for Miroku (you can read more about Miroku here). Pam blessed Miroku’s picture – she took it in her palms and said that he will never be forgotten, but at the same time, we are letting him go. I placed the picture on a stone surface behind this statue called “life memorial” and put some leaves to cover it.

Today I received a package containing a beautiful silver pendant. On one side it has tiny hands and feet prints, and on the back, it said “Miroku 12/07/2009”. It took me a few seconds to remember who sent this gift, but then I came back to me; this company Juilian & Co, based in Coronado, CA has this service for those who had lost their babies, and I vaguely remembered filling out the form which was in a folder I received at the hospital on the day he died.

It is truly a special gift. I was also happy that looking at those tiny hands & feet and his name on the back did not make me feel sad. It was a celebration of life and a beautiful reminder that he was there. As I write this, I hear my husband’s and our two sons’ voices in the other room, happily singing ABCs. I tell myself, I am blessed, and I can feel that even more deeply now because of Miroku. He will be with us always and in all ways.

Writing A Book

In my blog entry posted on Jan 22, I wrote “publish a book” as one of my goals. When I cbsntype-main_fullwrote it, I had no idea how I was going to make it happen. In the same blog post, I also wrote that “What” always comes before “How”. The first thing I did was to put it on my vision board.

I then started talking to people and asking those who have published how they did it. I went back to Japan for 2.5 weeks in March with my family, where I met lots of people. Most of them were my friends I’ve known for years, but I also met new people, two of them I discovered through social media. I continued discussing my book ideas with them. One person gave me advice on how to write a book proposal, another person shared effective presentation techniques to book editors, yet another suggested how to identify potential publishing companies for my book ideas by going to bookstores. Two days before I left Japan, I got a call inviting me to meet up with an editor of a publishing company. I met her the next day, and I presented my proposals, and I came back to San Diego. Then, just a few days ago, I learned that they liked my proposal and that they thought it was worth publishing!

I am just amazed at how quickly this whole thing is unfolding. Some might call it luck, and I certainly feel very fortunate, but I believe that this series of events came about because I put my focus on it. Now I am very excited that I get to actually write this book. I intend to enjoy the every step of this journey.

Standing On Your Own Feet

Last Saturday, we went out to this fabulous outdoor dance event called “Lindy by the bay”. It was a warm sunny afternoon, and lots of people were out dancing. Ever since we 674_bac_fea_swingdance2_032707had two kids, we don’t go out dancing as much as we used to, but every time I have a chance, I ask myself why we don’t do this more often. That Saturday I danced with one of the best dancers in San Diego for the first time in a long time (who happens to be the organizer of this event).

I was a little bit nervous as I hadn’t danced for a very long time, but as soon as we got into it, I found myself totally in tune with his lead and it was so much fun. While dancing with him, I remembered this simple fact that in order for both a leader and a follower to have a great dance, both of them have to stand on their own feet. There is this lead/follow concept in a couples dance, and as a follower, I would follow my dance partner’s lead and go where he leads me to go – but I need to stand (dance) on my own feet. If I don’t have control over my own body or where I’m going, I might crush into my partner or someone else.

I thought that this is like a relationship. In order for a couple to truly enjoy each other and the relationship, or “the dance”, both parties need to be on their own feet. This doesn’t mean that they can’t support each other or lean one another at times. But when you are in a relationship, being your own person is very important. When you know and love yourself, and accept yourself for who you are, that’s when you don’t “need” the other person to make you happy. Dancing with a great leader reminded me of these things and that’s another reason why I love it – sometimes great ideas come to me while having an amazing dancing experience.

Opportunity Is….

I recently had a chance to take a peak at this book called “Survivor’s Club” (Japanese 416woct79rl__sl500_aa300_translation) at Kodansha International office while waiting for someone. In this book, the author Ben Sherwood showcased several survivors of catastrophic real-life events in attempt to examine what it takes to survive such an event and to gain insight of “the secrets and science that could save your life” which is the tag-line of this book. It looked interesting and I scanned through it for a few minutes, and I came across this web-site URL:

www.opportunityisnowhere.com

What did you think about this URL?

According to the author of this book, this works as a simple yet effective test to see if you have “glass half-full” or “half-empty” type of mentality. You might have read this as “opportunity is nowhere”. Well it’s not very encouraging, right? The other way to read this is “opportunity is now here”.  Remember, your brain will look for evidence of your beliefs – whether it is true or not. Look for opportunities and you will find them, it’s all around you. Same goes for love – look for love, and it is all around you. Look for supportive friends if you are going for your dreams, and I can assure you, you will find them. I suppose you can also guess which type of people is more likely to survive in the catastrophic events. Do you have what it takes to be one of them?

How Do You Measure Your Work?

I have heard that you should measure your work in terms of your output, and not your input. In other slide2words, you should measure your work not by how many hours you’ve put in, but by how much you’ve produced as a result of it. I’d even go further and say that you should measure your work by the impact you make with your output. Obviously, your personal satisfaction is really important, but what is also perhaps more important is what kind of value you are creating for other people.

Last year when I was about to be ready to announce that I’ll be officially leaving the Japanese school I had worked for 4 years, a colleague of mine told me that she was feeling somewhat resentful that I had created my business while still working at the school. She said, “While I am giving my 100% into this job, it seems like this job at the school is something ‘on the side’ for you”, implying that I was giving less than 100% into it.  I didn’t know how to respond to her comment at that time, so I just replied to her with “Thank you for telling me how you feel” and left it at that.

After pondering about what she said for a while, I came to the conclusion that true value of your work should be measured by the impact your work has instead of how much hours you put in. This is why there is certain security for working for someone, but in most cases, there is also a limitation for the impact you can make as well as how much you get for that. From now on, I’ll be always measured by how many people benefit from the services I offer, which is the ultimate indicator of the value I am creating for other people – not how many hours I put in, or how many courses or products I’ve created. In a sense it is very scary, but I am also excited to know how far I can go. How about you? How would you like to be measured?

Just By Being There

A few days ago, my friends from Japan who live here in San Diego called me to smilelet me know that they were heading to the hospital to have a baby, and that they’d call when they need my help with translating (English – Japanese). Sure enough, about an hour later, the husband called back as they needed some help at the hospital triage. He handed his phone to the nurse and she started asking me some questions. Unfortunately the phone line was breaking up, and before I could translate anything, it got disconnected. They somehow managed to get their point across without my help and by the time he called again, they were already taken up to the room where she’d deliver the baby. I went to sleep at midnight. The baby was born early the next  morning. Today I visited them at the hospital and got a chance to meet with the brand new baby boy. He was sleeping so peacefully and I got a chance to hold him. When I apologized to my friend for not being able to be of much help when her husband called, she said “It was enough to know that you were there on the other side of the telephone”.

Later that day I looked back at that visit and thought, how nice it was for her to say that. Even when I couldn’t be of much of help on the phone, they appreciated me. The mere sense of my presence where they couldn’t even see or hear me gave them some comfort and confidence to get through one of  life’s major events.  I think that we sometimes don’t give enough credit to ourselves for how powerful we all are, and how much of a positive impact we are making to other people’s lives just by being there. If you happen to feel sad or discouraged, remind yourself that your showing up or even just a smile might have made someone’s day brighter today.  If someone made a difference in your life today, or you are the receiving end of someone’s kindness, why don’t you tell them know what it meant to you and how much you appreciated it? Trust me, it feels good to be appreciated!