Thank you for reading my articles here. If any piece resonates with you, I encourage you to share your reactions, as they will likely resonate with other readers, too. I also invite you to visit my website to learn more about REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life. Much Love and Many Blessings, Alice

Friday, May 27, 2011

I’m not an expert

Earlier this week, I went to a social media strategy event. One of the speakers started off her talk with the disclaimer that she’s not an expert. Quoting Michelangelo, she said that she’s still learning. She shared a lot of knowledge and insights in her presentation, which easily qualified her to be an expert on the topic. However, she personally refused that attribution. Her stance flew in the face of social norm and expectations. After all, we seek out experts to teach us what we want to know, don’t we?

The label of “expert” says that we have recognized credentials, experience and knowledge to provide something of value to others. More importantly, when we’re considered experts, we can quiet our inner critic -- a.k.a. our ego -- whose job is to prevent us from taking risks. It makes us question every step of the way whether we’re qualified to do what we want to do.

Most of us have dealt with this qualification process at least once in our lives when we were just starting out in our careers. We felt a tremendous amount of insecurities and fear of failing, and we were convinced that everyone could see through the imposters we were, how little we knew and how much we should know. We somehow managed through the growing pains to achieve the level of expertise needed to satisfy our inner critic. We vowed to ourselves -- consciously or unconsciously -- never to go through this process of having to prove ourselves again.

“Expertise” is really a nice, socially-sanctioned label for our comfort zone. Once we’re established in our comfort zone, unless we truly love what we do, the drive to learn and to grow in that area dissipates. In the academic world, for instance, assistant professors sign up for 6 years of slaving away to get tenure, to establish their expertise in their fields. Once they get there, the need to prove themselves to their peers is met, at least until it’s time for promotion from associate to full professorship. Only a minority remains productive researchers throughout their careers. They are the ones who truly love what they do, and they remain passionate about furthering knowledge in their chosen fields, to serve the world in those chosen capacities. In short, they are experts who continue to learn and refine their craft.

By nature, I love to learn and grow, and I’m motivated to be my best in whatever I choose to do. Expertise often comes as a by-product, not the overt goal. What’s most critical to me is that I love what I choose to do, how I choose to serve. That’s why I can never be complacent in any area just because I've built expertise in it. That’s why I can never stay in my comfort zone too long if I feel the nudge to grow. 

That’s also why I’m doing just fine in managing my ego’s protestations about my career change. While I have transferable experience, skills and credentials in teaching, speaking and coaching, I’m not yet an objectively sanctioned expert in the area of personal empowerment. My book will help, and I'll do what it takes to establish expertise with those who need such proof. However, my primary focus is not to prove myself an expert. Instead, I want to remain grounded in the great passion I have for helping others believe in themselves and transform their lives -- to share what I know and what I've learned in my own path to transformation. I also have a bottomless desire to keep learning and growing myself, to be the best version of myself in service. Louise Hay considers the best teachers the ones who never stop learning themselves. I agree with her wholeheartedly.

Expert or not, I’m most certainly still learning. I’m also here to serve right now.

Friday, May 20, 2011

To Thy Own Self Be True (William Shakespeare)

A couple of weeks ago, I met an aesthetician who’s also an actress. In fact, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, while keeping her salon in San Mateo where she sees clients once a month. She has other passions, including rescuing animals and training dogs, as well as teaching others about nutrition and raw-food diets. She felt that she would be further along if she focused on just one or two things. “Further along in what way?” I asked. She went completely silent. “Why do you feel like you have to choose?” I also asked. She didn’t have an answer for that either.

I could hear how passionate she was about everything she mentioned. So, I suggested that she could see her time and energy as a pie. If she had, say, five things about which she’s passionate, she could divide up that pie into five equal slices. In other words, she could embrace all five passions without having to choose. By the end of our session, she was excited that she could allow herself to spend one day a week in each of her passions without feeling anxious or guilty that she should be working on something else. More importantly, she didn’t need to pressure herself to choose among her passions. She was relieved by being able to see her unconventional life in a different light that’s more aligned with her nature.

Like so many of us, she had internalized pressure from society (perhaps culture and family, too) to focus on one thing¾two at the most¾on which to build her life, her success. She wasn’t aware of how much she was torturing herself to conform to that normative belief subconsciously running her life. She never stopped to question where that belief came from or how it didn’t serve her. By asking her a couple of simple questions, these unconscious patterns came to light, and she was then able to make a conscious decision on what to do about them. She could choose to honor herself, rather than what she thought she should do, who she should be.

It’s so easy for any of us to be unaware of the pressure we put on ourselves to behave in a certain way that honors someone else other than ourselves. After all, as human beings, we are social creatures wired to be seen, heard and understood¾even if for different underlying motivations. Depending on our temperamental nature, some of us are motivated by our need to feel we belong. For others, we like the knowledge sharing with like-minded others. Still others are motivated by cultivating deeply meaningful connections, while the rest of us seek nothing more than the pleasure of an experience.

Depending on who we get to hang out with most of our lives and how self-aware we are, we easily internalize others’ motivations and unknowingly let them drive our decisions and actions. When the motivational driver isn't innately our own, it produces anxiety for us, because what we feel pressured to do defies our nature. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

I’ve been fascinated by personality psychology for almost 14 years, and know my own temperament really well. I’m very much in the minority and an outlier in some ways. Still, I succumb to societal pressure now and again. Earlier this week, I went to a mixer for women entrepreneurs, as a part of me thought I should go out there and network. It was at a very crowded bar, and I tolerated that for about an hour before leaving¾before I decided to chuck conventional wisdom and honor myself instead.

We live in an extraverted society, where everyone is supposed to enjoy mingling and draw energy from chit-chatting with total strangers. Sorry, but I’m one of the introverts who are outnumbered by extraverts 2:1. Instead of mingling with strangers, please give me a one-on-one or small-group setting in which meaningful relationships can be built and maintained. Instead of chit-chatting, let me sink into a meaty discussion about something of importance.

Every time I say that I’m an introvert, inevitably, someone is shocked, as I don’t come off as one. When I’m speaking in public, I’m engaging and articulate. But that’s because I have a clear role to play, and I know what I’m going to say to connect with my audience¾I have a genuine desire to do that. However, in a free-form, unstructured setting, such as mixers, I’m completely a fish out of water. Can’t do that too often, nor can I survive without water for too long. If you’re a fellow introvert, you know what I mean. I’m simply not wired for networking events. While I’m sure there will be some I simply can’t avoid, I chose to honor myself mid-way through the mixer on Tuesday night, thank you very much!

To thy own self be true. Let us all listen to Shakespeare’s advice as often as possible.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Beginner's Mind

Today, I officially wrap up my consulting contract of the last 15 months. With that, I’m also leaving my livelihood for the last 10+ years as a market research and business consultant. Over the next couple of months, I’ll be busy with my book launch and immersing myself in learning all I can learn to create the next phase of my life. Standing at this point of transition got me thinking: When was the last time I had the luxury of spending most of my time and energy in learning mode?

To start from the beginning, I was raised in a traditional Chinese family in a tiny, unknown city named Macau¾a Portuguese colony until 1999 when it was reverted back to China. Since a very young age, I knew there was a bigger world out there, and I believed my life wasn’t meant to be boxed in that little gambling town. So, at age 16, I found myself a freshman at Maui Community College. By Divine arrangement, the pre-computerized college made a mistake in admitting a legal minor. I showed up on campus with few possessions, even less self-confidence, and a vague but raw dream to make something of my life. Being the only girl raised among 3 boys by an extremely protective mother, it was rude awakening to be suddenly on my own, thousands of miles away from everything and everyone I knew. I was grossly ill-prepared to function in a foreign country, terribly homesick and had to grow up really fast.

Now, nearly 25 years later, I find myself symbolically in a very similar place. I’m leaving my “home” to walk into a world that’s foreign to me. And, I’ll be immersing myself in learning what I need to learn to realize what calls me into the unknown¾just as the dream of a better life called to the teenage me. Most of all, like 25 years ago, I don’t know what the precise path ahead of me looks like, but I believe passionately in my calling. With the same inner drive I had then, I’m ready to do whatever it takes to fulfill my mission in life now.

Objectively speaking, I have a lot more to lose now than when I was 16. But I also have 25 years of life experiences showing me that I don’t need to know more than the next step to take. Much of the angst I had felt over the years stemmed from the fear-based need to know the outcome and to control the course of the unfolding. I now know that, as long as I continue to take the next step and the step after that, the path will unfold before me¾very likely much, much better than I can orchestrate myself. The more I get out of my own way to allow the unfolding to happen, the less worry and anxiety I bring on myself, and the easier it is for me to focus my energy on what I need to do.

The choice is mine to practice the Zen concept of “Beginner’s Mind.” That is, to have an attitude of openness and eagerness that’s free of preconceptions, to welcome any and all possibilities of how the next chapter of my life will unfold. As I walk away from a professional world in which I’m fortunate to have enjoyed many years of success, choosing Beginner’s Mind at this juncture includes appreciation for being able to immerse in learning again in order to feed a dream. It’s a luxury I haven’t had in a long, long time. It’s definitely a moment of Grace for which I’m grateful.

The 16-year-old me had little to lose but a bigger and brighter future to gain from fulfilling a dream. I’ve chosen to sign up for that again!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Other Side of Fear

Earlier this week, I got an unsolicited offer to accept a personal loan from one of my banks. It was the second time in the last month or so that I got this solicitation. I didn’t accept it the first time, as doing so would go against my lifelong belief of not taking on personal debt beyond the necessities, i.e., mortgage and car. I didn’t even take on student loans to get my master’s and doctoral degrees. But, when the bank loan was offered to me a second time, I accepted. Why? I recognized it as a synchronistic offer of financial assistance.

A few hours after I accepted the bank loan, I found out about the costs of a yearlong marketing and publicity program for which I wanted to apply. Let’s just say that it’s really expensive. If I didn’t have this bank loan in my back pocket, I’d completely have been scared off by the costs. I simply couldn’t afford it. After all, I’m walking away from my livelihood to follow my calling – to serve as many people as possible with the message of REACH. In short, my known income source is about to dry up. That part of me which is my ego was quick to issue warnings: Have I lost my mind?! Give up income AND spend a huge sum of money, even potentially going into debt? Am I on a fast track to self-destruction?

As I applied for the program, I felt major butterflies in my stomach. Fear was most certainly present. But, in the mix of strong emotions was also an unwavering sense of conviction that I must do this. After all, getting the message of REACH out isn’t about feeding my ego. It’s entirely about following a higher calling that exceeds what my human mind has been able to comprehend every step of the way – ever since I wrote the first sentence in the book.

Faith was also calling to me, as if saying “Look here. Don’t look at fear. You’re well loved and supported.” The first tangible signs of that love and support came from my peeps at Conscious Living Center. (Thank you again, dear Prayer Team!) One of them reminded me of the fact that I’ve taken many leaps of faith in my life and have never fallen flat on my face. Why would this time be any different? Even if the scale of this leap is so much bigger – and seems to be getting bigger all the time – I know the same principles apply. And, my soul knows that I’m ready to grow into my higher calling. All leaps of faith I had taken previously were simply dress rehearsals for the real deal.

I’m very happy to say that I’ve been accepted into the program, which will kick off with a 3-day training in Philadelphia in June. Jack Canfield, someone I admire and respect, will be the guest speaker on the third day. Granted I’ll have to take a red-eye flight to make the training – I’ve already scheduled a talk and workshop the day I need to fly out – I’m really excited! Even before this program officially starts, there are already indicators that this investment I’m making will spread the message of REACH to far, far more people than I could ever accomplish alone. I feel so blessed to have a support team, coaches and experts to help me fulfill my life’s mission in ways I have yet to be able to fully appreciate right now.

Yes, I’m stretched out of my comfort zone – way out. And, I’m sure I’m not done stretching yet. Is it scary? I can’t even begin to describe in words! But, as they say, life never gives you more than you can handle. I’m a firm believer of that. Besides, when I accepted the Divine assignment to be the author and spokesperson of REACH, I signed up to do whatever it takes to do the best job I can do, one day at a time, one decision at a time, one step at a time. On some days, it means mustering up just enough gumption to stare big fears in the face and push forward in spite of them. Other days, it means consciously looking at the other side of fear and feeling grateful for all the support that’s already here. On any day, it means recognizing what I need to do and just do it, no ifs or buts.

I also realize I need to take a bit of my own advice – to give myself a pat on the back for having the courage and conviction to say “Yes” to life over and over again, especially when it’s anything but easy to do that. “Yes” to things that scare the living daylights out of me. “Yes” to leaving my comfort zone to fulfill a higher purpose bigger than my human comprehension. “Yes” to being an instrument to help awaken consciousness. “Yes” to walking in faith. “Yes” to committing again and again to be what I want to be in this life – Love in motion, Grace in motion.
I’ve learned that fear is very real and not to be shoved aside or dismissed. The best that we can do is to take its charge off and not let it stop us from doing what we need to do. Facing fear is the ultimate opportunity to choose to look at the other side, to welcome the many faces of Grace. Courage, Faith, Conviction and Excitement are just some of the infinite derivatives.

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