Reflecting on the last decade, I got married, had two miscarriages, birthed and raised a healthy baby, moved from San Francisco to my hometown, traveled internationally to China, Italy, Honduras, England, France and Mexico, bought a duplex in San Francisco, a Victorian in Alameda, and turned our garage into a one-bedroom bungalow. I got a lot of therapy and coaching, and feel so lucky to be able to lean on a vast network of resources. I couldn’t be more blessed. I also lost loved ones, including several unexpectedly and tragically; so it is not lost on me that every day above ground is a good one.
I’m excited for 2020, not just because this kicks off a new decade, but also because this year will be my 45th birthday. I love that birthdays are another reason to get together, so look out! I won’t even say when my actual birthday is because I plan on celebrating all year, all over: Palm Springs, NYC, LA, Burning Man, Vegas. And more to come.
I wanted to share some things I’ve learned and my intentions for 2020 and beyond.
I just returned from Mexico and realized how important international travel is to really understand our connection to the world and other people/cultures. You don’t need agile training: travel internationally! Being able to navigate, interpret from sign language, facial expression and context despite not knowing the language, and having emotional intelligence and street smarts is so critical.
Before I became a mother, I used to travel internationally frequently. I remember my former boss saying she didn’t understand why I had to leave the country when there’s so much to explore in America. I felt sorry for her and her family, spending vacation time going from one national park to another. I like nature too, but the world is here for us to explore. I don’t know about you, but I would rather see the Great Pyramid than the Grand Canyon. I want to see both, but if I had to choose, I’m flying to Egypt!
Be Kind and Teach Others to Be Kind
Recently, I was able to teach my son Franco one of my non-negotiables, which is that I never walk away from a mother on the street with her child. I have not had that opportunity to teach him that lesson here in San Francisco despite our rampant homeless problem, but there was a mother with a baby huddled next to our hotel in Mexico City. I explained to Franco that we always give. Franco noted that the mother also had a little girl who was wandering around asking for money, which I was aware of—and glad that Franco pointed it out. Our kids will not understand how privileged they are until they see poverty with their own eyes.
Stop Giving Presents, Give to Those in Need
This leads me to another important endeavor which is philanthropy.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up getting a lot of presents. So when I see all the presents Franco gets, I’m taken aback, especially since this kid has more toys than a toy store. He doesn’t need another plastic gimmick. Of course, we are grateful for all the gifts he receives. But as a parent, my job is to teach him that the season is about giving, not only about receiving, which is why we went caroling at a convalescent home on Christmas morning—the highlight of our holiday.
I, personally, have stopped giving material gifts. I donate on behalf of family and friends. My new favorite charity is Watsi. 100% of the donations fund life-improving/life-saving healthcare for patients who cannot afford it. The organization even pays the credit card processing fees. All operating expenses are covered by foundations and some of the biggest names in venture capital.
I completely blitzed on getting presents for Franco’s teachers. I showed up to assist with the Christmas party and watched in horror as other parents doled out cards and presents. A few days later, I logged into Watsi and sent gift cards to the school staff.
Once you receive your gift card via email, you go onto the site, and choose your patient. For example, I recently funded ear surgery for a boy in Cambodia. The email follow-up indicates when the surgery is fully funded and the result.
Sopheak’s operation went well. Surgery will improve his quality of life by eliminating ear discharge and discomfort. Surgery is also important to ensure he does not suffer from hearing loss.
Sopheak said, “I am so happy that my surgery was successful and that I can hear clearly again and no longer have any problems with my ear.”
Can life get any better than when you use your resources to help someone in need? Research indicates that giving leads to happiness.
Take one look at me and you know I’m a minimalist. I don’t wear makeup. My hair is pulled up in a mom bun. I wear a watch held together by rubber bands. I embrace a uniform wardrobe of black. Less choice allows me to focus on decisions that are more important to me than fashion.
I’m constantly simplifying, including my lifetime collection of books which is now whittled down to two book shelves. I do enjoy seeing people’s personal libraries, but realized I wasn’t going to go back and reread the majority of my books. Some I’ve kept include The Great Gatsby, The Bell Jar, The Soul of Money and my collection of Virginia Woolf books.
Focus on What Matters
I minimize the amount of content/distractions/notifications that leads to overwhelm and inefficiency.
This has allowed me to average 3 books a month. I read a total of 36 books in 2019. And before the end of this week, I will have finished another 2. As an English major, I am passionate about reading. Books make me laugh and cry. It’s therapy! I’ll have to write about my recent favorites in a future post, but I keep a running list of my favorite books here.
I’m also part of an anthology which will be published in March. I’ve been working on finalizing my chapter for the past few months.
I like to say, “I don’t cook. I radiate.” I never learned how to cook, opting instead to throw a Lean Cuisine into the microwave for 4 minutes. And I’m ok with it. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll make a salad, but most of my meals are either nuked or come from a restaurant.
I’m focused on what my priorities are (cooking not one of them): parenting, working, reading, writing, praying, spending quality time in person with family/friends/network, staying healthy, planning trips and making good investments in myself and financially.
We All Choose
My mother who helps care for Franco is a helicopter grandparent. I saw this first-hand in Mexico. He had to be by her side, otherwise, God forbid, he’d be kidnapped by the cartel. Her vigilance never let up, even at a 5 star resort. I watched this with curiosity, knowing that’s not the type of parent I want to be. Of course, I want my child to be safe in a foreign land, but his independence needs to be nurtured, especially back home in a safe environment.
During the trip, we also practiced Franco’s scripture for an oratory festival he has coming up. He would butcher his way through the scripture once or twice and I would sigh, ok, we will practice again tomorrow. My tiger mom got wind of this and pulled Franco aside, “Again! Put it in your brain! Again…until we have it right!” My mom put the fear of God in him and he had it memorized quickly, which made me realize how soft I had been earlier. I watched my mom with respect, realizing I need to be more disciplined when it comes to Franco’s work ethic.
I describe these situations because we all choose what works for us and what doesn’t, from the people we associate with, to what we witness. We each decide what to move forward with. I will do that as a parent, and Franco as well. He’ll have his own opinion on what he liked/disliked from how he was parented.
I’ve been working on this in coaching where I thought I was anchored to certain negative behaviors from my past because I didn’t have good examples to show me the way. Yet I can choose to change the narrative and take a positive approach, one that serves me better.
Have Self-Compassion, Faith and Respect
This is my most important intention. I have been processing a lot of guilt and anger, especially this past year. My coach prodded, wouldn’t it be nice—that your gift this Christmas could be to honor yourself, to have self-compassion, that vulnerability is true healing.
I also went to church to confess my sins—the first time in many many years. My penance was to read Psalm 23 after the rector gave me absolution. If God can love unconditionally—“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long”—then I can have compassion for myself. I am working on that.
I went to a kid’s birthday party today and one of the mothers talked about how she is honest with her daughter. Santa Claus is not real. Jesus is not real. Jesus is a fictional character created to give people hope. Of course, I cringed, but I try to be respectful of everyone’s opinions. I am a devout Catholic who is strengthened by my faith, which I’m passing down to Franco. Franco has friends who span the religious spectrum and was telling me the other day the story of Hanukkah and how there was only enough oil for 1 night, but the menorah burned for 8 nights. I was very impressed!
Care for the Environment
I am so obsessed with In-n-Out that I looked into hiring a truck to cater our wedding. But I also love animals and care about the environment so I asked my nutritionist about cutting meat from my diet. She shook her head that if I didn’t eat meat, I would waste away because my metabolism is too high. I then used this as my rallying cry to continue my 2-3x/week addiction with animal-style cheeseburgers.
Several months ago, I spent a day at Charlie’s Acres, which is an animal sanctuary in Sonoma. The experience really opened my eyes to opting for vegan options where possible. But what really sealed the deal was enjoying a vegan lunch that was so yummy and so filling, I was in shock. I didn’t eat meat, yet I’m full? What is happening?! Now, I’m no vegan and I’m no saint, but I’ve gone to In-n-Out only once, possibly twice in the past few months. And I have proactively sought out vegan restaurants. Seriously, who am I?
“If we cut global meat consumption in half and used all of that farmland to grow fruits/veggies for people to eat directly, we could feed every single person on earth today, plus an extra 2 billion people.” Factory Farming Awareness Coalition
We are already seeing a significant change with a decline in dairy milk consumption. Let’s fight climate change with diet change.
I hope some of these changes resonate with you and I look forward to making a positive impact on the world in 2020 and beyond. Let’s do this!