Mid-Life Transitions

I’m feeling old this week. Whenever I get up, there are a few moments where I feel stiff all over. I’m having tendonitis in my shoulder, and so I have limited range of motion. I’ve had some dental work recently and don’t like how that feels in my mouth. And I’m just a bit tired and physically slow so it’s tough to keep pace with my exercise class.

As they say, aging is not for the weak-hearted, but it sure beats the alternative.

It’s also hard to believe that I’m at this mid-life stage. You know, it seems like almost yesterday…

It’s tempting sometimes to long for my younger self, especially when I look at the gorgeous and strong young people around me. But I’m never one to want to go back. So far, I have always liked the Older Susanna better than the younger.   I was once as cute and strong as these amazing young people around me, but I didn’t appreciate it then.   I might as well have had the body of a 50-year old given how I felt about my appearance.

The same trend continues when I look across my life domains. I’m kind of jealous of the young people that have the stamina to entertain, go out with their friends, and to volunteer/work till all hours and their mental acuity. Yet I also like feeling like I don’t have to do everything, and be everything to all people, at work and at home and that I can turn the ticker tape in my head to off or mute. I also like the feeling that I am secure in my relationships with my friends and family. I can let those relationships be what they are and just enjoy them.

In summary, I enjoy my life so much more given that I take so much less for granted. I’m also much better at being present, so I’m less worried, stressed or upset about the past or future.

I think the hardest part for me professionally is feeling a lack of mentors.   I have always actively developed and valued relationships with those more experienced and wise than me, and had several that I could go to when I needed advice or an ear. My mentors are all, well, retired or I’ve moved to different areas of interest. I AM the mentor now for a number of people. But who advises me now?

On the personal side the hardest part is missing the daily interaction of the larger family. I understand that as we age we tend to become increasingly isolated, especially as our friends and family start to pass. Isolation is a potential threat to our wellbeing. Yet I also enjoy having a quieter house and that time to myself that an empty nest provides.

In the end, life is full of trade offs. I don’t envy young people. They have their struggles, most of which I do not want to return to. I don’t envy those older than me either, even if they are retired. I’m sure that comes with its own opportunities and challenges. I guess I’ll just enjoy where I am now, for one day it will feel as fleeting as my youth.

Susanna’s Comparative Life Table

  Body Career/ Intellectual Relational Family Personal
Youth – Assets Physical peak, form and function Education fresh, mind alert and active. Plenty of mentors Energy for socializing and entertaining All potential, yet still able to enjoy all those great moments Relatively more idealistic
Challenges May over rely on strength and stamina

Relatively low body image

Relatively poor at prioritization; tries to do it all Relational skills still in development Daily challenges of raising children; still having conflict with siblings Relatively low self-confidence and fewer emotional resources
Mid-Life – Assets Efficiency, strategy. Better appreciation for assets Experience, patience, better able to prioritize. Giving back as mentor Skills well developed; perspective on what’s important Enjoy fruits of child-rearing Self-confidence and self-awareness
Challenges Beginning loss of function Must prioritize. Mentors harder to find. Meet relatively fewer people, less opportunity for “hanging out” Daily challenges of managing parental care May be less apt to change, beginning loss of function

Message to Asian Parents

Growing up I was told that Asian kids are just smarter.  This stereotype seemed to be buffeted by all the hyper-accomplished Asian students with the perfect GPAs and mix of extracurriculars (BTW I was kind of just average or above-average or so all around). Indeed, Asians tend to be over-represented in institutes of higher learning and highly technical fields.   However, I’ve never seen any data that shows that Asians are any smarter than people originating from other continents.

Asian students do have a secret weapon though: their parents. It’s maybe not so much the parents per se as the culture. At least speaking for the Chinese American culture, it was simply a given that we’d go to college, and probably graduate school. We’d have a sport, learn Chinese, and play a musical instrument. Being cool wasn’t important, but your GPA was. Indeed, some of my Chinese American childhood friends went on to that Ivy League school and are literally world-famous.

For some of us, that formula and pathway works perfectly well; we’re 100% suited and passionate about a career in a STEM discipline, or maybe law. For the others of us, well, too bad.

Asian parents, I know you want the best for your children and economic security is paramount. I ask you, though, to weigh the degree of economic security (do they really need to make in the high 6-figures to be secure?) against the psychological cost of doing a job you don’t love. For me the toll was psychological, physical, and relational. My body and life were shutting down because I couldn’t keep doing that job.

Parents, I’m not saying that you encourage your kids to throw caution to the wind and hop a bus to LA in hopes of being the next “It” girl.   What I am saying is that maybe our young people should be encouraged to pursue that passion and dream but have a reasonable Plan B ready to go if that dream doesn’t work out, preferably one that allows them to pursue that passion at least as a hobby.

I didn’t tell you earlier that one of my Ivy League Chinese American friends ended up pursuing a non-traditional path (non-doctor/lawyer/engineer) and became world famous anyway. Many of the parents I know would not have supported that path, but fortunately for him, his did. In other words, it is possible to follow your heart and dreams and achieve that economic security. Had he pursued engineering, he might be secure enough, but would he be as happy or successful?

I know from my own experience that pursuing my Plan A (which temporally came to me in late life) not only means that I’m passionate about my job, but that work enriches my personal life and wellbeing too. And that’s worth all the money in the world.

Toxic, Disruptive People

My inner toddler

My inner toddler

When working or living with toxic, difficult people, our tendency seems to be to use labels (b*tch, pr*ck, evil, toxic, etc.) as a shortcut to understanding them. Though convenient and expeditious, not unlike a handful of trail mix for dinner, the problem with labels is that we stop seeing the other as a complex person who is struggling, just like we are. Instead, the label tends to homogenize and minimize their essence to nothing but negative. The extreme ‘evil’ label implies that the other is irredeemable and is deserving of whatever ill fate that may befall them, intentional or otherwise.

I haven’t had enough coffee this morning to debate whether evil exists, or whether evil is more appropriately viewed through a mental illness lens. Most people that we encounter in our daily lives fall far short of that diagnosis, though it is often tempting to box someone in with that label.

Here’s what I do know about difficult people. Remembering these concepts helps me to deal with them and my reaction to them more constructively.

  • Difficult people are our teachers. We learn patience and perspective by being in their midst.
  • No matter how sure you are that they are to blame, we always have some responsibility in a failed relationship.   Explore flipping your story to gain some useful perspective. For starters, we are often blind to our own need to be right or lack of forgiveness which tends to invite bad behavior in others.
  • Everyone has a valid perspective, even if you disagree with or can’t understand it. Remember, disagreements often stem from different ethical priorities, not from an absence of values or a moral compass. Learning anothers’ perspective will help you understand and forgive while also making it more likely that they will be motivated to understand yours.
  • We often confuse being lenient or soft on others with doing the right thing. Martyring ourselves or our team to accommodate the perceived needs or demands of a toxic person is not doing anyone any favors in the long run and is not likely to keep the peace for long.   Behavioral issues should be dealt with early, firmly and with compassion.   For example, despite repeated interventions, some students continue to have performance or behavioral issues.   They are not unintelligent or lazy; instead, they are often a poor fit for the program. Helping these students to find the right academic environment will allow them to grow and shine. In contrast, enabling them to persist in a program that does not match their strengths or interests only prolongs the issue for them. Avoiding the problem for extended durations can result in incalculable losses of time, money, energy, productivity, and peace of mind for both the student and those around them.
  • A therapist I know once said that everyone is always trying their best. I did not believe her at the time, but I believe this statement to be 100 % true. Laziness is synonymous for lack of engagement. In the work environment, lack of engagement is strongly associated with being ignored or getting negative attention. Conventional wisdom concurs with respect to children that act out at home because they are being ignored. It’s easy to blame the child or lazy employee but the root cause is usually the parent or manager (see bullet #2 above).

It’s not easy turning the lens from the difficult person back on oneself. When tired or stressed, this task seems pointless or nearly impossible.   But here are your options: allow someone else to make you feel frustrated and emotionally out of control or by take constructive action that will help improve yourself, your family or you organization.   The latter may seem harder, but consider how uncontrolled emotion is the adult equivalent of a temper tantrum, even if you think you’re controlling it externally.

Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. However, finding someone else who agrees with your or is in the same boat is not a good excuse to avoid dealing constructively with that difficult person in you.

Dear Mom

It has been nearly a year since you died. This year, Christmas is just not going to be the same without you. Our most important, annual family ritual will feel alien, since cooking that special holiday meal always had you front and center. We have been training and practicing for years for the inevitability when we’d have to cook the meal without you, and now that it is upon us, I feel unspeakably sad.

You know our path together has not always been smooth and easy, but what mother-daughter relationship is (I can just see all you women out there raising your hands)? But we found our peace with each other long before you passed, and for that I am unspeakably grateful.

It’s ironic perhaps that it took your death for me to find the psychological space to reflect on who you are separate and apart from your role as my mother. Now I see the person from which I inherited my thirst for information, caretaking nature, and zest for life. From you I inherited my need to influence my environment and to help those around me. With that, I feel even more intimately connected to you.

I didn’t always agree with your approach or subject of your change-project (too often, me) just as I know others don’t always agree with mine. But like you, our intentions are always positive and passionate, even if we are sometimes, oftentimes, misinformed. And to the degree that we’ve fumbled more than we achieved, and for the times that you took the difficult path out of love, I feel unspeakably humbled.

Mom, I hope to carry the best parts of both of us forward. We’ll probably never make them perfect, but they don’t have to be perfect to be amazing. I know you didn’t feel like a brave person.  Nor do I.  But I feel that your passionate spirit carried you places most people fear to tread. I know you have gone places I don’t think I could’ve, and I hope that I can go to the places that you have resisted visiting. Together, we’ve made more progress than either of us could’ve done alone. To that end, I feel unspeakably proud. Of both of us.

I hope Mom that you are continuing to watch over us as you always have and that you’re proud of all of us girls and your 7 truly amazing grandchildren. You earned it.


The Things They Never Tell You About Being A Mother

Being a Mom isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

It’s so much better.

I never want to take for granted the gratitude of others.   But for me, Mother’s Day is also about celebrating one’s children and being grateful to them for enabling me to be in the best role I’ve ever had.

Here’s why I’m grateful to my children on Mother’s Day:

  • Yes, being a parent can be exhausting.  But for me, it was an energizing experience overall.
  • Yes, sometimes I just wanted them to go to bed or go to school, but mostly I looked forward to every chance I could just hang out with them, get a hug or hold their hand.
  • Yes, sometimes it was just hard work, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, doing anything else, ever.
  • Yes, sometimes it was just yukky, particularly during the diaper or barfing (yes we had that) stages, but I loved seeing my naked baby several times a day and getting to play with his tummy (there wasn’t really an upside to the barfing stage, in retrospect, aside from the great stories I can tell – subject for another blog).
  • Yes , sometimes it was just frustrating and aggravating, but there was 10x as much joy as frustration. Besides, there was a lesson about myself to be learned during those times though I admit it took me a long time to learn them.  I had as much growing up to do as they did, and they were my teachers.  If you think about it, kids can only do what they can do.  So blaming the kid is like blaming a dog for barking or pooping:  it only reflected my need to control or my unrealistic expectations.
  • Yes, sometimes I felt it was a thankless job, but I know how they feel about me and the unique role I played in their lives.  Any time they willingly choose to spend time with me feels like a thank you note in disguise.
  • Yes, sometimes those life stages were difficult and challenging, but I thought they were all amazing and I enjoyed every one of them (some more than others).  It was an honor to watch them grow and transform through each stage.
  • Yes, everyone told me how much work it is raising kids but no one told me what an utter and complete joy it is.  I loved almost every minute of it and, now that they’ve flown the coop, the time with them is ever more precious.

So you Moms out there who are fortunate enough to still have your kids at home:  savor the moment, all of them, and find the silver lining and personal lessons during the challenging times (if you’re not already).  Perhaps the mothering experience will be more than you bargained for too.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Photo credit: tonyconigliophotography.com

Photo credit: tonyconigliophotography.com

Protecting Our Children

No matter how disappointing the behavior, I believe that everyone is doing their best.   It’s easy to judge someone else and say what they should or should not be doing.  And we may even be right.  But seeing someone else’s faults is completely different than seeing our own.

I used to be pretty critical and judgmental (and I still can go there pretty quickly): one of those ‘my sh** doesn’t stink’ kind of people.  But then I learned and accepted the fact that the qualities we tend to hate in others are the faults we hate in ourselves.  So if I say you’re judgmental and lazy, it’s really my own judgement and laziness that I hate.

So I’ve learned to shut up to avoid adding hypocrite to the list.

Doing our best notwithstanding, we have a particular responsibility toward our kids.  Our hypocrisy and judgment might roll off the back of an adult who may emerge relatively unscathed or unfazed by our criticism.  It’s completely different with children.  Those messages come loud and clear to kids, and those judgments get etched into their psyches.  In this manner, I believe our children inherit our unresolved issues and carry them into the next generation.  Until someone breaks the cycle of denial and passivity, those issues will get handed down through the generations.

Our parents came to the US to give their daughters a better life.  And they did.  We had every educational opportunity possible.  We never wanted for food, shelter or clothing.  For our children, I want to give them a better emotional and psychological start by dealing with my issues so they don’t have to.  They’ll have their education, of course, but that’s not enough for me.  I want them to have peace, tranquility and a feeling of being loved and accepted just as they are.

Not everyone is ready for this journey; I get that.  But please consider that the possibility of your hidden, unresolved issues unwittingly bleeding over to your kids is real.   We take great pains to lock our doors at night and wash our hands to keep our families safe.  You wouldn’t want to expose your family to measles, flu or MRSA, which are mostly pretty treatable and temporary.  Infecting them with a feeling they are not loved or worthy could last a lifetime and even multiple generations.

I know it’s scary to look inside and possibly find you come up short in some ways.  Know that we all do, as you probably know by looking at others.  You know those around you are struggling to be good and do good.  You forgive them (I hope) for their humanity.  Consider granting yourself that same kindness and doing the same for yourself; you’ll find your flaws are no different (better or worse) than anyone else’s.  You’ve seen it all. You know what it’s like.  So there’s nothing in there that you haven’t seen or know how to solve.  You’ve been telling others how to fix these things your whole life.  You might be surprised it’s a huge relief to deal with that nagging problem once and for all.  The irony is that once you accept your own faults, it becomes easier to accept the faults of others.

So don’t be afraid.  You have everything to gain and nothing more to lose by being brave.   As my man William Shakespeare says, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Fear?

By:  Guest blogger, Rahmel (Ray)mond Reeves (Age 15)

Fear. What is fear? Is it a feeling, thought or decision? Where does it come from? Does it come when you think about your next report card, or does it comes when you think about love? Many fears come and go but the main topic that scares me the most is if I’ll lose love.  Love is what allows us to be stronger and motivate us to do better, if you lose love, you lose hope. All your potential and character would cease to be shown because without love there’s hate. Hate is pain, stress, guilt, depression, suicide, murder, drug overdose, and darkness. In the world we live in all you hear about is hate, but you never hear about love. This world is hurting because the people on it can’t love one another. No one cares enough to give love. Why can’t a person come to school without worrying about what someone will say, why can’t you walk from the store at night with a hood, Arizona, and skittles without being accused as a threat. Why can’t you change something without being threatened? This world is filled with hate and covered with hope. The only thing that keeps a single mother that lost her job and is getting evicted in two day , who also has a blood clog in her chest , that the doctors said wouldn’t  let her live more than a week, moving with her head up. Hope is what keeps a homeless man from getting weaker, even though his last job told him he wouldn’t be able to work because he’s disabled and stupid. Hope is what keeps your 15 year old son from killing himself because the world said he was different and wouldn’t amount to anything, and made him feel like the world was better without him, because no one understood him, no one knew that his father left him when he was younger, no one knew he got teased because of his weight, no one knew he use to live in a basement and eat stolen noodle mixed with stuffing just so he wouldn’t be hungry, no one knew that kids at school would call him names and try to put him down, no one knew he loved and cared for so many people but couldn’t find love for himself, no one ever knows , because they’re blinded by hate, But because of hope there’s change, motivation, and love. So what is fear? Is it a feeling, thought, or decision? Where does it come from? Does it come when you think about your next report card or does it come when you think about love?