August 28, 2013

How NOT to Apologize for Living YOUR Life

Happiness has been a theme in my life lately and a topic of conversation in most of my friends, family and co-workers circles.

This inspired me to start a Go Inspire Go (GIG) blog series about happiness. GIG’s passion is helping you discover your power and then inspiring you to use it to help others. Finding your power starts with evaluating what makes you happy.

The collection of blogs will be written by me and other guest bloggers. Our latest installment is written by Andrew Sundling, a jack of many trades. He's a self-proclaimed bartender, pastry chef, street-food gastrnome, farmer and artist. Let me also add "LLTTF" (Living Life to The Fullest) expert -- that's my take on this inspiring young man.

Whether you're starting out in your career or in a rut after a long run in your profession, this is a fresh take on what personal and professional happiness is truly all about. My hope is that is gets you thinking, sharing and creates a shift in you -- and why you do the things you do. Is it for money, pride or passion?

Special thanks to dear friend, Yasmine Farazian for introducing me to Andrew. His post was originally a Facebook update that garnered a lot of attention. I shared it with friends and some wept. I was moved and wanted to spread the happiness and inspiration.

If you missed the first installment check it out: Finding Your Happy Self. The second installment was written by Kathy Chow, the executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association. Please spread the happiness by adding a comment and sharing with your loved ones. -Toan

Photos Courtesy of: Andrew Sundling
Andrew at the British Learning Academy
teaching international students how to cook.
I've had some remarkable life experiences over the past several years. It would be easy for me to say that it happened on its own accord, but I don’t think that’s true. I think I asked for it. I've worked for international startups in Silicon Valley. I’ve been a gardener in some of the U.S.'s and U.K.’s most prestigious garden institutions, have degrees from two of the top universities in the world and have had the privilege of communicating across a number of fascinating industries. In London, I explored the fascinating world of street food, helping small businesses grow while serving thousands of hungry, interesting people. I’ve taught choux pastry classes, helped run workshops on systems thinking and food, taught design thinking, creative confidence and business to Italian students and worked as a farmer in rural Sicily.

Most of these jobs didn't pay me thousands of pounds. In fact, I worked in Sicily for six months for free. I’m not rich. I don’t come from money. There are no trust funds waiting for me. I’m also not averse to money or getting paid fairly. I want to make a living just like everyone else. The only difference is I’m interested in an alternative kind of value, a different kind of exchange -- one that's based on exploration, discovery, storytelling, sharing, generosity and kindness. My hope is that if I start with that, if I start with the idea of giving and connecting who I am with what makes me happy and the ways in which others can share in that happiness, then every other part of my life will reconnect and flow.

When I explain to people what I've been doing for the last couple of years, I usually get the same questions and responses (not always...).

"Wow, this is great, so what are you going to do with all of these skills?" or "Don't you want a good job" and the comment "Ah, so you've been having a lot of fun?" as if to say, "You haven't really been 'working,'" or "Surely companies like to see a bit of continuity on your can't do this forever," and my personal favorite, "At some point you need to get a 'real' job, right because who will take care of you when you’re old, you have a responsibility?”

Brewing a batch of compost tea on the farm in Regaleali, Sicily.

Because having fun and "working" and living ones OWN life clearly aren't synonymous. And obviously, learning to grow food, painting, teaching, serving other human beings, connecting, listening, problem solving and learning the true meaning of empathy aren't "real" transferable skills. They aren’t characteristic of a "responsible" life if they aren't part of some larger "career plan," some end goal.

Having and making "plans" are great. In fact, it's pretty important if you want to get anything done. But it’s important to remember that plans come in all shapes and sizes. And no one plan is the same as another.

Now when people ask me questions (usually out of benign curiosity) I tell them this as kindly as possible:

-That I've learned more about myself, design, business, culture, language, service, storytelling and what it means to be a human being by having a cornucopia of jobs (even if they didn't pay much or at all) than I ever would have by working in an office, in a cubicle, or at a desk for 8-10 hours per day, where the only meaningful conversations I have are through IM. There's nothing wrong with this, by the way. IM is a wonderful tool! I speak to my grandmother on IM all of the time. She’s a very cool lady. Most of my friends have great jobs in all sorts of stimulating industries that require them to be at a desk. I don't think less of them or think they've done anything wrong. That's simply not how my life has unfolded. In fact they are the ones who inspire me!

-I've stopped apologizing for my CV. It reads a little bit like Robert Downey Jr's early acting career (minus the drugs and rehab) and I don't care. It's my timeline, it's my life and I LOVE IT! Violence and abuse aside, nobody should feel like they have to apologize for the life they have. Cherish it. Every piece of it.

-I'm a curious person. As the Psychology Today article "What Happy People Do Differently" described, I "accept the notion that while being uncomfortable and vulnerable is not an easy path, it is the most direct route to becoming stronger and wiser." The unknown is very scary, but I thrive in ambiguous environments. I am a master at improvisation. I grow relationships. I create something out of nothing. That's what I'm good at.

-What am I going to do with all of this? I’m not sure. However, at this very moment, I'm DOING it! Right now. I'm LIVING the best way I can and will continue to do so.

-When am I going to get a "real" job? When am I going to start being "responsible?" There's nothing "REAL" about anything haha it's all made up. Even the late pioneer Steve Jobs gave into this notion early on in his pursuit of happiness. As for responsibility? Well, I don’t see how adopting some distorted version of the American Dream is being any more responsible then what I’m doing now. I don’t own a home, but I also don’t own an $800,000+ mortgage, or an unfavorable car payment each month, or a credit card statement that keeps building interest while I struggle to pay the minimum payment. Most Americans live month-to-month, even those who have well-paid positions. If this is being “responsible” then I want nothing of it! Paying down my student loan is enough for me.

What we have is a responsibility to ourselves to live, to give and share our time and energy to this planet and to the 7 billion other human beings who live here (the animals too!). That's our job. That’s OUR collective responsibility, and it's a good one.

-While living with unknowns can be stressful at times, I am deeply satisfied with how my life has unfolded. I don't look for happiness -- happiness exists as a result of doing things that have MADE ME HAPPY. I'm free and so are you.

What's my plan? To share my life and my art. I am moved by a piece of lecture by English philosopher Alan Watts “What would you do if money were no object?”
“What do you desire? What makes you itch? ... What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life? Forget the money, because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way. And after all, if you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is, you can eventually turn it – you could eventually become a master of it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much.”
So be a plumber, a dish washer, a chef, painter, writer, a banker, a lawyer, doctor, engineer, creative designer, artist, teacher, environmentalist, entrepreneur, whatever. It doesn't matter. Do and make things that MAKE YOU HAPPY. Allow yourself to be happy with what you have and what you can give. SHARE your life. Be inspired and inspire others.

Andrew helping with garden tour in the Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily.

Andrew is a tree-hugging California native who in 2010 moved to London to pursue a Masters degree in Environmental Technology & Business. Since graduating in 2011, Andrew's life has unfolded in ways that challenge his perception of what a traditional career path looks like by embarking on adventures that have turned him into a bartender, pastry chef, street-food gastronome, farmer and artist. He doesn't earn thousands of dollars. Most of the art he makes he gives away as gifts to people he meets, paying it forward where ever he can. Andrew's mission is pretty simple:

"Be grateful, connect with as many people as possible and live to share the one great life we've been given. Happiness is a choice."

* How has this blog post inspired you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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August 11, 2013

How a Jar of Happiness Can Get You Out of a Pickle

Happiness has been a theme in my life lately and a topic of conversation in most of my friends, family and co-workers circles.

This inspired me to start a Go Inspire Go (GIG) blog series about happiness. GIG’s passion is helping you discover your power and then inspiring you to use it to help others. Finding your power starts with evaluating what makes you happy.

The collection of blogs will be written by me and other guest bloggers. If you missed the first installment check it out: Finding Your Happy Self. The second installment blog is written by Kathy Chow, the Executive Director of the Asian American Journalists Association. And please spread the happiness by adding a comment and sharing with your loved ones.   -Toan

Kathy Chow
I turned 40 in August 2012. Like many, I did a lot of introspective soul searching. What have I accomplished? What regrets did I have? Why haven’t I won the lottery?

After a quick life assessment, I concluded that I am living a blessed life, but I needed to focus more on the positive, happy moments and marinate in the joy of that feeling and less on the negative things that consume me.

I don’t want negative energy, people or experiences to rent space in my head anymore. Our lives are driven by deadlines filled with stress from the job, family dramas and the daily grind. What would happen if we made a conscious shift to be driven by purpose and passion, or for a year to be consciously happy? To be open to the idea that good things are meant for us all?

Accordingly, in December 2012, I invited three good friends to a holiday dinner. At the end of the meal, I distributed a gift to each of my friends. I handed out an empty mason jar and declared to those at the table, “This is our happiness jar!”

As each of my dear friends sat and wondered if I had drunk too much wine, I began to explain the purpose of this gift.

My wish for those who sat the table and for my next 40 years of life was very simple. Be happy.

“The goal for 2013 is to fill the jar with notes of happiness,” I said. “Every simple joy that makes you laugh or make you want to relive in your head over and over again, write it down and put it in the jar.

Happiness Jar. Courtesy: Kathy Chow
“In December of 2013, when we reconvene for another holiday dinner, as a group we will bring our jars and share some of the happy moments we have had in the year. And as the year progresses, and if you notice that your jar isn’t filling up with notes, it’s a good reminder that you need more happiness.”

How often when we have a cycle of good moments entering our lives do we start to get that little voice in the back of our head, “This isn’t going to last”? Why can’t we just live in the thought that this was meant for us? Why should we feel guilty or more importantly, doubt that happiness was meant to be flourishing in our lives?

My jar is filling with simple notes and items: A Safeway supermarket receipt where I got killer savings after using my coupons; a compliment during a date, and movie receipts that bring memories of spending time with friends I love. My hope is that your jar will overflow by the end of the year.

Happiness is a choice. Choose to be happy.

-Kathy Chow

Kathy Chow is the Executive Director of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). Prior to becoming the Executive Director for AAJA, Kathy was the Director of Hands On Sacramento, a volunteer action center that provides volunteer opportunities in three counties. She often is requested to speak and consult with companies on multicultural marketing, building and engaging a diverse workforce, and how to develop your personal brand. Kathy is certified by the Newspaper Association of America as a Diversity Facilitator, and has served on the advisory council for the National Corporate Volunteer Council and the National Hands On Schools Council for Hands On Network & Points of Light Institute.

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August 2, 2013

Finding Your Happy Self

Happiness has been a theme in my life lately and a topic of conversation in most of my friends, family and co-workers circles.

The search for happiness doesn't discriminate. At first, I thought it was a common topic for us thirty-somethings as we learn more about ourselves and move forward with our careers and family lives, but the topic transcended many conversations across generations.

This inspired me to start a Go Inspire Go (GIG) blog series about happiness. GIG’s passion is helping you discover your power and then inspiring you to use it to help others. Finding your power starts with evaluating what makes you happy.

The collection of blogs will be written by me and other guest bloggers.

Happiness isn't far away - Crissy Field/San Francisco, CA

In addition to the question, "What's the meaning of life?" I believe an equally significant question is, "What makes me happy?"

My life is similar to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book where you choose the ending. Each choice leads to different chapters, adventures and endings.

So many personal choices.

As a student at the University of San Francisco, I remember thinking I would be happy if I received a journalism scholarship through the Asian American Journalists Association.


Then I thought about the next thing that would bring me happiness… a TV job.

Got that covered.

I shadowed a TV reporter at the local CBS affiliate in San Francisco during her last week on the job. She was moving to another state and leaving the business. I remember thinking, "You're in a Top 10 TV market and you want to leave? I will stay here forever."

Oh naive Toan. This was too much for me to wrap around my then 19-year-old head.

Being a TV reporter in a large market fulfilled one of my biggest dreams. I started in Wausau, Wis., then I headed south to Midland, Texas, and then west to Fresno, Calif.. Then… drum roll please… I made it to San Francisco!

I was thrilled to start reporting at a local station in San Francisco. That feeling of elation quickly turned into one of the biggest lows in my life. Reporting on bad news all the time made me miserable. Once I "arrived" I wanted to leave.

My professional goal was to tell hard-hitting, thoughtful stories that pull at your heartstrings and inspire you to help. To many people, I "made it." But why did I feel so empty? Why was I still unhappy? Why was I searching for that “I made it” feeling? Those stories made me feel like little Santiago in Paulo Coehlo’s "The Alchemist," a novel about an Andalusian boy in search of a worldly treasure.

In retrospect, I realize some of the happiest moments were in the experiences, in the "doing": bonding with my fellow co-workers Laurie Lemanski and Jason Lanning at "The Mint," a local breakfast place in Wausau, Wis. I remember intense workouts with Jessica Garate at the local YMCA and running through downtown Midland, Texas. I laugh when conversations replay in my head about how one day we will be in a bigger city reporting under much bigger skylines. I remember thinking that I would be happy when I make it back as a reporter in a bigger city, closer to my family."

Through many conversations I found the answer!

The truth is, happiness is right in front of you. We shouldn't seek happiness. Instead, we should do things that make us happy.

Here are 10 things that make me happy.

1. Family: From seeing the dysfunction to the "I got your back" actions. We do an annual cousin camping trip every year that is fit for a reality TV series. Read: city kids pretending to rough it while consuming delicious gourmet meals #hilarious

2. Friends: From dinner parties to impromptu walks around my neighborhood to random do nothing but lounge, drink tea and nosh during lazy days.

3. Conversation: Conversation is food for the soul. The connection is priceless.

4. Eating home-cooked meals and discovering restaurants. Yum!

5. Flowers: Organic, living things in the home make me feel connected and alive. It grounds me. Like my good spirit sister, Terrie Crowley once shared, "If anyone thinks they're so powerful, make the flower grow out of the ground!"

6. Teaching: I learn so much. The ripples of inspiration are endless. Seeing students reach their potential and learning from them moves me beyond words.

7. Clean sheets: Need I say more? The smell. The touch. The serenity.

8. Working out: Stretching, walking, running, Yoga, Crossfit - moving my body and testing my physical limits.

9. Being in nature: My reminder to breathe deeply, be present and grateful for everything in my life.

10. Witnessing people being inspired to help others: Go Inspire Go! Thanks to my amazing volunteers/team.

GIG Team Jumping for Joy at GIG Social Media Photo Walk

I think there is a Santiago in all of us. Some of us travel in search for happiness. For others, it’s hinged upon whether they get that job, marry that perfect partner or live in the big house.

What I know through many experiences and conversations is that happiness is in the doing, not searching for a made-up, artificial feeling that we think that will fulfill us. The worldly treasures are inside us (our breath, our health, or clear mind) and around us (family, friends and those little moments that make us laugh and smile). Happiness is a state of mind.

What makes you happy now? What are you going to do that makes you happy? Leave a quick comment. It will make me happy to see that you were inspired by this post. :)

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