I was standing in front of 120 yogis at my Level 2 training with Baron Baptiste, telling them my life story of how I never feel good enough. There was a precise incident I could recall from when I was 11 years old that sums it up: I was learning to play tennis to fulfill my dad’s dream of coaching a tennis prodigy. We practiced every weekend for an hour or so. It wasn’t going well, and I didn’t enjoy it. One weekend, after lots of balls hitting the net or flying over the fence, my dad said, “You suck, I give up.” I remember hearing people in the room gasp as I said this, and I had to laugh. This is the tough love of an Asian parent; I was sad to disappoint but not terribly offended. However, a flame had sparked in me – I wanted to be good at something, to really succeed, and to not let anything stop me.
Starting in high school, I began to truly embody this idea. It played out in the form of a constantly packed schedule, tons of activities and clubs, various leadership positions, and lots of accolades. I developed this mantra – “When I really want something, I’ll put all my effort in to it, and I WILL get it”. And it brought me tons of success. I became a Drum Major in the band, VP of Chinese Club (our “Asian” organization), Spanish Honor Society member, and Senior Class President. I won Class Favorite and got to deliver the invocation at graduation. I was accepted to the UT Business Honors Program and Plan II Liberal Arts Honors Program, even though I declined the latter to make room for more extracurricular activities. I became President of the Vietnamese Students Association and helped lead us to win Texas Revue. I joined Orange Jackets and mentored a group of 50 incredible women. I became a recruiter for Target and worked part-time while also sustaining a 3.8 GPA. Oh but it didn’t stop there. Upon graduating, I moved to Minneapolis to work for Target and eventually won the SVP award for Merchandising. I left to work for Bazaarvoice and became a Culture Award Winner then founded the BV Foundation, all while leading the Austin Chapter of Room to Read, getting certified to teach yoga, and running triathlons. Are you tired of reading this? Because I was. I was exhausted.
I was doing so much, yet it was never enough. I was never enough.
In the fall of 2010, I ran away to India to seek refuge from my life. It’s so ironic, running away from life while trying to figure out how to live it and also realizing I was stuck with this life. But after 13 years, finally taking a few weeks off to do nothing, meditate, and practice yoga brought me incredible peace. I was beginning to experience profound transformation in my body and in my soul, but my mind would not catch up for a few more years. You know that old adage that life’s lessons will follow you until you’re ready to receive them? It’s true. I wasn’t ready until 2012.
Fast forward back to yoga boot camp where I’m standing at the microphone, under the spotlight, and sweating buckets. Baron was challenging me to see this pattern of doing in my life, this story I carried with me of never being good enough. It was all becoming so clear. But then I started to psychoanalyze myself and try to fix what was wrong with me. I had so many questions: Do I just stop trying so hard? Do I do nothing? Do I keep doing the same thing and just try to get better? Will I become complacent? Will I stop growing? And then I realized my head was pounding, and I had to close my eyes. Defeated, I whispered into the microphone: I can’t figure out what to do. And his response will forever change my life – “There is nothing to figure out. Nothing to do – no need to fix.”
Sometimes, you can’t think or plan your way out of things. You just have to listen to your heart and act from love. For the first time, I realized that all these pressures and expectations were created by no one other than myself. I kept looking externally – status, awards, titles, etc. – to define myself as a person. And sadly, I was missing out on the beauty of life. I was missing out on myself and the great person I had become. I was never able to receive compliments or acknowledgments because I thought I had to be better. As a result, I hadn’t truly learned to accept myself or my gifts. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is to just be with what is, and there is nothing to fix. Through mindfulness and meditation, I am slowly beginning to see this. I am shedding the expectations, the goals, the guilt, and the long list of to-dos. Instead, I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy every bit of life for exactly what it is – happy, sad, sunny, rainy, crazy, peaceful, simple, complicated… I’m all of these things too, and that’s ok. What I can do is bring awareness to these words and ideas and then choose something else. I can choose love, truth, and peace instead, and I can live it.
I’m proud to say that I have not lived from a to-do list or a set of goals for months now. I spend time daily listening to my internal voice and doing things that inspire me. Along the way, I realized that I have a unique gift to offer the world – my voice, my experiences, my message. In sharing this gift, I’ve been able to touch others deeply. No award, job title, or raise has ever brought this much inspiration or joy in to my life. And the best part? There is nothing to do to keep living this joy. I just have to be me.