2015 Annual Review and My Three Words for 2016

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2015 is coming to an end and it’s that time again to reflect on the year.

2015 was a much better year than 2014, or 2013 for me. Still challenging , no doubt about that, but much better. I can see things improving year after year and it’s a great feeling to know the worst is behind us. (For now.)

I turned 40. My son graduated from high school and started studying theatre at University. Did some really interesting projects. Had some good, heart-to-heart conversations with friends. Really got into cooking with New York Times recipes. Really interesting year, to say the least.

Four things I learned this year:
1) Art is essential in your life.  I joined the board at Intrepid theatre this year, and got to see many, many shows. Loved most of them, and cried at almost every show. I met some brilliantly talented people and learned the importance of believing yourself and putting yourself out there, on a daily basis.

2) Things are not always what they appear.
This summer I found out someone I looked up to was a complete liar. I wasn’t the one directly affected by this person, but more than anything I was heartbroken for this person, and the family and friends this person was hurting, because it wasn’t something *I* could go in and fix. It was a disappointing experience but a  good lesson in life.

3) Importance of community
I turned 40 in May, and that month I joined a gym. I have worked out at least once a week ever since. My average is two days a week. I’ve learned two days a week workout will not make me lose weight, but I know I gained strength and I’m grateful for that. I made a lot of new friends at Fierce and the community they offer has been a great inspiration for me. I know it’s such a cliche, but because I made friends there, that motivates me to go every week.

4) Where there is a will, there is a way.
It’s such an old saying, and until recently I almost laughed at this idea. But I did accomplish few things this year that seemed impossible to me at first. I love that saying, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Well, I’ve done a few “impossible” this year and now feel confident I can take on seemingly impossible challenges.

I met some wonderful people all through the year and made some great new friends. To me, that is the most fulfilling thing in my life – to connect with people in a meaningful way. So, thank you, for being in my life.

My word of the year 2015 was CREATE. I also had sub-words -COOKING and COMPASSION. I think I did pretty well. I launched a video podcast in Japanese (still working on launching the English version soon). I wrote, knit, and drew. I re-confirmed that I was a writer more than anything, and I’m planning on continuing creating.

I LOVED Rising Strong by Brené Brown and again vowed to make this my life’s work to practice Wholehearted Living and share this idea with people. I’ve started a Facebook group for Japanese people who wish to discuss this, as she is not yet known well in Japan.

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Photo credit: CintheaFox

My words for 2016 are CURIOSITY, COURAGE, and BELIEVE.

Curiosity-I saw this video by Elizabeth Gilbert couple months ago, and it struck a chord with me. I’m a Hummingbird. I tend to have many interests. I also read her latest book, Big Magic, which reaffirmed my belief that creativity is essential. I couldn’t think of a better word for me for 2016.

Courage – I find this a bit overused word these days, but it’s actually something that is hard to practice. Brené Brown says “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” This right here is my reason enough to practice courage next year.

Believe-This also comes from something I learned this year. I have plenty of wishes but maybe until recently, I didn’t really believe I could achieve them. Next year I will fiercely believe that I can, and I will.

Well, that is it for me this year. Do you have your word(s) picked for next year? Share in the comment below.

Thank you for reading, and wishing you a peaceful and prosperous new year.

Voice inside your head

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Last night, I wrote a post for my Japanese blog. This is basically English version of it.

I had a rough few days. Nothing serious, but I was suffering from scarcity, imposter syndrome, and uncertainty. I kept seeing my friends who are successful and telling myself “I’d never be like her.” I was also saying to myself, “Why can’t you do normal work like everybody else?”

I was down, and posted how I was feeling on Facebook, in Japanese. I won’t deny I was feeling sorry for myself and expected some “Aw, poor you.” comments from friends.
But my friends’ comments truly touched me. Some said it’s like you crouch just before you jump – and it’s a sign that I’d achieve great success. Other friend said she’s gone through the stagnant period many times before and it means I’m preparing for a big thing. My dear friend Etsuko, who has always been so supportive said that she admired my honesty. All these comments came from people I love, respect, and admire. I was extremely humbled and encouraged. And I learned a lesson. To be honest. To be seen.

That same night, I saw a video posted on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page. It was from a talk she did with her best friend and author Rayya Elias in Sydney. It was the best thing I saw that day.

Rayya is an author of Harley loco, a memoir from her days as drug addict. If you don’t have time to watch the entire talk, just make sure you watch Rayya reading her essay at the beginning, titled “A Letter to My Stumbling Block.”(4:20) It’s brilliant. It’s a letter to her voices in her head. It starts like this:

“Dear Head,
You used to be the worst neighborhood for me to hang out in, especially when I was alone. Being there with you was the scarier than walking down avenue D in 1980s by myself. It was scarier than being stalked by a serial killer, or cornered by a rapist. Being you, on my own head, meant I’d do anything to convince myself that I was a fucking reject, not worth the skin that I existed in.”

She also talks about the time when her sister came to rescue her from the tent city and takes her to a hotel. She runs a bath for her, orders room service, but Rayya ends up slipping out while the sister is sleeping, because “You told me that I was too fucked up and didn’t deserve what she was offering”

Eventuallly she got clean, and became a successful writer and musican. But she says her head still had negative voices to her.
“Why is it when I’m invited to events like this, at first I’m really excited, but then fear sets in. Then your dark voice starts to creep in like it did years ago. ‘Do I deserve to be here?'”

This was a good reminder. The negative voices in your head would probably never going to disappear. You know what I think? Here’s my theory. It’s not berating you because you are worthless. It just can’t stop itself, because it’s an asshole.

If you have time you should watch the whole video. Liz and Rayya talk about shame, truth (Another quote I loved from Rayya: “Truth has legs. It always stands.”), and creativety—“If you are not creating anything, you are probably destroying something. Usually yourself.” I love that.

We all have that negative voice in the head. You can’t numb it. You can’t really shut it up. But listening to Rayya’s story, I learned that important thing is to at least question it. Best of all, don’t believe it.

After I posted my “whining” on Facebook, several people commented they admired me being honest about how I felt.
This reminded me the vulnerability paradox by Brené Brown.
The vulnerability paradox: It’s the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I want you to see in me.

I think this problem is more widespread in Japan. I know some people would rather die than to show their vulnerability. I want to do something about that. My dream is to one day talk to all the people in Japan and encourage them to “be seen”. The first step was to write about it. So I did last night.

Baby steps.

PS: I’ve also written about courage and vulnerability here.

On Courage and Vulnerability

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Photo Credit: Jessica Lucia

I’ve been unsure of what to say about what I am currently going through.

It’s been a rough couple months. Financially, emotionally. If it’s just a financial struggle, it’s simple, but I also had some family problem which I am not going to share here, for privacy reasons.
I cry almost every day. Some days because I feel helpless, some days because I’m grateful. As I wrote recently, I pray every day, and almost every day I want to ask WHY all these things are happening to me.

Deep down, I know why. Because I need it. This is yet Another F$#*ing Growth Opportunity. I hate it. Then I think about Brene Brown’s TED talk. I hate things not going the way I want it to. I hate not able to do what I want to do. I hate not being in control.
But I’m old enough to know that there is no magic pill to make it all go away. All I can do is to put one foot in front of the other, and go through the Hell. Keep going. I know this is temporary. So let’s go through this.

Then I came to a point that I couldn’t do it alone any more. I needed some help. And it took me tremendous courage to speak up and admit that I needed help. (Note: and I’m overwhelmed with everyone’s support. Thank you.)

Recently, I read “Think Like A Freak” – the third book from Freakonomics guys. It was a fascinating book overall, just like the last 2 books by them, but one story stood out to me. In a soccer game, when you have to do a penalty kick, statistically, your best bet is to kick the ball right into the center of the net. The data prove the keeper stays in the middle only 2% of the time. But players rarely do that. Why?
Because you will look so bad if the keeper happens to catch it.
“What was he thinking?!” the crowd would say. “What a stupid move!”
The point of the story: People would do almost anything not to look bad.

And this is where vulnerability and courage comes in. As many people already know, everybody wants to look good. Especially on social media. We all know half the stuff we see on Facebook is not a true reflection of who they are. As C.C. Chapman said, if our first selfie attempt automatically got uploaded on the internet? Your stream will look very different. 🙂

Why is it so hard to be vulnerable? Because you are afraid you don’t look good anymore. You are afraid people might think you are weak. You are afraid people would judge you. But all the self-help books say, “Don’t worry! Be yourself! Be brave!”

Do you know how freaking hard it is?

I’ve had many conversations with close friends around this topic. One dear friend said that she remembered her mom was always worried about her losing face and it had made an impression on her. One friend said she wasn’t pushing her nonprofit project because she was afraid of failing. I, myself, almost found myself laughable – You’re so broke, and you’re still worried about looking cool? Stop being ridiculous, Yukari.

It was really, really hard for me to admit that I needed help. I felt embarrassed and felt like a failure. I still do. Then why do we share it?

Because many people are going through the similar things.
They need to see that they are not alone.
I had so many heartfelt conversations with friends reached out to me and said “Me too! I’m struggling…”

Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly is like my bible, but one of my favourite stories in the book, is the Marble Jar.
Brené’s daughter, Ellen’s teacher had a marble jar in the classroom. She had put some marbles in the jar at the begging of the school year. And she said if the class did something great, she’d add a marble. If the class misbehaves, she will take marbles out. When the marble jar gets full, they will celebrate with a party.
One day, Ellen had a little embarrasing incident and told some of her close friends about it. The sad thing is, the story spread out, and by the lunch time, all of the girls in her peer group knew her secret and were giving her a hard time. Obviously, she was devastated and the teacher took some of the marbles out of the jar that day.

It is a heartbreaking story from a parent’s point of view, and it is very tempting to feel “Fine! I will never share anything with them.” But I love the lesson from this story by Brené. She says,

I told Ellen to think about her friendship as marble jars. Whenever someone supports you, or is kind to you, or sticks up for you, or honors what you share with them as private, you put marbles in the jar.When people are mean, or disrespectful, or share your secrets, marbles come out.

Also, this.

Trust is built one marble at a time.

The chicken-or-the egg dilemma comes into play when we think about the investment and leap that people in the relationships have to make before the building process ever begins. The teacher didn’t say, “I’m not buying a jar and marbles until I know that the class can collectively make good choices.” The jar was there on the first day of school. In fact, by the end of the first day, she had already filled the bottom with a layer of marbles. The kids didn’t say, “We’re not going to make good choices because we don’t believe you‘ll put marbles in the jar.” They worked hard and enthusiastically engaged with the marble jar idea based on their teacher’s word.

In other word, you have to have the courage to be the first one to trust your friend and open up. I put marbles in my jar for you, for all of us.

This indeed had been a freaking growth opportunity, as I learned so, so much about pride, ego, courage, vulnerability, honesty, grace and kindness.

It’s okay to ask for help. And you are not a failure. Life is messy. Love it.

Goodbye 2013

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One more day in 2013 left. I’m grateful that I actually have the time to write this post before the year is over.
I have learned so much in 2013. Compared to 2012, which was a really difficult year (except for the fact that I got married), 2013 was a year of learning. Things were still hard most of the time, but better than 2012 and for that, I am grateful.

This year I traveled twice – to Japan (Okinawa, Tokyo and Tohoku area) and to Portland, Oregon. As usual, traveling and meeting people new and old always energizes me. Travelling makes me feel alive and it just is…exhilarating. In March, I traveled to Okinawa as one of the brand ambassadors of All Nippon Airways again, and I truly fell in love with Okinawa. I did my first-ever snorkelling with Neal (my fellow ambassador) near Taketomi island and it was such a fun experience. Taketomi is exceptionally breathtaking. I am definitely going back there with family.
Then we headed up north to Tohoku area to see Earthquake and Tsunami affected area. This also was an unforgettable trip in a quite different meaning. It was an emotional visit to say the least.

Then in July I went to Portland for WDS. Portland is beautiful, and I absorbed everything I could at WDS. WDS reaffirmed my tendency to “Go My Way”, which was reassuring. Made some great new friends there also.

Compared to the travel and fun filled first half of the year, last half of the year was a time for introspection. I had a very stressful, challenging time in the fall, the kind you’re so stressed out you cannot sleep. It was both work and personal matters. But I feel extremely grateful to have gone through the period as well, as I learned so much from this. Through this rough time, I came out with four key things for me to face the uncertainty and NOT to have those “So stressed out I cannot breathe” moments.

I love reading and I learn from reading. From Kamal Ravikant I learned to love myself, and my life improved greatly almost right away. I learned to embrace vulnerability from Brené Brown. James Altucher (I don’t know anybody else who writes like him) taught me to choose myself, and his wife Claudia taught me to do it my way. And last but not least, Steven Pressfield taught me to find my authentic swing(man, what an amazing book.)

It’s hard to explain exactly what happened, because it’s not just one thing. I came to a conclusion based on many different experiences I had during this time, and also from everything I’ve read. I found four keys to improve my life. If you are curious, ask me and I can tell you in person. (Okay, if you live too far away to meet you can always message me.) There were a lot of sleepless nights, but I’m happy to report that those days are behind me. Of course, this is not to say that I will never going to have any more challenges. What I know is that now I have a pretty good routine/practice/faith on how to handle uncertainty in case another stress or challenge comes my way – which I know, is inevitable.

As we say goodbye to 2013, I am grateful for the challenges it brought me. I am very excited for 2014. I have a very good idea of what I want to do and I am willing to do the work for it. I’ve also picked a keyword for 2014 and cannot wait to practice it.

And if you are reading this, there is a good chance that we know each other and I thank you for your presence in my life. Looking forward to connecting with you in 2014.