The Better Person

Philosophically it can be argued whether a person has a choice, whether life is predetermined or open for chances, environment and actions to shape it. Are we born to a certain role and personality, and how much is in our power to change our destiny, choose our own being and course of life?

Based on my life experiences and observations, many people seem more or less fixed in their beings, in their path in life. Many will fight for a better career development, aim at improved lifestyles, but it’s much rarer to see true willingness to improve oneself. That would require admitting that one is not the best self that one can be, that there is room for improvement. We develop our thinking, our skills and capacities, but less so our true being.

Having struggled with self-esteem issues most of my life, I’ve covered up my weakness by playing tough, by not allowing my hurts to show. That wall has also altered my behavior, and much to a direction away from the best me. I have allowed my fears to control my behavior. I haven’t trusted myself to be who I could be and who I would want to be.

In my grown-up years I have worked on my insecurities a lot, including admitting them out a loud, taking down the protective wall and letting my hurts and weaknesses show. I have intentionally focused on the good on me, trying to control the destructive tendencies, keeping at bay the negative by giving space for the positive.

The change comes from inside but outside forces and other people have played strong supporting roles. Becoming an aunt made me want to be worthy of my sweet niece, her adoration and to be able to be the best aunt possible. I want her to experience and sense the good in me; not flawless, but genuine.

Falling in love brought another change in me. Being loved, and being in love, has given me strength to be a better person. It has made it easier for me to be a better person, truth be told. Feeling relaxed, at ease, in peace with myself.

I believe people can impact who they are, how they are and become a better person at that. We can choose which sides, which traits in ourselves to develop and let them flourish. We can acknowledge the less desired traits and aim to improve them whilst focusing on nurturing and showing the good in us. It is a choice to take matters into our own hands, not give in to the external circumstances or let other people or the past to define us. I’m determined to be in charge of myself, of who I am and who I wish to be. In good and bad, I am me and I am in charge of who that me is. I want that me to be the best me I can be.

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Meaningful Death

Death is something most people don’t like to or want to think about, until forced to. But we should. Not about dying itself, but about it being inevitable and to be prepared for it once the time comes – along with the loved ones.

Today my father brought this topic up in a conversation with my brother and I. He’s 70 years old, and although completely healthy and fit, is realistic about having most of his years behind him. He wanted to discuss a topic of importance to him, that’s what happens to his body after he’s gone. He’s done some extensive research on how to donate his body to science and medical research, as he wants to not just donate all organs that might be possible but to offer his dead body for medical students’ practicing. He had read in a newspaper how most medical students never see a dead body during their studies, as there just aren’t many donated for that kind of medical training – purposes.

Many years back I’ve already done an organ donor – testament and also mentioned to my family I’d prefer after my death that my body be fully utilised in which ever way possible. For me, my body is not me, and once I have no more need for it, I’d rather give it for meaningful use. I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to help, even with death. When it’s my time to go, I could still be able to do some good; by donating organs, and giving medical students a chance to practice on a real body.

I was pleased my father had thought this through for himself and that he wanted me and my brother to be on the same page and accept it. I believe it will also be a comforting thought at a time of grievance, to know that other people are getting help through our loss. That’s the kind of death I want for myself one day as well. Death won’t feel so useless, and a complete end, when new life might come out of it.

It’s interesting though how difficult it is to donate your body for medical research. My father has made some 15 phone calls and still doesn’t have all the answers and proper paper work done, to guarantee authorities are aware of his decision and will and how it shall be organised when the time comes. It does provide quite a bit of bureaucracy to go through, and surely is better to be dealt with now and not at the moment of loss and grievance. Most people won’t be bothered to be proactive in planning how their eventual death could be made beneficial as well, so societies and especially university hospitals could and should be more active on raising this topic.

Our bodies are not us and we won’t have any need for the body once it stops living. Why not end our lives with a one last good action, then?

My godmother writes a Christmas letter every year, reflecting on the past year and thanking for having been part of it. In her letter this year, she used a great quote – “One day we all will die. But on every other day we will not.” The focus should be on all those days when we don’t die. Still, it’s good to be prepared and make sure our death won’t go to waste, either.

 

Role modeling

I had a business lunch today which quickly became a friendly chat over all things possible in the world. What a fascinating woman I had the pleasure of dining with! Covering communications for a huge, reputable multinational company, for Asia and Middle East (not a tiny market, and not an easy one to manage as a woman), being a mom and wife, I’m at awe of all of her achievements. They’re not unheard of, and I’m always proud and pleased when I meet such people – women, who are letting no glass-ceilings get on their way, women who won’t allow themselves to be “boxed” but do what feels right for them. Like work with middle eastern men on renewable energy projects.

She told me she’s writing a blog about being an expat, a working mother, a woman of Asian heritage but with no single identity. There are so many stereotypes to fight in that combination and so many struggles to make it all work. Yet, from her you’d hear no complaints, just challenges to find solutions for. And appraisal to her own mother, who managed a demanding job while bringing up 4 kids, not “just” 2 as her.

Mothers. I’m not one but I have one, and she’s been my inspiration and role model always too. I have the highest appreciation and respect to my mom, in addition to the bottomless love. Fighting her rheumatism, she showed nothing but love and tender to me and my brother, and managed to not just work and build a great career but also continuously study and do volunteer work. Mothers – where on earth do these people get their energy and determination?

Political opinions aside, another excellent woman role model has just made history, strongly on her way of becoming the first even woman to be nominated a candidate for US presidency. No matter what you think of Hillary Clinton’s politics and views, she’s shown that every girl has a fighting chance. Women can achieve anything, the world is not for men to dominate. Women like her are paving the way for the rest of us, for generations to come. Proving, that there are no men’s only – jobs. It’s up to us. Do we have to fight harder than men to get to where we want? Yep, unfortunately often that’s the case. But can we get to where we want? Yes, we can. My mom, my business partner, Hillary and countless other women – they are all proving this to be true.

It’s extremely valuable to have role models in our lives, near and far. Parents in best cases serve as such, as do teachers, colleagues, friends and others close to us. Celebrities, business leaders, NGO advocates, smallholders and others who we might not be acquainted with but who provide inspiration to us add to that. We should all have a collection of role models in our lives, from whom to derive energy, inspiration and amusement from. Our role models don’t define our lives but they can help shape the pathway. They can remind us to realize our potential and fulfill our dreams. To be the best we can be.

Growing older, happily

Thanks to Facebook, it’s easy to keep track of friends’ birthdays. It’s also possible to follow people’s own reactions to their birthdays, age and how they perceive growing older.

It’s quite interesting how many of my friends, in their thank you for the birthday greetings – posts, “joke” about turning 21 again. That’s seems to be a magical year, – the new sweet sixteen in a way. The younger friends of mine are now getting towards their 30th, which is another turning point in the lives of so many. Feared one, mostly.

Why is it so difficult for people to feel content with their age and not dream of being “young” again? Do people really have such golden memories from their teen years or early twenties, that it’s worth looking back in awe and wishing to get back to it? And is all that looking back or fear of growing old holding people back from enjoying their current state in life and getting excited about the future? Or is it just fear of getting older, or life being over, of best times having gone past? Fear of losing looks, or having to fit into certain age norms and behaviour?

In addition to the life experiences, education, likely higher level of “wealth” etc, most people I know, look better in their 30s and 40s than they did in their teens. The maturity, life experiences, confidence in oneself, improve the appearance of a person. Sure it’s a matter of taste, and this is mine. To me it’s very attractive to be able to see a person has lived their life. Teen looks are not interesting to me. Teens are still looking to define who they are, who they want to be – as it should be – and hence lacking the depth which raises my curiosity and interest on the person.

I wouldn’t want to be 21 again, and by no means do I want to get back to my teen years. Not even if I were allowed to keep the wisdom and “wealth” I’ve since gained. I appreciate and value years – the experiences, maturity, changes they bring along. I’m turning 35 this year which I find amazing – a great age, at which I feel young and mature at the same time. I have lived through many different phases in life and the many ups and downs have helped me get to where I am now, and who I am now. The years, and the whole growing up process, has also made me confident that the future has always something more, something interesting and exciting to offer.

I’m keen to get older, as I feel the future has so much to offer. I’m even more keen to live my life in the moment, appreciating the long way I’ve come to get to today,  tightly holding on to the great memories and trying to derive learning experiences out of the less pleasant times. 16 and 21 offered some great times to me but I would not go back even if it was possible. I am looking forward to my 35th though, as I’m interested in knowing what that year will bring along with it.

Fun never needs to be over – the great thing is that growing older, earning an income, being independent, allows for many more opportunities for realizing our dreams. Past is past, enjoying the moment, I’m looking forward to the future. Cheers, to the good old times and cheers, to the good times to come!

Small World. Really Small.

Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.” That’s the wikipedia-introduction to the proven concept of our known world being a damn small place.

Tonight I went to a hot yoga class after work, and decided to take the mrt home. Still sweating, and mentally exhausted after a long day at work filled with meetings after meetings, I glimpsed a guy in the same cart as me, who looked familiar. That I “see” old friends and acquaintances in random places is nothing new. I’ve explained it to myself being a cause of me having moved so often, not feeling rooted anywhere, always making new friends but not having anyone around for a very long time.

This time, I thought it was just my exhaustion from work and yoga. But the guy looked so very much like an old friend from my younger years…at home I did what is done nowadays. Looked him up in Facebook. He wasn’t among my friends – that’s how long it has been since we’ve last been connected. I sent him a friend request with the very random message of asking if it could have been possible to just have seen him in a mrt in Singapore, against all odds. And true it was. It wasn’t the sweat dropping to my eyes or my tired brain playing tricks this time.

It’s a small world. This is but one reminder. Typically what happens is I meet people with whom we have odd common friends with or have happened to live in another country at the same time. When I was living in Berlin, I got in touch with an old friend from Texas – who was living in Leipzig, and had been living there already at the same time as me before. We had quite likely spent time in same bars and perhaps our paths had crossed in the university, but never recognized each other. In Thailand, a friend from Germany run into me in one of my favorite bars. Recently on my weekend trip to Bangkok I pumped into 2 of my close friends from HCMC – at 1 am on a side soi to Sukhumvit, on my way from a bar to the hotel. A colleague from Thailand, later moved to Egypt and became colleagues with an ex-colleague of mine from Berlin.

World has become very small. Thanks to Facebook especially, it’s easier than ever to track connections as well. When making a new friend, it’s fun to check through if we have any random mutual friends. Quite commonly there are – which wouldn’t be odd between 2 people who have been living in the same neighborhood for long times. But in my life, where neighborhoods keep changing at a speed that even good friends struggle to remember in which country I live in, it is. Odd, random and fun.

I do believe in the six degrees of separation theory – not just because it’s been scientifically proven but because I’m living that theory. My life is filled with random encounters with strangers whom I have friends or old homes in common with and even more random reunions with old friends. Too bad I didn’t react to recognizing the guy in the mrt faster, but at least we ended up re-connecting in Facebook and had a good chat. Fortunately I did not have my eyes focused on my iphone as pretty much everyone else in the mrt, but had my eyes up. A good reminder how our real lives are happening not on the screens of the smartphones but around us. Better keep the eyes open, never know who you might see or meet!

Being Spontaneous

“I love how spontaneous you are” said a friend of mine yesterday, after I had agreed to our dinner with a day’s notice. Another friend from Bangkok was pleased that I had for once planned my trip with some lead time –  booking the tickets a full week in advance. My parents get anxious as every year I keep postponing my flight tickets to Finland until month or two prior the trip – their trips get fully booked and planned at least half a year in advance (actually that would be considered spontaneous for them!)

Spontaneous. Yes, I would consider myself spontaneous – being capable of it, enjoying and cherishing it. But “being spontaneous” obviously means very different things for many, reflecting a variety of time spans and level of planning.

To me, I felt well planned with my weekend get-a-way to Bangkok being booked nearly a week in advance and extremely planned as I confirmed my Finland-holiday more than 2 months prior the travel dates. Equally, I thought making dinner plans for the next day was definitely planning, not being spontaneous. In the everyday living, spontaneity to me means living in the spur of the moment. Hopping out of the bus at an unplanned stop just to explore an interesting sight that caught my attention. Getting a new haircut in a place I happen to be strolling by. Skipping a training to have an ad hoc date with a friend.

I’ve made many spontaneous trips as well, hopping on a plane in a day’s notice or event less. Many of my moves have been rather spontaneous as well – I moved to Singapore with roughly 2 weeks prep time, to Vietnam 3 weeks after having accepted a job offer, but that time included a first work trip to Cambodia and a very spontaneous 2 week holiday in Finland. That was a move I could call stressful, as I actually ended up having less than 24 hours altogether for packing up, saying goodbyes etc. My first move to Asia was quite spontaneous as well, with 3 weeks lead time but including a move out of Berlin and holiday and work related training in Finland.

It could be said, I’m not much of a planner – in my free time. Although I don’t mind doing spontaneous work tasks and meetings, at work I give high value for advanced planning and being organized. I’m absolutely always on time for any meeting and I list my daily, weekly and monthly priorities to stay focused and planned. Perhaps, because of this need for efficiency at work, I like to keep my private life unplanned-for. It’s the part of my life that doesn’t require planning, schedules or efficiency. I’m never stressed with tight schedules at work but even a specific time for sports training can get me agitated in my leisure time. It’s an interesting balance that nourishes both of my sides – the organized and efficient, and the “free as a bird”.

As one might suspect, these blog texts are written quite spontaneously as well. A topic pops up in my mind and gets written out here. Now, having satisfied this spontaneous text about my spontaneously-balanced lifestyle, it’s time to respect the schedules again and head to my favorite yoga class to practice standing on my head. That’s unbalancing enough for tonight!

Home Everywhere, Anywhere. Or Nowhere

Popping in to Bangkok for a weekend, one of my favorite homes, reminded me of an earlier blog text I wrote about my feelings about belonging everywhere and nowhere. What does a “home” mean? I’m still facing these same questions, but am even more confident now that I can and shall define my own identity. I make my life, I live my life. I define who I am and where my home is – or more like, where my homes are. For there are many places I feel at home.

The below text was posted in 2014 in my previous blog site, at a time when my physical home was in the beloved city of Ho Chi Minh. It remains on the list of homes – where I feel at home.

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Recently I read a very interesting and well written article on an expat’s life and how complicated it is to explain and understand a concept of feeling at home.

It’s not easy explaining the different aspects of an expat’s life – not always even to fellow expats but especially not to those staying at “home”. I’ve noticed, that outsiders always seem to consider Finland as my home. Are you going home for Christmas? Are you thinking of moving back home someday?

Finland is the country I was born in and grew up in. It’s the country where my parents, brother and other relatives live. It’s the country of my passport. But is it my home?

What is a concept of home, even? Wikipedia defines it as a dwelling-place, used as a permanent or semi-permanent residence. In that sense Finland isn’t my home, or my home is not in Finland. On the other hand, I believe a home is more than just a residence, a place close to one’s heart.

Here’s the thing. Finland is close to my heart and it’s a very special country to me. But I don’t feel at home in Finland. In honest, I feel more uncomfortable in Finland than elsewhere in the world. It’s not because of Finland. It’s because I’m supposed to belong but I don’t feel like I do. It’s the only place in the world where I should feel rooted in, where I should feel like I’m one of the many sames. I look like everyone else, I speak the same language, I know the customs and share the cultural heritage. But I don’t feel I belong – I don’t feel “us”, I see “them”.

Finland is the only place where I should fit it, where I’m expected to fit in. That’s what makes me uncomfortable because there is no reason for me feeling that I don’t. Anywhere else I can feel free and comfortable, because I don’t need to pretend I belong or fit in. I don’t naturally do.

The writer of the article defined perfectly how “the beauty of nomadic life is that you are detached from the flaws of the surrounding society while you soak up the best it has to offer”. Because we don’t quite belong, we don’t have the same constraints as the locals do. We are not bound by the same expectations.

For me living abroad is liberating. I’m more free to just be me. I have an excuse for being different, acting weirdly, not liking something or getting ridiculously excited about other stuff. I’m a foreigner, I am allowed to look at things from a different perspective. Living in developing countries is also a good eye opener. Makes one appreciate the own comforts and possibilities even more.

Years in developing countries have in fact made me more intolerant towards the petty complaints in the more developed countries, such as Finland. In the newspaper today I read Finnish soldiers who had returned from Afghanistan describing this. How they can’t cope with their kids misbehaving or people complaining about little things. They had seen real suffering, lived in real dangers. They can’t relate to Finnish people’s troubles.

I haven’t experienced war, but I’ve seen real poverty. People who truly are homeless and have little or no means to get their daily rice. Others who get by but barely. Poor people in rich countries like Finland might lack the means to live well. Poor people in poor countries lack the means to live at all. No offense, not meaning to hurt anyone’s feelings. Everyone is entitled to complain about their sufferings and to want for more and better. I’m just saying that I struggle relating to such problems, especially when complaints are aimed at government not doing enough for their citizens. But that’s another story all together.

In the developing countries, I don’t belong and I definitely don’t share their daily struggles. I can’t relate to their suffering as I never have and likely never will be in same desperate situation. But in Finland, I also don’t feel I relate to that life and the locals’ daily struggles. I feel an outsider. I observe, I see and I hear, but I don’t quite understand.

Maybe it’s just me. I have always felt a sense of not-quite-belonging. Maybe I’ve become a world-wanderer because that is just who I am. I don’t belong anywhere so I can be at home anywhere. Everywhere and nowhere – that’s where I belong. I belong to my life.