Monthly Archives: January 2014

“Dragonflies whisper”

imageFairly often, I am asked about my tattoo. It is not something that I put on display on a regular basis, especially while working in a professional setting. My tattoo is located behind my right ear and it large enough to be seen from quite a distance but it is private to me. I didn’t get the tattoo on a whim, I thought about it for two years before committing to the ink. It is a symbol of going through a very long hardship and coming out in a different place. In addition, I was being recruited for a new position in another financial services organization based in the same city that houses the headquarters for Smith and Wesson and the Basketball Hall of Fame. That would mean this Island Girl would be living across the country in Massachusetts. At the time, I didn’t even know how to spell “Massachusetts”. Dragonflies are a symbol of change and change is peeking over the horizon in my life.

2007: Interesting to me, I became fixated on dragonflies this summer, right about the time when I was ready to escape. Escape from the prison of lies that had consumed, enveloped and torn down my peace of mind. My body and brain existed in constant fear, fear for the safety of my daughter, fear for my own safety, fear of what this stranger in my home might do. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t release myself from high alert. Code red. The truth had begun to chip away at the bright and shiny exterior of bling and things and I realized that my gut instincts are always to be trusted. Why it took so long, I didn’t want to think on that. Forgiveness is in progress, my heart has locked itself back into stillness. Thankfully, I am starting to turn the key. Turn slowly, just as I should kiss slowly.

Beginning on my birthday in April, I saw dragonflies in my dreams, I noticed images of dragonflies in books and magazines and I often mistook images as being dragonflies. They had consumed my thoughts. Strange but true. Why dragonflies? I had no idea. Because really, they are just bugs. And I don’t so much dig on bugs.

In passing, I had mentioned this to my dear friend a few months ago and she recently hand-crafted me a gorgeous dragonfly necklace. It means so much to me that she took such time and care to design a gift so personal and meaningful and now, as I discover, so powerful.
It is said in some Native American beliefs that dragonflies are a symbol of renewal after a time of great hardship. Think about it, dragonflies are a symbol of renewal. Consider what they go through in terms of physical development…You see, the dragonfly is very similar to the butterfly in two respects: first, they both are flying insects with four wings, and secondly, they both go through a metamorphosis period to emerge as fully formed and functional new creatures. For the dragonfly, life starts out encased in an egg. These eggs are laid in water, and when the young dragonfly emerges, it is known as a nymph. These juvenile dragonflies are not nearly of the beauty or stature of their adult counterparts. In fact, they can be downright ugly. Their wings are tiny and their jaws are large and extended, to make it easier to find their favorite foods (like mosquito larvae). They can spend three years in the nymph stage, living in water, waiting to truly take form. The skin of the nymph begins to split, with the new head emerging from the ruins. The rest of it emerges, until finally free, its wings have a chance to dry and become strong enough to fly. The process takes about two hours. However, it won’t be fully complete for another day or two, when the beautiful colors begin to fully come in.

So there you have it, or there I have it. The dragonfly suffers through various stages of metamorphosis, some painful, some long and trying, before it can develop wings strong enough to fly. Only after it gains it’s strength does it fulfill is beauty. To quote india.arie (who wore butterfly wings the last time I saw her perform): “My body is nice and strong…But my heart is in a million pieces. When the sun is shining so am I…but when night falls, so do my tears…Sometimes the fear is so loud in my head…that I can barely hear what God says. Then I hear the angels whisper that this too shall pass.” Or in my case, the dragonflies whisper.

About the Dragonfly
The meaning of the dragonfly according to the medicine cards:
Dragonfly medicine always beckons you to seek out the parts of your habits which you need to change. […] If you feel the need for change, call on Dragonfly to guide you through the mists of illusion to the pathway of transformation.
Follow Dragonfly to the place inside your body where magic is still alive, and drink deeply of its power. […] This ability is ever changing, and contains within it the knowledge that you are creating it all.

“There is no death. Only a change of worlds.”
– Chief Seattle [Seatlh], Suquamish Chief-

The more that I learn about this small but very powerful creature, the more I understand that it is not only a testimony to beauty, but also to strength and more importantly, change.

Trust and Vulnerability are Contagious

So, we were talking about leadership and the concepts around being leaders inside our corporate environment today. Strong leaders tap into the strengths and skills of their team members. Exceptional leaders reach out to all team members to build bridges to enable everyone to grow existing skills or develop new ones. The ultimate goal is higher performance, for the company and for the individual, a win-win.

 One way to build bridges is to lay a foundation by sharing personal stories. The more a leader can offer of herself or himself, the more people will extend themselves back. Building a relationship means developing trust, which is an investment of time and energy. An authentic relationship also means showing a bit of vulnerability. It may appear to slow work down because resources are going towards the relationship rather than the task. However, that example of slowing down allows for a faster and more efficient work environment. People trust each other so they are more apt to volunteer information or just speak to one another which can speed the process of completing a project along faster. They are also willing to work harder and maybe longer because of that relationship and familiarity. Slowing down is an investment to allow everyone to speed up.

So this concept, I understand. I teach it to countless people at work. I live it. It is an integral element of a core value “kaizen” (continuous improvement.) Guess what I also uncovered today? In general, we spend more time with the people we work with than our own family, friends and loved ones. And if we are working under leadership principals and striving for higher performance, we probably exert a lot of energy. What happens when we leave the office?

 I believe, through my experience of coaching and teaching, that most people do not put the same amount of energy into their personal relationships. Most people get laziest with the people they care about the most. Making shortcuts when answering questions, taking for granted that our loved ones will be there when we need them, those are examples of what many people do. How can we manage our personal relationships in the same diligent manner as we do at work?

I don’t want to be in that place. I want to make certain that the people who I love and care about the most understand the truth. Even when I am tired, I can’t shut out the people who love me. This indicative of a person who is used to being there for everyone else, wanting to make everyone else’s life better but not relying on others for support.   Yep, that is the INFJ/”Counselor-Idealist” in me – private to the nth degree about what I am thinking and feeling.  Sometimes I need to pick up the phone, regardless of whose number pops up on caller id. At times I need to take two minutes out to tell someone that I care about them.  Social psychologists know that adults need to hear their first names, they crave feedback and positive reinforcement, as much as children do.   Adults who I personally cherish and value as being a part of my life deserve to hear that truth.

Actually, I have been doing better with staying connected with my friends, near and far. But there will be times when I need to play hooky from karate or paddling or hula to spend quality time with a person who makes me smile.  I need that quality time, breathing air together, in the same zip code, live and in person.   I don’t want to be lazy in my personal relationships, regardless of how hard I am working in my professional life. Nor do I want to forget about taking care of myself. I realized this past summer that I had not been keeping this equation in balance. And by spending too much time in two or three areas of my life, I have neglected my heart and allowed my soul to whither. As I mentioned before, an authentic relationship also means showing a bit of vulnerability. That scares me. Nay, terrifies me. But I see that losing the trust of a friend or taking a relationship for granted is an almost impossible bridge to rebuild.  So the reward far outweighs the risk. 

 Love is not a finite emotion. It is like a single flame, burning from a sweetly scented candle. When you touch another person, you ignite a new flame. What is the result? The room is brighter and there is more heat, not less. So no one loses, it is a win-win. Who wouldn’t want to catch that?

Sometimes Grown-ups Just Need to Break-up

Since announcing my divorce after a very brief marriage, my friends are offering me tips regarding the new on-line dating apps and such.  Interestingly enough, the last few months have brought incredible new people into my life.  The formula has been:  social media like Twitter or Facebook plus New Media Expo or The Walking Dead or paddling or the SF 49ers equals new friends and possibly the potential for more.  For now, I will abstain from on-line dating and continue to live life all in.  I wrote the blog that I am posting today after a “break-up” and was inspired by a similarly themed “This American Life” podcast.  This post made me realize how emotionally deficient my marriage was, as I am not driven to write a blog to process or mourn the end of it.  That is perhaps the sadder than the divorce itself.

The theme for the “This American Life” podcast I selected to take my beach run by this morning was entitled “Break-up.” Now, it has been quite some time since I have broken up with someone since it has been a long time since I have been in a real relationship. Dating isn’t the same, right? It is pretty easy to tell when it is time to stop dating and that conversation is usually fairly simple and low drama.

This “TAL” podcast was a grand illustration of how universal the “break-up” is, it crosses all ages, all cultures, all time zones, everyone has felt those emotions, some may have felt it more than once, some may still be suffering from that heartache.

One vignette features a woman who describes how integral music, especially love songs, was to her relationship in the happiest of times and how Phil Collins songs were featured. She went on to describe how after the surprise break-up, music then became her sanctuary, wallowing in the pain, alone with her misery, cell phone turned off, just feeling the pain. And she brought up this song, “Against All Odds”. The lyrics hit me.

In the middle of the podcast, she connects with Phil Collins, voice-to-voice, and decides to solicit his help in writing a song as her therapy. Partially in hope of getting her ex-boyfriend back and also to heal the pain she was feeling. Phil Collins is so clever and was so generous in describing his recent divorce, finalized on his birthday no less, that he didn’t want. Ouch. I suppose even stars experience authentic heartache. Even stars like Phil Collins.

After my run, I showered, and kept pondering the concept of “heartache” and wondering why, as my dear friend Preston says, love is so complicated. Then I drove to pick Baby K up from her dad. He said he needed to talk to me for a few minutes and it was pretty important. Now, he and I are very civil in front of Baby K but we sure don’t chit chat or do more than exchange pleasantries, so I knew this talk was going to be something serious. Turns out, he is going to move out from his house and wants to divorce his wife. So we, as responsible co-parents, need to figure out how to break it to Baby K as she will more than likely be devastated. I really like that she sees and experiences a married household, with step-siblings, when she is with her dad. But now, she is going to feel the pain of her own break-up, who knows what sort of contact she will have with her step brothers or step sister or step mom for that matter. Damn. Why does love have to be so complicated with these blended families?  Now I need to figure out how to support my daughter as she loses people who she loves. And the worst part is, I hardly know her step family, so I feel a bit lost. All I can do is love my daughter and reassure her that the divorce isn’t at all her fault. Sometimes grown-ups just need to break-up.

For me, I suppose I have realized that loving someone is truly distinct from being in love with that person. And distance doesn’t make the heart grow fond, it makes trying to develop an authentic romantic relationship impossible. No break-up for us. Just confessions of mutual admiration, respect, appreciation, gratitude, impact, and much to my surprise, love.  Our “relationship” spanned less than a year, yet, we were able to share so much about all aspects of our lives – career, family, spirituality, music, art, parenting, even politics and social issues, we were a good balance to one another. I shared the sentiment written right in the song that “you’re the only one who really knows me at all”, maybe vice versa as well. Couple that with the lack of capacity for more of an emotional connection, that, my friends, equals one option, the opportunity for Pi’i to open the door, pick up the phone and say “yes” to dating someone else. We agreed that capacity is what capacity is, there is no option to buy an external hard drive, or move one of our families out of their home state, or add more hours to our already full and demanding days. I faced the reality and I want a relationship, I want a boyfriend and he isn’t capable of being my boyfriend right now.

How can you just walk away from me,

when all I can do is watch you leave

Cos we’ve shared the laughter and the pain,

and even shared the tears

You’re the only one who really knew me at all

2014 Lunar New Year – DiversityNerd

Thinking about my childhood, I have fond memories of making decorations in my elementary school classroom in January/February.  The smell of tempera paint and stick glue (was it really made out of horses?) still fills my nostrils when I think back to those days.  We would paint signs with “Gung Hay Fat Choy” in large red letters, complete with dragons and firecrackers and cute drawings of the current Chinese Zodiac animal.  Now that I think about, maybe things were a little stereotypical and definitely over-simplified for my non-Asian peers to understand these customs.  However, the handful of Asian kids in my school and I really enjoyed the holiday.  We always went to a parade.  I remember red envelops with coins or cash tucked inside given to us at my friends’ homes and that money was always given out in even dollar increments.  So, at a minimum, we made off with $2.00, which was an absolute fortune to a seven year old.  I couldn’t wait to walk home from school and stop at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital cafeteria for a chocolate milkshake with extra whipped cream or caramel sundae with chopped almonds, not peanuts.

This isn’t to say that my parents and I celebrated Lunar New Year.  They are Filipino immigrants and I was raised Catholic.  But without anyone telling me, it was quite obvious that I was more like the other Asian kids than I was like the other students at Monterey Park Elementary School.  And we were truly a minority, I could count the number of non-white students in each of my classes on one hand.  The Asian kids were all second generation or brand new immigrants.  Most of our families came to the U.S. to pursue higher education and some left to escape war-torn countries and oppression.  Either way, we were all growing up with parents who were bilingual and grand-parents who may or may not have spoken English.  We were stuck between becoming Americanized and acculturated or hanging on to the family/cultural traditions, victims to incessant teasing by our white friends. “Chinese, Japanese, Dirty Knees, Look at these!”

But back to Lunar New Year…

2014 Lunar New Year is on January 31, 2014.  Lunar New Year Day is the first day of the first lunar month of Lunar Calendar

To truly welcome Lunar New Year, some people follow the tradition to open every door and window at midnight.  Not sure I will ever do that, even if I’m wearing my hot pink snuggly Hello Kitty fleece PJs.  But the idea is to let go of last year and let good fortune flood into your home.

My mom said that to welcome in the New Year, grandma always bought a new sack of rice before New Year’s Eve to signal the continued abundance of food for our family.  Grandma also used to hit all the pots at midnight.  Filipinos believe in making a lot of noise to scare off the evil spirits.  But my favorite story was hearing that my grandpa would light firecrackers inside the house, at the same time.  Close your eyes and picture that scene and the racket, just smell the flash powder.  And my mom added, “Can you imagine how dangerous that was?  We survived, though.”  Yes, you sure did survive and I love the stories you have to share because of it.

This year is the Year of the Horse.  Susan Levitt gave this quick summary on-line:  “The Wood Horse year is a time of fast victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance. It is an excellent year for travel, and the more far away and off the beaten path the better. Energy is high and production is rewarded. Decisive action, not procrastination, brings victory. But you have to act fast in a Horse year. If you are not 100% secure about a decision, then don’t do it. Events move so quickly in a Horse year that you don’t want to gallop off in the wrong direction.”

On New Year’s Day, look forward, not backward, as this is not a time to even talk about the past.  Keep positive thoughts in your mind about the future.  This year, give love.  Remember karma?  Well, the Horse can be impulsive, “act now and think later”.  Be sure to radiate positive energy so impulsive actions won’t bite you in the ass.  Don’t be a douche, be good to others, give more than you take and do it all with love.

New Year’s is a time for new beginnings and endless possibilities, just as my new blog is a vehicle to record the endless thoughts, feelings and emotions that run through my head.  If you’ve read this far, mahalo nui loa/salamat po (thank you very much) for hanging in with me, I really appreciate it.   There will always be a message about Diversity and Inclusion, as my career is truly a part of who I am.  In addition, I nerd out about things like “Star Wars”, “The Walking Dead”, “Downton Abbey”, “Scandal”, “24” (can’t wait for the re-boot) and “Elementary”.  My daughter turns 16 this month and her high school experience an endless source of material to write about.  I’m waiting for the ink to dry on my divorce papers so a story or two about me dating is a definite possibility in 2014.  And, I stay active with fun things like paddling outrigger canoes, dancing hula, wogging half marathons and occasionally kicking and punching at the dojo.  On some days, this blog will be a mindless string of run-on thoughts and other days, I will say something profound and prolific.  The only thing I can promise is that it will be my truth, the truth of Jennifer “Jae” Pi’ilani, a DiversityNerd.