I am grateful, now fuck off.

Empathy over advice.

Mama Said

It was some time between midnight and 3am. I was dead asleep. I’d fed the littliest at midnight so it was after that, and it was before he woke up for a feed at 3am. This hardly matters, because that time of night is Hell unless you’re pashing, happy drunk, smoking in a bar, dancing, or on drugs – y’know, generally having a fulfilling life that doesn’t involve milk dripping out of your breasts or playing the fart or shit game. So, I’m asleep and I feel this tiny hand on my face and then there’s a kiss on my forehead. And for a second I’m confused like – did the tiny one do that? He’s only four-weeks-old? Is he a mutant? That would be amazing. And then I realise it’s my big baby and I pull him into my arms while still asleep and think “oh he’s delicious”. But…

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I shouldn’t be here…

It’s all so completely arbitrary – who, how, where, and what I am.

When I start to think of all the things– the chance, the luck, the chaos, the opportunities, and missed connections – that have brought me to here and now… well by all accounts, I shouldn’t be here.

Not to say that I am a complete puppet in all of this. I have done. Acted. Created. Impacted. I have made certain things happen based on where I find myself, taking ownership and interacting in my own unique way.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things – in the sheer mind-boggling magnitude of the series of systems and events that culminated in life as I know it?* I’ve had a pretty miniscule amount of control, let’s be honest.

     •   •   •

I want to do everything remembering that I am entitled to nothing.

I’ve found acknowledging my lack of control to be really powerful. (When it’s not overwhelming… practice makes that a bit better, each time.) I feel like living in graceful humility, without losing my agency, will be my life’s work.

Understanding context and being grateful-out-loud helps. Because honestly, everything is a privilege; a fascinating happenstance. I’m sometimes dumbfounded just thinking about it.** I shouldn’t be here…

But I am. And so, I’m determined to work and play and breathe and be in a way that merits the incredible mix of randomness that’s formed this life I’m living.

~ H

* Nationality. History. Policy. Economy. Freedom. Citizenship. Rights. Gender. Home. Family. Influencers. (…)
And I’m only thinking back in a very limited scope – just one generation, and parents’ immediately personal histories.

• Q & A with Malcolm Gladwell about Outliers
Bah, Humblebrag – New York Times

a gentle note to self.

Comparison is constructed. There is no better than. No ‘above’. No ‘below’. There are simply different stages. Live in them fully. Move through them completely. there are lessons to be learned here.

Remember that one way or another, we are all struggling. Every single one of us. Fighting our silent battles, weary, resting, gathering strength. Trying again. Always trying again.

courage. compassion.

Practice these two things. First and foremost, towards yourself. Remember that there is no perfect. Perfect is a myth. Practice will lead to more practice; a stronger process. It will get easier and it will get more difficult, all at the same time. keep. practicing.

Remember that outlook and attitude are what determine the experience. Challenges are guaranteed; suffering is optional. Carpe the eff out of the diem, regardless of how outwardly banal. Living fully in the everyday is the ultimate challenge. Revel in it. banality is a state of mind.

Don’t doubt yourself quite so much. Choices made from the very core of you will not ever be ‘wrong’. Stand by your decisions. have courage.

You will never be rid of fear. Fear is a reminder that you’re alive; use it. The point is not to be fearless. The point is to feel fear and do it anyway. You can do fearless, without being fearless. do fearless.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Your story is your own, battles and all. Replace comparison with compassion.

be hopeful.

‘Unconventional’ – it’s not pretty, and it works. Start now.

Living, working, being ‘unconventional’.

It’s definitely not safe. It will necessarily be polarizing, and can seem like utter madness.

It is not ‘normal’.

Yet if we take the leap, take it with heart and from a place of respect and curiosity, of service and dignity onto others – remarkable things can happen.


(Image source: Steal Like An Artist.)

This requires us to divorce ourselves from an overwhelming need to be liked. It pushes us toward being OK with living in a certain degree of uncertainty and doubt. It flirts with the possibility of hitting rock bottom.

It demands that we stop making excuses and start owning that what we have right now is enough to start.

•  •  •

We were lucky to have Mark Brand speak his story at TEDxVancouver 2012 in October. Having lived quite the eclectic story growing up, Mark brought his fire to Vancouver in 2006, and pours everything he’s got into his now soul-home(s) in Gastown.  I actually only watched his talk for the first time last week. (Funny how leading the action Front Of House and being so close to the event actually led to my missing out on the very talks that TEDx is all about… But I digress. That’s what labors of love are – sacrifice in service sometimes comes with the territory).

Make 17 minutes in your day to watch & listen to Mark’s thoughts and words on “The Impact of an Unconventional Solution”. Listen to what a story of user-centric design and ‘living your work’ can looks like. Listen for the difference dignity makes. Listen to the full story – not just the ‘highlight reel’. Listen for the real.

There is nothing more invigorating than understanding how flawed you are, and still believing that you can do good. – M Brand

•  •  •

If the incredible souls mentioned in Mark’s talk can do what they do, you can sure as hell do what you’re yearning for.

The question is not whether it will be easy. (It won’t be). The question is: is it worth it? If your answer is “yes!” then I say – whatever that leap looks like for you – do it.

Leap, already.

~ H

One absurd practice we could all question…

As I see it, the sentiment is quite widespread.

• Offered to someone starting a new chapter, whether it’s a new year of life (hello, birthdays!) or an exciting travel adventure.
• Thought by many a well-intentioned parent, guardian, and friend.
• Hand-written in cards and notes of all sorts.

I feel like it either (a) comes from a good place or (b) is expressed ‘just because’ – it’s socially acceptable, essentially expected at times.

Either way, I propose we all immediately put an end to this ‘polite practice’ of wishing one another “nothing but the best“.

"I wish nothing but the best for you."

Sounds good, right? (Source.)

Why?! It seems appropriate. Kind. Certainly polite. Generous, even.

Yet having and living “nothing but the best” robs us of context – without which we cannot really truly understand, cannot grasp reality, and cannot truly empathize. A life without context is absurd, to me.

Life without context is living in blindness, ‘blissfully’ unaware. If “the best” is all we know, then our perspectives are uni-dimensional, inexperienced, untethered, out-of-touch, unintentionally ignorant… Frankly, I think these skewed perspectives are an insidious danger, to both ourselves and for those around us.

So instead, I propose we all do one another (and ourselves) a favor and take to the habit of wishing one another “enough“.

•  •  •

“(This is) a wish that has been handed down for generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.” (…)

“When we said ‘I wish you enough’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them”.

“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.”

(Modified and abridged from this post.*)

•  •  •

“Enough” reflects reality. “Enough” gives us a well-rounded perspective, encompasses a spectrum, keeps us in check. “Enough” helps bring us to what I consider an ‘ideal state’: head in the clouds & feet on the ground.

Otherwise, we human beings have this pesky tendency to habituate, to compare up, to take things for granted, and fall into the bottomless pit of entitlement. ‘Nothing but the best’ can (and does, as I’ve seen it) spoil us.

Seems like sound advice. (Source.)

Seems like sound advice. (Source.)

So I leave you with “enough”, as a suggestion. Wish yourself enough instead of ‘the best’. Wish enough onto others. Swap out the vocab – swap out the sentiment – and see where it leads.

~ H

What do you think? Is moving towards wishing for ‘enough’ something that you agree with, or is this all crazy-talk? Do you see any applications in your experience? Any ‘exceptions to the rule’?

Ivan Illich – To Hell With Good Intentions
Nurture vs. coddling – on a.musing.
How to make everyday great

~ ~ ~

* In curating my inputs over time, I’ve amassed quite a few online resources that inspire me to spontaneously reflect, question, rethink, pause, innovate and integrate. I’ve designed these habit triggers into my everyday, via all my social media channels. My Twitter feed, Facebook news feed, Instagram roll, Tumblr dashboard… each constantly delivers value and interesting content whenever I log on — it’s a cross-pollination haven. I have The Idealist on Facebook to thank for the discovery of this little tidbit.

5 simple steps to: push uncomfortable, make a connection, and grow empathy.

Intentionally or not, we rob ourselves when we overlook the challenges others face in those situations that we find ourselves breezing through. As a complex and incomprehensibly diverse society, growing ever more connected, this is a consistent issue that none of us can afford to ignore.

The solution? Empathy, of course!


Empathy: give me a dose of that. (Source.)

Cultivate empathy. Ok. Got it.

… How?

Here’s an everyday exercise, in five simple steps.* Feel free to put this into action immediately. 

Inadvertently invite a conversation for which you are not equipped. 
Prerequisite: Barely know the language.
Bonus points: If your appearance / position makes it an “obvious” assumption that you would be fluent in said language.

Search for words and terms. Be at a loss. Apologize. Smile lots. Feel awkward.

How frustrating it can be to truly represent yourself & communicate in a foreign language. Know in your heart of hearts that you know so much more than what you’re able to articulate.

That people ‘get’ and appreciate that you’re not some bumbling idiot. That your stammer and struggle does not overshadow the fact that you’re actually extremely interesting, inquisitive, insightful, and witty. Usually.

5 Be humbled.
By how hard others have to work to be understood in even the simplest of contexts, when outside of their element. By how much we don’t know, when things can’t be communicated. By the untapped – separated by a chasm, inadequately bridged by broken phrases.

•   •   •

Whether the unfamiliar language is English, Mandarin, Portuguese, professional jargon, Python, or an underlying cultural narrative – not knowing how to communicate in a certain medium can make things frustrating. Difficult. Awkward. Staccato.

Yet as native speakers, our fluency, ease, and command can make these struggles easy to overlook;  easy to take for granted.

These five simple steps are an exercise in empathy, broken down. Of course, there are countless permutations, nuances, and opportunities to practice empathy on the daily. Yet sometimes, a good old break-it-down-for-me list is a good reminder of how these imperative human skills aren’t restricted to workshops and grand situations for learning.

It’s in the everyday. It’s the little things are the big ones.

~ H

Have you been in a similar situation – hoping for a bit of understanding and compassion for your little struggle? Has someone else recently looked to you with that same hope? Did you notice?

*Inspired by a simple encounter. This adorable elderly Punjabi lady – silwar kameez, oversized sweater, floppy touque, sneakers, and a semi-toothless grin – joins me in the standing-room only Transit skytrain car. No-one offers her a seat. My thought process: “I’ll ask someone to give her a seat.”

Immediately followed by internal dialogue. “Hold it. Agency. Dignity. No assumptions. Maybe she doesn’t want to sit? Ask her first.” I ask her first. In Punjabi. (A simple, single sentence I can do, no sweat. Before a conversation exists, there’s time to think, search for the right words, and rehearse.)

No, she’s good.

“Ok.” Smile.

“Busy today isn’t it?” she asks. In Punjabi.

Hmm… I had not thought this one all the way through. (Language comprehension outperforming speaking ability in this arena. By a lot. Neither of which are impressive.)

I stumble through my clunky conversation with her. No more than 3 minutes, our entire ‘chatty’ encounter, before we once again became two silent bodies riding in a metal tube towards our repective destinations. She made an impression on me, though. It was awkward. And it was worth it. For that, I thank her.

Those special days.

When your face hurts from genuinely smiling so much. When your heart aches from being so full, and all you can do is grin it out. When you shake your head in disbelief at how lucky you are to be living what you’re living, and how many incredible people surround you. You are proud, content, secure, and grateful.

Get curious about those days; you’re probably on to something.

• • •

Who were you with?  What is your history with them? How do they make you feel? Who do you become when you are around them? Why?

Where were you? What were the comforts surrounding you? The challenges? The sights, smells, and sounds? Who were you because of those cues?

What was happening?  Doing? Being? Learning? Sharing? Making? Thinking? Feeling? Why?

• • •

Sometimes the answers are far from obvious. Dig deep. Get to those really ninja things that we can so easily overlook.

For example, Colin Farrell hit on the underlying dots when he connected his old drug habits and his current Bikram Yoga practice: they both satisfy his need for ritual.

When you’ve got your answers, that’s when it gets fun. That’s when you get to use them as your tools & starting blocks, as you become an intentional architect of your own life. Here, you can design your everyday so that more of those special little things are peppered throughout. Slowly yet suddenly, those special days then become the default rather than the exception.

Just make sure you’re ready for the pain. Great risks, great rewards.

~ H

(This post was inspired by my day at the 2013 UBC Student Leadership Conference.)

The big dots of the post:
• Be aware. Notice. Question curiously. Adjust. Repeat.

• Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability.

A lesson in growing up: SLC edition

Stop chasing what you want and start chasing who you are. Magic happens when we approach life this way. #2013tips

The UBC Student Leadership Conference was this past weekend. As my 5th SLC experience, it ranks in my heart as the best yet; I struggle to articulate how blessed, humbled, and catalyzed that day has left me.

A bit of context.
I’ve been lucky to play different roles at the SLC since 2008 (day-of volunteer, workshop presenter, panelist, full-day delegate, alumni mentor…) – most years I was more than one. Translation: “always on & hustling from one thing to the next”. Non-stop all day; exhilarating and exhausting.

Each time, a part (if not all) of my intent was like a hungry child unleashed on a buffet: the focus was me. What could I get from these incredible workshops to satiate this hunger? What secrets could I learn from these extraordinary speakers? What did I want delegates to walk away with from my workshop? In short:

Full of entitled expectation.
“What’s imperative for me to get and give?”
Devour and deliver accordingly.

Case in point: SLC 2011. It was the first year (1) as an alumni presenter (2) partnering with a dear friend, creating something ‘all our own’ and (3) presenting a workshop of independent content (i.e. not tied to / dictated by a place of employment). All exciting things. Yet, in all honesty — my eyes were also on a certain prize. The conference has these “Best of the SLC” awards; I wanted one.

So we designed and delivered an un-workshop called “Flip” – to challenge assumptions, and rethink buzz-words & cliché concepts. No doubt, the process and product were both good. I wouldn’t trade the experience in for anything. Yet, in having that award as a disproportionate driving motivation while not admitting to it (hello, denial & dissonance!), I robbed myself and everyone involved of something great.

I know this because I remember sitting in tentative hope at the closing ceremonies while the award winners were revealed. I remember feeling disappointed and confused when we didn’t win (the former for obvious reasons; the latter because I wouldn’t let myself admit to the former). I remember smiling at the winners, feeling happy for them, and simultaneously small within myself. Fueled by the fundamentally flawed focus on an external reward, I’d fallen into playing tactics and dressing them in noble robes. By being dishonest with myself, I sabotaged the very thing I was after.

Success sabotage, and how to avoid it.

• • • Fast forward to this past Saturday • • •

For the first time, I attended this conference with a solid understanding of who I am and what I believe in. The focus was “what are delegates looking for, and what value can I deliver to this end?” It’s like my brain transitioned more fully from “leadership as selfish” to “leadership as service”.

With this shift from “me” to “everyone else”, I presented a session called “Two peas: the keys to unlocking limitless leadership.Magic happened.

 I felt settled and powerful in being vulnerable, living the content, sharing openly, and leading by example.
The possibility of impact is worth any personal discomfort or embarrassment.

 Overwhelming support showed up in the form of a couple of young women I respect, and am so proud of.
They can chat with me at anytime. They could have capitalized on the workshop buffet today, and they chose to be here so we could create a unique ‘us’. (Thanks for being there, ladies!)

Power showed up as a heartfelt comment and a hug at the end of the session, turning someone who was a stranger 50 minutes prior into a face I won’t soon forget. Another small comment humbled me to my core.
They may not realize how much of any impact they have just had on me. (Thank you, gents.)

 The best feeling showed up as my little sister coming to one of my workshops for the first time ever.
She actively does not listen when we talk about these things at home in our jammies, and she chose this session today – over all the others – to support me and hear what I’ve got to say.

In summary: the experience fundamentally changed when I was no longer out to be remembered, and was simply out to be a messenger. Just like that, the message and the content became more important than the fact that I was presenting. The audience – their wants & needs – were now at the forefront of every decision, and risk-taking with authentic design now trumped any question of “what would make the session look good… so that I look good”. Best.

The day somehow kept getting better, as I made space to live it as it felt right (pushed by intention rather than pulled at by obligation). Wrapping up the session, sat solo and jammed to the session playlist as I reflected on what had just happened. Proceeded to find and chat with 3 incredible women over lunch. Wandered and reconnected with familiar faces. Attended a workshop. Had a 3-hour conversation with 2 lovely souls about… everything in life. Fawned over amazing people at the Awards Ceremony. Had a heart-to-heart with Luca ‘Lazy Legz’ about the meaning of unintentional leadership. The day wrapped with dinner in such great company it makes my mind spin. (Seriously, life. Save some ‘incredible’ for the next day…)

Oh, and – surprise! I was awarded a “Best of the SLC” this year. Funny how, when it was the farthest thing from my mind and completely unexpected, this incredible gift chased me down. Dr. Frankl, you were so right.

So much gratitude, and huge congratulations, to the SLC team of 2013. Co-chairs, directors, coordinators, countless day-of volunteers, staff advisors, and all the rest: you created space for magic to happen. It was a hell of a day.

~ H

* Clarifying note: I think it’s absolutely necessary to travel through “leadership as selfish” to work to reach “leadership as service”. You can’t be of service to others if you don’t take care of yourself first. My journey took years of leadership development both in theory and practice, and is a work in progress always.

Other #UBCSLC talk
E – one half of the Passion Project founding duo – on her love affair with the SLC.
Matt – one half of crowd fave #TheCorkers – on how much of a BDF this SLC was.
Mel says stuff about her SLC experience.
• SLC thoughts by Paul Lee.


You can’t just think your way to clarity.


I was the overly-cautious type. Constrained in my exploration. Afraid to show imperfection. Shackled to past decisions. Hesitant to change. ‘Talking so I didn’t need to be walking.’

I have been changing. Slowly but surely. Intentionally & accidentally alike. By focusing inward and in giving to others.

My direction is to grow further into creativity. Revel in exploration. Take even more chances than I have so far. Consistently set intentions into actions. Execute on ideas.

Because I am always curious. More comfortable with myself. Ever-growing. Able to respond, rather than react, to challenges. Still a planner, and now one who can roll with the punches. A creative human, doing.


Many things have been brewing in mind and heart, in scribbles in tucked away pages. My gift to myself in the coming months will be to unleash a few more of these, all the while reveling in the process. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, a relevant favorite tune that merits a share. (Lyrics.)

Nature always did leave me in inspired awe. Here’s to living out “Go Do”. Enjoy.

Humbly, ~ H

Who *were* you? What has been happening for you lately? Who are you now? Who do you wish to become?

Building identity-based habits (on LifeHacker)

In sync, en masse: wrapping up & looking forward

Source: pinnacleperformancechampions.org

Source: pinnacleperformancechampions.org

I’ve chatted with multiple people lately about how much I love the holiday season. ‘Consumerist-frenzy’ aside, there is this sweet sweeping harmony of everyone making the honest time and effort – pulling our heads out of our collective, self-absorbed asses as it were – to really take pause and focus on what’s important. There are those sweet moments amidst all the apparent chaos, where people en masse turn to: good food, making fond memories, exuding dignity and respect, and doubling over in laughter with family (chosen and/or biological).

I especially relish those few sweet days between Dec 26th and Jan 1. It is the one coveted week, out of 52, where the majority of the people I know will be vibing on the same wavelength which I now seem to call home; the one unspoken week devoted to checking-in, reflecting, crafting goals, and declaring those ever-earnest “New Year’s Resolutions”. (Some argue that this trickles in to the first week or so of January too, before the tides of time sweep the crowd away again for another 360-ish days.) Marvelous.

But there’s a sting that comes along with this sweet honey. I feel like most people have known, at one point or other, what it’s like to look at the “New Year’s Resolution” list when March rolls around, and feeling any of:
– “oh, crap – I suck”
– “oh, well – there’s always next year”
– (fill in your usual response here)

Seems like New Year’s Resolutions are made to be broken. Lofty lists & motivation are clearly not enough. (Actually, motivation isn’t the answer – see BJ Fogg‘s work).

12.16 The definition of insanity

Source: yummymummyclub.ca

So, try something different. As 2012 draws to a close, draw out your big picture as that foundation, the tether. Craft a vision and/or mission – your overarching strategy. Then jump in to the nitty-gritty.

big picture – New Year’s Intentions

> Point your compass: start with why (Simon Sinek).
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you  do it.”
Same goes for self-persuasion. Sometimes the fine-grain struggles can be overwhelming. Re-framing an immediate ‘what’ (e.g. 10-page report to the board tomorrow) and anchoring it to a bigger ‘why’ (e.g. data-driven sustainable decision-making → impact clean water project on the ground → safe drinking water for a community → lives saved) reminds us exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing.

> Choose ‘areas of focus’ instead of goals (Peter Bregman).
In the heat of “achieving the goal”, we can sometimes we get sucked in and lose sight of that bigger ‘why’ behind it all. Downsides? Temptations to take shortcuts (sometimes unintentional!), or being blind to the fact that our lives may call for the ‘what’ to shift. Then, even when we get to the end goal, something feels off — not the best feeling to remember going forward to future goals.
Instead, having distinct areas of focus (e.g. physical and mental health; strong family relationships; steady income) allows a directional clarity while leaving the exact ‘how’ to best fit your situational mold (e.g. run 1 mile, 3 times per week or park farther and walk the last 3 blocks to and from work every day).

> Figure out how you want to feel rather than what you want to do (Danielle LaPorte).
That dream vacation to Phuket for a week? That might actually boil down to a yearning to discover a new, relaxing place where you can unplug, recharge, and spend some quality time with someone special. If those are all the must-haves, then a well-crafted staycation or trip to an island closer to home could hit on those very same things, no? Take that step back to clarify what you’re striving for on the inside, before starting to map out & negotiate the intricate logistics of a single goal.

action planIntentions to Reality

Once you have the strategy, the overall direction in place – that’s when you light the fire to ignite “The 2013 Project”.
> Make those lists.
> Wrap them into project plans; schedule things.
> Find methods that keep you accountable.
> Follow through.
> Celebrate as you see fit.

Now you have strong goals (tethered to intentions) that you can chase with fervor – enjoying every step of the pathways there. Powerful.

Also, get started today. There are still 2 full perfectly good weeks left in 2012 – take full advantage! Kick-start your new year right by setting those habits now. Trust me, it feels great.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

Make your own start date. “December 16” looks just as good as “January 1”
Focus less on achieving the final outcome, more on accomplishing throughout the total journey.
Live in your heart and mind first; live in your plans and calendars thereafter.
Your goals; your way. Find the methods that work for you (good old trial and error does the trick).
The glass is half full (e.g. stop working from a deficit model). Celebrate what you do, rather than where you’ve fallen short.

What will you do in the next 14 days to set a strong foundation to rock the new year the way you want to?

Lululemon Vision & Goal Setting