So I just came back from spending about a week in Seoul. Honestly, other than a few awkward culture shock moments spent in a South Korean bath house (read: group “vaginal facial” or “steam douche” with other women from my department at work), a Flight Attendant that was rude to me on Korean Airlines on the return flight back home (the rest of the service I experienced on Korean Airlines was absolutely phenomenal), and an older woman who looked like she feared my colleagues (also mostly American and there were a lot of us) and I might burn down her restaurant on an impromptu lunch stop once our original box lunches were ruined en route to a work event, nothing was that out of the ordinary while I traveled and worked there. Mostly, being in Seoul was so like being in any western city (in fact, several people in my work group remarked that it reminded them a lot of Seattle), that it was kind of disappointing that it wasn’t more “Eastern” and “exotic.”
However, there are a few jewels of wisdom that served as reminders and epiphanies for me during my brief Seoul journey. Essentially, if I had to sum up my first trip to Asia, I would say that it provided me with a lot of perspective on various things that I’d taken for granted in my own life. To give you more context and color as to what I mean here, before I left, in the months prior to going to Seoul, I had started to feel a sense of discontent with my life. I was second guessing myself on my career path, wondering whether or not I totally sucked as a mother, and trying to figure out why certain parts of my personal life seemed so chaotic and just generally disorganized. While I was intellectually aware that I’m usually my own worst critic, being totally out of the context where I have my regular responsibilities for a while helped me to see some things in my life much more clearly and realistically.
First of all, getting to spend more time both at work conferences and at Korean BBQ and other events outside of work, getting to know my coworkers better, really reinforced for me that while there are some aspects of my work life that are not perfect (let’s just keep it real), I’m still very fortunate to spend so much time with other such amazingly smart, passionate and accomplished professionals. These individuals, including my boss, are so totally kick ass, that there was just no way that I could come out of this trip not feeling like I’m in the right place (finally!) for work. It was a sensational reaffirmation.
Then, the whole mom thing has become increasingly difficult for me to manage and balance with such a demanding day job, and trying to get more books out before this calendar year ends (yeah, I know it’s taking a long ass time for me to get my next book out, but I promise, I am still writing, trust me… ;-)). I was definitely feeling like my son was not getting the best of me after I was working long hours and I spent so much time feeling like a distracted, zoned out zombie, instead of being totally present during the times that I finally did get to spend with him recently. I have, however, become increasingly really good about level setting real expectations with him. So, starting several weeks before I left for Korea, I began to let my son know that I would be gone for a few days and when.
It was still of course heart rending when I got back from my trip and he admitted to me (he’s 5 and in Kindergarten) that he cried a lot especially during one of the days that I was gone. I had already been feeling so much guilt, that his honesty broke my heart even more, although I know that wasn’t his intent; he was just telling me how he’d been doing while I was gone. The thing is, that despite that, with the distance of being half a world away, I really did miss my son. I also remembered just how lucky and genuinely blessed I am to have him while I was gone. He’s an amazing person – super smart, athletic, creatively gifted with writing/storytelling and creating pictures, honest, loyal, dedicated, handsome and forgiving. I truly don’t believe I could’ve gotten blessed with a better kid, even when I am frustrated with him for tearing up our house, or whatever else.
Which, in a really random sort of way, brings me to my next point. While I was gone, I watched almost no TV, didn’t have control over driving, or the radio, and my Internet access (especially during the first few days I was there) was hella spotty at times. This series of events/circumstances (along with my gregarious coworker/roommate for the trip) totally pushed me out of my comfort zone so that I was forced to get to know people around me (including people I probably would have never had the opportunity to speak to otherwise) instead of constantly be on my phone. While some of it was very difficult for the introvert in me to adjust to, the change of scenery also allowed me to really see how much time and control I can take back into my life if I simply put down my remote, phone, tablet and other devices and really focus on staying present for myself and the people around me.
That got me to thinking. How can I reimagine my time and floor plan at home so I can optimize our living spaces, time and experiences for me, my family and friends to make our lives more productive, relaxing and enjoyable? The truth was as simple as it should have been obvious. By taking just small, incremental amounts of time to devote towards getting rid of clutter in our house, optimizing how we use our space and time, and figuring out how to improve the overall quality of the limited time that is available to me (instead of lamenting about the time that I don’t have/can’t get back), I’ve found it much easier to start enjoying and rethinking the simple pleasures in my life. In turn, this has allowed me to expand my view of what I really need to improve both the efficiency (just like the Koreans) and general quality of my life.
Honestly, by the time I returned home from Seoul, what I realized most of all is how genuinely blessed and lucky I am to control my own destiny. Basically, I had been taking very simple things for granted, like how much I appreciate being able to drive myself around in my own car (yay for freedom and autonomy!), how seriously (for the most part) we take things like safety here in the US, and how awesome the life choices I’ve already decided for myself really are. Sometimes, I guess all we really need is a reminder when we shake things up and we’re removed from our “norms” of how amazing the things, people, places, etc. in our regularly scheduled lives really are…