Finding my strength

Last weekend I ran the furthest I have run in ten years. 14 kilometres! And in two months time, if all goes to plan, I will be participating in a half marathon on the Great Wall of China.

Ten years is a long time between runs. Especially for something that, surprisingly, I quite like doing. Why has it taken me so long to get back into it? I’d like to say it is the lack of time. Working full time. Being a mum. Who has the time to train?

However, if I am being honest with myself it is more about mental strength. Having the willpower to muster up then energy to go for a run. Working full time, raising a child, it’s mentally exhausting.

I have found the same with cooking. Pre-sabbatical we would usually eat the same six or seven meals for dinner, not because I couldn’t be bothered to cook but because I didn’t have the energy to think about what to cook. Now that my mental energy is not being drained by work, I have the strength to plan and I am enjoying cooking and trying out new recipes.

Routines, of course, help. Having your running gear ready so that when you wake in the morning you can quickly get dressed and get out helps. Or preparing meals for the week on a Sunday and freezing them. However, this still requires mental energy and after a long week of last thing I want to do is spend half of my day cooking.

So, what’s the solution? I’m not sure yet. I am trying to create new habits (see previous blog). I am meditating which, while it takes time, is really helping me to focus on one task at a time rather than multiple ones. I’m also prioritising what is important to me and learning to say no more.

It’s all a part of the journey I am on …. I’ll let you know how I go in May when I run 21 kilometres.


Kicking the habit

I have been consciously focusing on habits recently. Creating new habits and moving some on.

We all have them, some good, some bad, some we are very aware of and some we don’t even realise.

Recently I became aware of one habit I had never noticed before. The Sunday evening blues. Those of you who go to school or work Monday to Friday might know the feeling. You’ve had two days off. And sometime around 5 or 6 pm on Sunday evening the thought creeps into your head. Ergh! Work tomorrow. Bam! The Sunday evening blues have arrived. I don’t know when they started, probably some time during my school years. Ergh! School tomorrow.

But then I remembered. I don’t have work to go to tomorrow. I’m on sabbatical. In fact, Monday is a day to celebrate. The rest of the people in my household are at school or work. I have time to myself. To write. To read. This is good.

I took some time to reflect on this… How often have I got myself into the spiral of negative thoughts by succumbing to the Sunday evening blues? How does this impact my attitude at work? My approach to life? How bad is this habit, that I wasn’t even aware of? This makes biting my nails pale in comparison.

This is one habit that was easy to kick and I will intentionally not pick it up again when I return to work.

I have been following Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog. He has some thought provoking ideas on how to make changes in your life.

He suggests making one tiny change at a time. How often have we woken up on January 1 and said OK I’m going to get fit this year? I’m going to lose weight and eat healthy. We go for a run, throw out the chocolate and wine and buy a shopping trolley full of fruit and veg. This lasts a week, a month or so. Then life gets in the way. You have to stay late at work a few nights. You have a big weekend of partying. The weather gets cold. And suddenly you have stopped running, and the cupboard is full of chocolate and wine. And you give up for another year.

Leo’s advice is to start with one small achievable action. Aim to walk twice a week, have wine free weekdays. Just one thing. It will be more achievable. And once you have successfully kicked one habit you are more likely to be successful the next time.

After all, habits such as the Sunday evening blues have likely been with you for a long time.

(Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash)

How to be inspirational

I have been lucky to have some inspirational people come into my life just at a time when I needed them most.

Their support and mentoring have helped me to become who I am today.

When I was 21 years old, I was fresh out of university, living in a big city for the first time, and had just landed my first real job. My boss, Susan, opened my eyes to a life beyond my conservative rural Australian upbringing. She was the first women I knew who had a career other than teaching. She was married but hadn’t taken her husband’s surname and they had deliberately chosen not to have children. But she was caring and passionate, she was sensible and practical. Not at all like the “career women” I previously knew through stereotypes on 80’s television shows. Susan took an interest in developing me, she taught me the fundamentals of marketing and where there were gaps found the best professional development courses for me. She even became my de-facto big sister, making sure I was safe in the big city much to my parents relief.

Later in my career I found myself in my first leadership position. Again I had a boss who was similar to my first – caring, passionate, practical – but now I needed to learn about leadership. Belinda had the amazing ability to listen to all sides with a open mind and see a pathway ahead. She showed me how to have courageous conversations with difficult people and encouraged me to solve issues myself. Her confidence in my knowledge and experience emboldened me to be confident in my own abilities, which in turn made me a better leader.

People who inspire you go beyond simply teaching or mentoring. They go beyond the day to day. They have a deep impact on your whole life, professionally and personally.

Recently I have been reflecting on how I can pass this gift on by inspiring others. How can I be inspirational for others? Following are some challenges I have set myself:

  1. Have courage and stand up for what I believe in.

  2. Be authentic and comfortable with who I am.

  3. Be passionate and share that enthusiasm with others.

  4. Care about seeing others grow and improve. Challenge them to be their best.

  5. Lead by example. Walk the talk!

Inspirational people come into your life when you most need them. (But perhaps not always when you are looking.) And sometimes it isn’t immediately obvious that they are there to inspire you. It is only afterwards, when you have had time to reflect, that you realize how much this person has had an impact on you.

Thank you to those who have inspired me.




Life lessons learned while living as an expat

It is my seventh year of living in China as an expat. I sometimes find it hard to believe that I am even living in China, let alone it being seven years.

It has been said that I am not living in the real world. And at times it can feel like it. However, in this time I have learned some important life lessons.

Value what you have today

Nature, fresh air and blue skies. Living in Australia I took these things for granted. They were ever present. I didn’t even really give them much thought. Until they were no longer a daily part of my life. Now they are something to be appreciated and thankful for.  Just looking up and seeing clearly defined clouds now brings me joy.

It is easy to fixate on the things I don’t have. Doing this day in, day out made my life miserable. (I have SO been there, especially in the first year living here.) I now try to take a moment every day to reflect on what I do have and be thankful for every experience.

Ensure you make time for your loved ones

Shortly after I arrived here my grandfather passed away. I wasn’t able to make it to his funeral. I have missed family birthdays, christenings and many Sunday roast dinners. For a while I focused on all the things I was missing out on.

I now ensure I make time to visit or speak with loved ones. My goal is to spend quality time rather than quantity. (Christmas is good time as many people are on holidays and are also in more relaxed frame of mind.) Even a chat on Skype can make the world of difference.

And not forgetting my new friends, who in an expat community become my de facto family. They too are added to the list of loved ones I make sure I have time for.

Question your assumptions

One huge thing that has really turned my life upside down while living in China is realising how many of my assumptions are based on my cultural expectations.

Some things that at first appeared crazy began to make sense once I got to understand the Chinese culture and the reasons behind it. One of my first experiences in China was taking my two year old son to a playground which had a sand pit. He immediately sat down in the sand to play, as any child would. Well, a Western child that is. As the grandmothers and ayi’s were frowning, tutting and shaking their heads at me, I noticed all the Chinese children were squatting to play in the sand. I later learned that sitting in the sand was viewed as dirty and unclean. Of course, at the time all I could see was the countless bottoms and willies hanging out the split pants the young children were wearing, and being totally grossed out by that.

Be flexible, patient and open minded

For those who know me, I am a bit of an organiser.  I like things to go to plan. I can get more than a little stressed when things are out of my control. However, living in a foreign country, especially one with a culture that is so different to my own, has taught me that things will often not work out how I want them to.

It took me a while, but I have now realised that I can’t always make things work out the way I want. Losing my patience or being inflexible is not going to change the situation. And, more importantly, I am the one who is going to suffer if I don’t change my attitude.

Now I am a lot more relaxed about things. I ask myself “Can I change this situation?” and if I can’t I then ask “Can I change my attitude?”

When we decided to move to China I expected adventure, awesome experiences and the chance to get to know a new culture. What I did not expect was to learn some very valuable lessons that will stay with me for life.



Why I am learning Chinese

Why am I learning Chinese? I have asked this question myself a number of times, usually when I am sitting in class trying to understand the grammatical structure of a Chinese sentence.

I have been living in China for six years and surprisingly I have been able to survive with virtually no Chinese language skills. I have what I call Taxi Chinese. I can get in a taxi and get to where I need with the basic words left, right, turn around and stop. I can go to a shop, point and say one, two, or three of those, thank you.

However, I always have a sense that I am missing out. Missing out on having a richer and more meaningful experience of living in a foreign (and non-English speaking) country. Missing out on understanding the cultural nuances of a country that only comes with understanding their language. Missing out of opportunities and experiences because I can not communicate with the people around me.

I am also jealous. I live in a community with people from over 50 countries. Almost everyone I know is bilingual, many are multilingual. I watch and listen to my friends converse in one language and seamlessly move to another. I cannot describe the feeling of inadequacy when you realise your son’s 5 year old friend can speak four languages. (Japanese from his mother, French from his father, English, the language he speaks at school and Chinese the “second” language he learns at school.)

And I also feel guilty. My son has been formally learning Chinese since he was three and informally from the moment I left him in the hands of his Ayi (the wonderful woman who cared for him) while I went to work. How can I in good conscience ask my child to do his Chinese homework, explaining how important it is to learn the language of the country we live in, while not even making an effort to learn the language myself?

There is oodles of research out there about the benefits of learning a foreign language. And not just kids. Older people too.

You get smarter!!! Research from North Western University found speaking more than one language constantly exercises the brain and makes it more prepared to take on other brain-challenging tasks.

It could prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia. A study of seniors with varying forms of dementia and literacy were evaluated and led researchers to conclude that those participants who spoke a second language were able to delay Alzheimer’s Disease, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia by 4.5 years.

And your English will improve too! Focusing on the mechanics of language e.g. grammar, conjugations, and sentence structure makes you more aware of language, and the ways it can be structured and manipulated. These skills can make you a more effective communicator and a sharper editor and writer.

So, here I am two afternoons a week sitting in class learning how to where I am from. “Wo shi Aodaliya ren.” Learning how to buy 1.5 kg of apples. “Wo mai pingguo. Duoshao qian san jin. ?” And complaining that the price is too expensive and asking for a cheaper price. “Tai gui le! Pianyi yi dianr, xing ma?”

Surprisingly after six years I know more words than I thought I did. The challenge is understanding what order the words go in so I don’t sound like a complete idiot.

My goal by the end of this sabbatical is to be able to go out for dinner with my Chinese friends and speak with them in their language rather than forcing them to converse in mine.