In honour of my 31st rotation around the sun, I recently sat down to reflect on 31 of my favourite life lessons from the past 31 years (read the first 15 here). Here’s the second part of a blog post 31 years in the making.
When someone shows you and tells you who they are – believe them the first time.
My mother shared the following quote with me a few years ago:
Here are some times I didn’t heed this advice:
About ten years ago, a man I was in a brief relationship with yanked my jacket off me aggressively and punched my arm “jokingly” on our first date. I told myself he didn’t know his own strength, and continued to do so even after he left me with bruises covering my entire body and a cut lip only a few short weeks later. I didn’t believe him when he showed me who he was the first time.
I met a guy last year who bragged about his $100,000+ salary while complaining about the price of the vodka tonic he bought me for while chatting me up at the club. When someone knocked into me and the drink fell out of my hand, he didn’t offer to replace it. I told myself he didn’t owe me a drink – and I rationalized that yeah, maybe 6-7 dollars was pricey considering we were in a developing country. The next day, when he crashed my day trip to a temple, he conveniently forgot all his money and happily let me pay for everything. He laughed when a beggar child came up to our cabbie’s window and refused to get any change just to keep this child out of the street, if only for 5 minutes. I didn’t believe him when he showed me who he was the first time.
I met another guy a few years back. Let’s call him Mark. The second evening we were supposed to meet up, he yelled at me over the phone. I went to see him anyway. We had a brief relationship filled with drama, fights, and more yelling. I later found out his ex girlfriend had a restraining order against him for threatening to kill her. I didn’t believe him when he showed me who he was the first time.
Over time, I came to realize that this rule shouldn’t just be observed with regard to someone’s behaviour; we should also believe people when they tell us who they are, the first time.
Here are a few times people told me who they were (names have been changed, though quotes remain verbatim).
Mark: “I don’t see the world the way you do – all pink and rainbows and fucking flowers. The world is shit, and I will always believe it’s shit.”
What Steph’s fabulous, glittery and delusional mind filter heard/understood:
He need a woman to love and accept him for who he is. I have a responsibility to make him see that the world is, in fact, full of sunshine and rainbows.
Wrong. Mark’s mind wasn’t wired the same way mine was. He was a negative person – always had been, and probably always will be. Obviously, things didn’t work out, and to the best of my knowledge, he never changed. He fucking told me this.
Luke: “I hope I never have a daughter. I don’t want her to grow up to meet men like me.”
What Steph’s fabulous, glittery and delusional mind filter heard/understood:
Luke was a bad boy until he met me. With all the love I’m prepared to give him, he can finally blossom into the man I know he really is.
Wrong. He ended up cheating on me. He told me exactly who he was in extremely clear terms.
Ronny: “I’m not a very good guy.”
What Steph’s fabulous, glittery and delusional mind filter heard:
Poor Ronny. He just doesn’t know how fabulous he is. Vulnerability in a man is so sexy and brave. Let me reward his vulnerability by sleeping with him immediately.
Wrong, and he later said to me: “But I told you who I was.”
Yup. No one to blame here but myself. Thanks for the lesson, Ronny.
Nowadays, when men tell me they are serial cheaters, selfish, aren’t good enough for me, don’t believe in marriage, and more: I believe them, the first time.
For more insight on this uber important life lesson, check out the discussion between Oprah and Dr. Maya Angelou below.
Know the difference between a job, a career and a vocation.
Here are the Oxford English Dictionary’s primary definitions of a job, a career and a vocation, respectively:
JOB: A paid position of regular employment.
Origin: Unknown; first recorded in Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) as (1) A low mean lucrative busy affair. (2) Petty, piddling work; a piece of chance work.
Origin: Mid 16th century (denoting a road or racecourse): from French carrière, from Italian carriera, based on Latin carrus ‘wheeled vehicle’.
VOCATION: A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation; a person’s employment or main occupation, especially regarded as worthy and requiring dedication.
Origin: vocatio(n-), from vocare ‘to call’.
Do the petty, piddling work if it will help you build a wheeled vehicle that will carry you down the road you were called to. Bot don’t confuse petty work with a calling.
Stop being a “nice girl”.
I used to have lots of pride in being “nice”. I used to champion “nice”. Everybody likes a “nice girl”.
You see, I used to confuse being nice with being kind, and I’m not the only one – the two words seem to be used interchangeably, even being used to describe each other in their dictionary definitions.
So let’s look up the etymologies of these words instead:
Nice: “Middle English (in the sense ‘stupid’): from Old French, from Latin nescius ‘ignorant’, from nescire ‘not know’. Other early senses included ‘coy, reserved’, giving rise to ‘fastidious, scrupulous’: this led both to the sense ‘fine, subtle‘ (regarded by some as the ‘correct’ sense), and to the main current senses”.
There’s a book I highly recommend called Getting in Touch With Your Inner Bitch. My mum gave it to me after a friend gave it to her, and it taught me about Toxic Niceness.
Toxic Niceness makes you a people pleaser at the expense of your own needs and wants in fear of being liked less or – gasp – people thinking that you aren’t nice. In my case, it meant shit like working for free, letting an abusive ex-boyfriend talk to me about his girl problems, and telling people who walked all over me that “it was okay” when it really fucking wasn’t.
In the past few years, I started to let go of the word nice. I realized the word nice didn’t serve me. It made my voice smaller, it made me say yes to things I did not want to do, and it allowed people to take advantage of me and dictate my life. It didn’t make me any more of a kind person; in fact, it made me less so – especially toward myself.
It’s not entirely my fault, though; society teaches girls that of the most virtues for them to have is to be nice. I’ve often heard men and boys say “I want to find a nice girl” (sidenote: stop calling women past the age of 20 “girls”). I have rarely – if ever – heard a man say, “I want to find a kind woman” or “I want to find a great woman.”
Boys are taught the opposite. They are taught that “nice guys finish last.”
And why do these boys finish last? Because they’re so busy helping everybody else run the race.
It’s time for women to adopt what men have always known and apply this knowledge to their own lives. Nice girls always finish last – and we deserve a chance at gold.
Don’t confuse talent with purpose.
Seven years ago, I was feeling ambivalent toward my career in the public service. I knew I was talented at my job, and I was being compensated handsomely for it. I was the pride of my parents, friends, boyfriend, co-workers and the University of Ottawa co-op education office, for having successfully turned a co-op work placement into a job in the federal government.
I had also started acting classes around this time and begun to detect the difference between a job and a vocation. I told my inner voice to shut up about it, though.
One day, I headed to Starbucks on my break to pick up my regular order. But it was no regular cup.
On the side, this is what was written:
I was floored. This summed up exactly how I felt but couldn’t define until that very moment. I looked up Po Bronson, and it turned out that he wrote a book. It was called What Should I Do With my Life?
Could the signs have been any clearer?
This is the thing: I’m a woman who is talented in many areas. When you combine talent with being clever and curious, you get an endless stream of career choice options. I would have been a great lawyer, had I gone to law school. I would have been a truly great journalist, had I stuck with it. Same goes for teaching, sales, psychology, philosophy, women’s right activism, entrepreneurship, and public service.
But just because I am a talented listener, it does not mean I should be a psychologist. Just because I am a respected teacher, it does not mean that I should become a full-time educator. Just because I was a good public servant, it doesn’t mean I should have stayed in a career that did not fulfill me.
In contrast, I have had very few callings.
Fortunately, by 31, I have learned to tell the difference.
Letting your boundaries and expectations be known to others, tactfully and respectfully, is not being “pushy”.
One of my precious friends recently texted me with a few screen shots of a conversation she had with a man she had spent some time with.
During a particularly flirty conversation, she told the man in question:
“I’m really attracted to you and more than just look wise…I really enjoyed our time together and I hope to see where it goes.”
She followed it with:
“Don’t want to scare u but I believe in being open.”
I want to celebrate my friend Renee for being brave enough to ignore the fear that so many of us women have: scaring men off by letting our desire for a committed relationship be known.
Hallelujah. Praise. Respect.
What followed from the man was:
“What would you like me to say”
and after she replied:
“I don’t want to bother u. Just trying to get to know u.”
his response was:
“Thanks hun gn”.
So before consulting with me in Korea, my beautiful, awesome and unscary friend decided to check in with some other girlfriends. They told her she was being too pushy.
Seriously ladies: what the fuck???
Ever been with the non-committal person you secretly love who is “afraid” of settling down but keeps sleeping with you / spending time with you/ texting you late night until one day, they meet someone and promptly marry them a few months later? They were never afraid of you, boo. They didn’t want what you wanted, and they used your fear of pushing them away to get what they wanted out of the relationship. Even worse: it’s not their fault. You literally allowed them to behave this way.
I don’t know how we have convinced ourselves that asserting our expectations is somehow considered pushy or scary. The real question boils down to: do you believe you deserve the relationship you want?
The answer to that is in direct proportion to the expectations and boundaries that you communicate to the people you meet.
Stop this nonsense. Be smart. Be like Renee.
Pay Attention Inward Now.
A few months ago, my insomnia and anxiety reached a new peak. I started to quickly fall into a downward spiral of loneliness, sadness, lack of confidence and unhappiness. I cried every day.
Eventually, I was referred to a psychiatrist. As I walked toward the big “PSYCHIATRY” sign on the second floor of Inha Hospital, I felt the lowest I had felt in my entire life. I had officially “gone crazy”.
My psychiatrist promptly put me on a drug cocktail of anti-axiety pills and antidepressants. I took two that night, and I slept soundly for the first time in months.
The next morning, I woke up, my body still heavy from the effects of the medication. I took a quick shower, started to feel dizzy, wrapped myself in a towel and headed to the kitchen – where I collapsed onto the floor in a flood of tears, exhaustion and defeat.
In that very moment, I finally started to look in the only place I hadn’t looked for a remedy to my pain. When I looked inside, I found a gaping void. I was empty.
Shortly after that, I saw a clip of Iyanla Vanzant explaining her definition of pain.
Pain: Pay Attention Inward Now.
Let me repeat that for the cheap seats in the back.
PAY. ATTENTION. INWARD. NOW.
When I turned inward, I started to hear the inner voice I drowned out with external distractions. I practiced listening to this voice, and started a dialogue with myself by writing this letter. Within a few weeks, the void inside started to fill up as I cultivated my spirituality, identified what I really wanted in my life and above all, started fostering a loving, attentive relationship with myself. The pain dissipated dramatically.
PAY. ATTENTION. INWARD. NOW.
If you want to travel far, you must pack light.
Last May, I decided to embark on a multi-year odyssey around the planet. In order to do this, I had to sell nearly everything I owned. I left a few books in my parents garage, and some clothes in the basement closet. I couldn’t travel the world and bring all my shit with me.
Selling all my stuff – from my bed, to my light fixtures – taught me just how little I actually needed to be happy.
Soon, I became an expert in packing light.
I never travelled with more than a carry-on suitcase, reasoning that I could always use a laundry service to wash my clothes or buy something if I really needed it.
During my most recent trip, I downsized from carry-on to duffel bag (guys, this is a big deal for a girl who used to pack ten pairs of shoes to all-inclusive resorts.).
There’s a metaphor in all this too, of course.
When we move forward in life, we’ve got to let go of stuff from our past. For me, this baggage included anger towards people who have betrayed me, guilt and the disease to please. I no longer carry this baggage with me; I want to travel as far and wide as I can in this short life. These days, I choose to pack light.
Blessings and burdens go hand in hand.
For every blessing, there is a burden. I had to learn this the hard way.
All my life, I wanted to be an actress; and one day, I was blessed with the opportunity to act. I was burdened with a loss in income, disapproval from my family, and haters who told me I was “unrealistic”, “not special” and “flighty” for wanting to pursue my dreams.
I wanted my own condo, and one day, I was blessed with a beautiful condominium in the heart of Montreal. I was subsequently burdened with a mortgage, property taxes, school taxes, a welcome tax and condo fees.
Children are the ultimate example of blessing and a burden. You’ve got to go through birthing pains to deliver your blessing into the world, and as much as you may love your child, there are more burdens to come after your baby is born. Sleepless nights. Ear piercing crying. Money to be spent to ensure the child’s survival. These burdens don’t make your child any less of a blessing. You endure the burdens because the blessing is far greater.
In my case, acting is a greater blessing than it is a burden. I’ve always known this to be true – and even more so when I stopped acting. I resolved to let go of my parents’ approval and decided to co-produce a play to be staged later this year. I’ll happily take on the burden it requires.
In contrast, as much as I loved my condo and valued living on my own, I ultimately decided that I don’t want the burden that came along with it. In this case, the burden was greater than the blessing. I downsized my lifestyle, rented it out and have turned it into a source of income until I can afford to live on my own again.
We can only be blessed as much as we can withstand the burden that comes along with it. Only you can decide if your blessing is worth the burden.
For more on blessings and burdens, watch the powerful clip that inspired this lesson below.
Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t – you’re right.
We all have different world views, borne from thoughts that start in our mind. Eventually, the way we think and see the world will dictate how we act. The same applies to the way we view ourselves.
I knew this in college. Back then, failure wasn’t option, because I never entertained the possibility of it happening. Instead, I believed that infinite solutions existed to bolster my grades, get my papers completed in time, and manage my workload. Sometimes it involved repeating a class, pulling all-nighters and running through the university campus to slip my essay under my teacher’s door by 4:59 pm for a 5pm deadline. But I made it. Every single time.
The first time I had to deliver a monologue, I believed it would be impossible to memorize it in a week’s time. I resigned to the belief that is was impossible. When I had to present it the week after, I made apologies before delivering it saying stuff like, “Sorry guys, I need more time to work on it, I’m gonna fuck it up so don’t judge, bla bla bla.”
Of course I messed it up, because I believed I would with a very strong conviction. I never entertained the possibility of succeeding.
but don Confucius, Henry Ford, or whoever else this quote is attributed to:
Decide to be a lucky person, and a lucky person you shall be.
Yes, this is similar to the lesson above – but it’s specifically applied to the concept of luck, which I felt deserved a lesson of its own.
I had a superstitious ex-boyfriend who would constantly talk about “bad luck days”. He had a very strong belief in bad luck days – which he would announce in the morning – and by the evening, he would report all the bad luck he had been cursed with throughout the day.
So one day, I thought I’d test his theory. I thought, maybe if I empowered my belief in good luck as much he empowered his belief in bad luck, I could invite some luck into my life.
Later that day, I was in a car accident. Most people would consider this to be a bad luck day.
But I wasn’t injured, despite having been irresponsible enough to apply lipstick while driving on a rainy day on a busy boulevard. In fact, nobody was injured that day. The couple in the car in front of me were forgiving, and the car they had hit as a result of my impact told me “it happens”, and went on their merry way.
Still consumed with guilt, I sobbed profusely while we waited for the cops to show up. The police who took my information kindly let it slide that I had left my proof of insurance in my other wallet. He was kind and helped me calm down, reassuring me that everything would be okay.
Later, I had a tearful conversation with my boss. I told her what had happened.
She said to me, “Do you really deserve to be eating/ putting on your makeup / doing xyz in your car”? I thought about it. I didn’t. I deserved more. I deserved to give myself time to take care of myself, so I could stop endangering my life and the lives of others on the road.
Among all the lessons I’ve ever been taught, this one may have very well saved my life. Had I believed that my accident was bad luck, I might have missed out on the good fortune of receiving such a valuable lesson.
After that, I started to train myself to find luck in nearly everything in my life. I realized I was lucky that I missed out on a part in a play that I wanted; had I gotten it, I wouldn’t have been able to accept a dream role that came my way just a few short weeks later. I was lucky that my relationship with a man I cared about didn’t work out back in 2014; had we continued our relationship, I would have never travelled to Korea. I was lucky that another man I wanted to give my heart to rejected my invitation to reunite in Asia; had he accepted, I would not have taken a much needed solo trip to Vietnam that helped me work on a much more important relationship: the relationship I have with myself.
Cultivate your own luck. Seek good luck, and as sure as the person who seeks bad luck, ye shall find it.
Put your own oxygen mask on before helping the person next to you.
My mother has repeated this valuable piece of advice to me throughout my life. She’s a wise woman.
As we all know, flight passenger safety 101 dictates that if there is a drop in cabin pressure during a flight, you must put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others. You can’t help the person next to you if you’re unconscious.
My mother always felt this was a rule to be applied to life in general.
Now I’ve always known and felt – in theory – that putting yourself first needn’t be a selfish act. Iyanla Vanzant said it best on Oprah’s Lifeclass when she called putting yourself first a self-full act.
“You wanna come with your cup full”, Iyanla says. “My cup runneth over; what comes out of the cup is for y’all, what’s in the cup is mine.”
Paraphrasing from A Course in Miracles, Iyanla continued: “When you give to others to the degree that you sacrifice yourself, you make the other person a thief …because they are stealing from you what you need and they don’t even know it.”
Simply put: you must help yourself first in order to be of service to others.
Check out Iyanla’s wisdom below.
If it’s not a fuck yes, then it’s a fuck no.
The Law of “Fuck Yes or No” states that when you want to get involved with someone new, in whatever capacity, they must inspire you to say “Fuck Yes” in order for you to proceed with them.
The Law of “Fuck Yes or No” also states that when you want to get involved with someone new, in whatever capacity, THEY must respond with a “Fuck Yes” in order for you to proceed with them.
Since reading this article a year ago, I’ve tried my best to apply it to everything: shoe purchases, Tinder meet ups, second chances, friendships, and the destinations I visit. I’ve broken the law a few times, of course, but whenever I have – it only reinforced the validity of this way of living.
Start applying it to your own life today – because we all deserve more fuck yes in our lives.
Don’t die with your music still in you.
Earlier this year when I resolved to cultivate my spirituality, I picked up a new habit: study one spiritual master per week. Take notes.
I started with Dr. Wayne Dyer.
I learned so many things that week.
Have a mind that’s open to everything, but attached to nothing.
That what you seek, thou art. As you think, so shall you be.
You cannot give away that which you do not have.
The list goes on, but the most important piece of advice I learned that week was the following, stark warning: don’t die with your music still in you.
Writing is one of my forms of music; it is my expression of the magic that lives in the depth of my soul. I feel the same way when I perform on stage.
Similarly, Erma Bombeck, author of “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?”, once said:
When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.
If you don’t know what your music is, it is your responsibility to this world – and your legacy – to find out what it is.
When you see crazy coming, cross the street.
Way too many times, people have walked into my life and I’ve said: I can help them. I can love them. I can fix them.
In a 1998 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Iyanla Vanzant suggested that we mistake lust for love when we enter into loving relationships with the goal of fixing someone, changing them or reshaping them. If love is already patient, kind and enduring – we shouldn’t have to fix it.
She added: “We see the guy coming, WARNING slapped right in the middle of his head…when you see crazy, CROSS THE STREET!”
In my experience, I’ve tried to inspire, fix, shape, and help a gamut of men throughout my life – usually in order to avoid working on myself. For a period of time following the breakup with my fiancé, I spent time trying to turn “bad boys” into men who would commit to me (didn’t work), including a man with delusions of grandeur, a man who was unemployed by choice, and another man with severe psychological issues stemming from an abusive past with his father. The list went on.
As I entered my thirties, I got better at asserting my boundaries. I started to veer away from the “projects”. I was tired. I had become an unpaid psychologist trying to form a romantic relationship with my patients.
Now, at 31, I’ve skipped the trial process altogether. After years of crazy, I’ve finally learned to avoid them by crossing the damn street.
Hold your head up so high that people can count your nose hairs.
When I broke up with my fiancé, I took heat from my family for not having “done more” to “save” my relationship. My good friend Jennifer Giaccari stood by my side, and told me to hold my head so high, people could count my nose hairs.
So I proceeded to do just that, and have practiced doing so every since.
Thank you Jennifer, for not only being a phenomenal friend, but a teacher to me as well.
Ever since watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey episode as a kid, I’ve adopted the practice of thanking the universe for three things every day. This practice has forced me to make gratitude a daily practice.
When you cultivate gratitude, you create abundance in your life.
In addition to practicing gratitude mentally, it’s equally important to thank the people you are grateful to. A few years ago, I took the time to write a few handwritten letters to people in my life to thank them for their contributions. I thanked my friend Ouliana for being kind and thoughtful. I thanked my friend Sasha for being a positive influence in my life. I thanked my parents for listening to my boring stories after dinner each night when I was a kid, bailing me out of a ton of jams through my life and driving me to piano lessons. When I won my court case against a man who abused me, I called the prosecutor to thank him for helping me – for which he thanked me profusely in return, because apparently, no one calls prosecutors to thank them for their work. Thanking people validates their contribution – and overall, it generates more love, motivation and goodness in the world.
So, on this final note, I want to say: thank YOU for being a part of my journey. Here’s to the next 31 years of love, lessons, blessings, burdens and adventure.
Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts below. <3