Eye-Opening Moments are real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives intertwined. In this episode you will hear about The Meaning of Success Found and The Impact of a Stranger.Support the show
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Hello and welcome to episode #71 of Eye-Opening Moments where you’ll hear real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives intertwined. They are moments that can lift your spirits, give you some food for thought, or move you. For the introspective mind that likes to reflect, discover, and find solutions or meaning in a complex life, this is for you. I’m your host Emily Kay Tan. In this episode, you will hear about The Meaning of Success Found and The Impact of a Stranger.
The Meaning of Success Found
It was the year 2008. Four years earlier, I quit my safe and secure job to work in the mortgage industry. Little did I realize that a global financial crisis would affect me directly. I was on the brink of going out of business and losing my home. I had always been careful with how I spent my money, but I made little in a successful company that created wealth for many. My savings dwindled to a dangerous level, and I dipped into my retirement account in an attempt to stay afloat. It wasn’t enough.
The business I invested time and money into did not produce positive results for me. I spent more money on the business than I made. Shameful and embarrassing. Some said I was stupid to quit my safe and secure job to go into a business without guarantees to make a fortune. I had resigned from my previous career, and it was difficult to get back into it as people were hanging on to their jobs, and few were retiring during the worldwide financial crisis.
The three-bedroom house I afforded and was proud to have possessed would have to be sold in a short sale. The Toyota Prius I bought brand new and loved would have to be sold, too. Furniture and many belongings would also have to be sold to make ends meet. All my things that came to be sold were painful to bear. It wasn’t so much any attachment I had with my belongings. The distress and pangs were the feelings of being stripped of my accomplishments.
The ability to buy a house and a new car was an accomplishment; I thought it represented a part of my success. I thought possessing leather couches and oak furniture was also a part of my success. So, letting go of them was detaching myself from all I had worked hard to own. It was heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. The success I thought I had taken years to attain was to all disappear before my eyes in a fortnight. The observable and tangible things that represented my success were gone. I thought I was mourning the loss of my things, but I was actually mourning the loss of what I thought to be my successes. The torture was facing the failure to make millions from a lucrative industry. I could not face myself or others; I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear.
I disappeared to an island nation. I got a job that paid a little, but it was enough to pay the bills and live a comfortable life. I soon forgot my failures and loss of possessions because I was enjoying a carefree and contented life.
I lost everything to discover that I had lived in a world where possessions represented success. Then when I had very little with me, I found a carefree and worry-free life I had never experienced. The absence of a lovely home and a contemporary car didn’t dampen my spirits. The effect was feeling lighter with fewer responsibilities. I no longer had a mortgage to pay or car insurance to pay. I walked, explored, and observed more than ever before. I talked with more people along the roads of exploration and sat down to chat with a dozen people a month. I was happy.
With fewer possessions and fewer things to maintain and spend money on, I had more time on my hands. Spending time chatting with others, exploring new places, and gallivanting to other countries did not cost much from where I was situated; they were eye-opening experiences. Observing different cultures and landforms opened my world to more views and knowledge I had never previously seen. I was like a child full of wonder, and appreciation for all that life had to offer.
It seemed that I was previously too busy making a life that I thought looked good with a business and possessions. While I thought it appeared excellent, I was not altogether joyful. As I stopped buying many things, I found my life more enriched and fulfilled with people and places to see. A different kind of success emerged in my mind. Success meant having the freedom to spend more time with people and see new places, which added to a variety of spices in life. Though I worked long hours, I also played hard and treasured the time, balancing it all.
The ambition to have more or accomplish more seemed to dissipate because I was already content. Yet something nagged at me. I equated success with happiness, and perhaps they go hand in hand. Material possessions gave temporary joy that did not go deep. More time to visit people and places also presented temporary fun. I was once more searching for success and happiness.
Several years later, while I was in Bhutan in a volunteer program and on a spiritual journey, I came across a short essay in a high school literature book about Gross National Happiness by Mr. Powdyel. One sentence changed everything for me: “the worth of people is measured not by what they have, but by what they are.” I stopped to read it again and again. I pondered and asked myself, “What is my worth?’ Wait a minute; I asked myself this before! I probably thought it was the possessions and degrees, so I proceeded to accomplish them all. After having them all on hand, my success or worth still did not seem enough. Was it that, as humans, we always crave to have more no matter how much we have?
A few years later, I made a new friend in a language exchange. Since we were countries apart, all we did was talk, talk, talk. Through several months of conversations, I discovered my worth or worthiness. Now success, happiness, and worthiness were rolled up into one.
In our conversations, I shared personal stories of adversity. My language exchange partner seemed intrigued and engrossed with learning the details, while I was annoyed to rehash my miseries. After a while, I said I had nothing more to say about a particular nightmare, and his questions only annoyed me more. To my surprise, he said he wanted to know because it inspired him. It never occurred to me that my many challenges in life were food for thought or inspiring stories to others.
His story of going to school, working, or doing things to please others was not interesting to him or me. I began to conclude that my life was a rollercoaster ride of happy moments mixed with thrilling and challenging moments; they were the spices of a life lived fully. Further, my ability to overcome adversities was my success. They created my character; they created who I am. A new meaning of success came to me. Success is not altogether gotten through money, degrees, or other accomplishments. As Powdyel said, “the worth of people is …what they are.” Aha! My strength of character developed from my adversities created me. The ups and downs in my life made the spices in my life to be void of boredom! The meaning of success is to have a meaningful life, a life lived fully. No matter the content, it is significant if you fill it with experiences that give you meaning.
The challenges I experienced were the seeds that seasoned my character. Just because bad things happen doesn’t necessarily make for a bad life. It’s what you make it to mean. It’s the story you tell yourself. It’s what you learn from them. I began to write about my adversities in several books and on a podcast. Through writing and speaking them, many eye-opening moments gave me comfort and meaning in a life I never thought worth much. There is a silver lining in every story; look for it. Lessons learned, insights recognized, and epiphanies discovered yielded gems. Breakthroughs and transformation stepped forward to grant me my success. I declare my worthiness and meaning.
The Impact of a Stranger
I want to tell you that after three months of talking with someone over the phone in a language exchange, I finally arrived at where I would be working and living abroad. And I finally met the incredible person who had become my friend and soulmate. I want to tell you that when we saw each other before we were right in front of each other, we looked at each other, smiled, and then giggled with joy like giddy teenagers. It was happy innocence to see the person that answered my heart's ache for someone who would know my many thoughts and experiences. I wish I could tell you that we embraced like long-lost friends.
We shared so much about our life experiences. So much was asked and answered. We revealed many concealed things and got to know each other well. We could finish each other's sentences. I wish I could tell you that when we embraced, he gently kissed me on the forehead and looked me in the eyes tenderly. I want to tell you we hardly said a word, but we stared into each other's eyes, and then he held my hand firmly as we walked off to our wonderful future. But all that didn't happen when I arrived because we had never met.
It was May when I decided to look for a language partner to practice speaking a foreign language before my arrival on an island in July. I quickly found one online. He was quick to schedule our weekly calls to twice a week. I thought he didn't stop to think if we'd get along in conversation before planning talks for four hours each week. Luckily, it wasn't a problem.
Though I never met this person as we were conversing long distances between the USA and the island nation I was moving to, Everett became a positive influence in my life.
As we talked, I learned that he was very perceptive and punctual. These are qualities I greatly appreciate. He was always on time for our scheduled calls. Once we connected, he could quickly sense my mood of the day. He'd say, "How are you?" I'd say, "Okay." And from how I said okay, he could tell if I were really okay! He had many thought-provoking questions, which made me love our discussions. We shared dreams, joys, risks, events, opinions, and more. We talked about things we liked and disliked; we had much in common. We expressed our viewpoints on current events, lifestyles, culture, and more.
Everett once asked about my happiest and saddest moments in life. I was tickled that he asked. No one had ever asked me that before, and I was glad to answer in detail. He also shared his answers to the question he posed. Through all the stories about different aspects of our lives that we shared, some surprising results came from our talks.
When we talked about our careers, I shared the jealousy issue that annoyed me. People were often jealous of me no matter where I worked, and it bothered me that people seemed to need to pay attention to me. Everett gave me a new perspective that never occurred to me. That perspective changed my view of myself. He said people were jealous because I had something they liked and wanted for themselves. And since coworkers were jealous of me, I must be exceptionally skilled for them to be jealous. He said he wished he had something that made others jealous! Before he explained it to me, I was oblivious to it. I never thought I had anything that others would want. That is probably because I never thought very highly of myself. This idea was news to me. I discovered a bit more about myself from speaking with him. He made me feel I had more worth than I ever gave myself credit!
While I talked about all the things I wanted to do and couldn't seem to complete them fast enough, Everett let me know that I was impatient. I was furious! I said, "If I didn't have patience, I would not be able to of had a teaching career for over twenty years." He still insisted that I was a bit impatient. I settled on being patient with others and admitted to being very impatient with myself. Everett gave me another piece of me that I was unaware of!
Everett asked many questions about my stint in business. By the time we spoke about it in a third phone call, I had told him I had nothing left to say about it and that he was reminding me of my failures. I was in business as a salesperson selling mortgage and life insurance for five years and never made the millions I dreamed of earning. Everett pressed me on how I could endure and keep pushing ahead with the business when I was getting numerous rejections from potential customers and made so little. He helped me acknowledge my tenacity and that I should not be ashamed of all my efforts despite the lack of financial results. Once more, Everett helped me admit my positive qualities when I was in my world of only seeing my shortcomings or that I was not enough.
The greatest gift Everett gave me was his comment that I had an abundant life. He came to that conclusion from the stories of my life's ups and downs and twists and turns. I always thought them to be challenges I needed to overcome one after another. I felt my life to be tiresome. I never had the perspective that it is precisely the twists and turns and the ups and downs that create the spices of my life! Once again, Everett gave me the gift of more self-worth.
Though I know of my many qualities and have many friends who admire me, I never fully acknowledged myself. I always think I could do better or work on improving some more, so I frequently dismiss any strengths. Somehow, through the three months and forty-eight hours of conversation with Everett, I gained new perspectives from him, and he helped awaken a kind of greatness in me that I had never experienced. From it, I found more meaning in this life of mine. The impact and the gifts from this stranger are immeasurable.
I wish I could say I met him. I wish I could say we fell in love with each other, but it didn't happen. Upon arrival abroad, he was nowhere to be found. We lost connection. We talked twice a week for three months, and suddenly all communication ceased. Perhaps he didn't feel the same way, or maybe he was frightened about how well we connected. Maybe he was too shy to express his feelings. I tell myself I will not chase after what does not want to be found. Though I have my moments of sadness, I have many moments of smiles when I reminisce. I remember our conversations and feel his influence breathing more positivity into my essence and bestowing me a feeling of contentment that there is, after all, some meaning to this life of mine.
Though I lost many of my possessions and thought they represented my success, I realized the value of me was not in what I had but in who I became.
Though I never got together with a stranger I met online, he gave me priceless gems that helped me see the value of my life.
Next week, you will hear two new real-life stories called Left in a Daze and Stop the Perfectionist. If you enjoyed this episode of Eye-Opening Moments, please share it with others, subscribe, support the show by clicking on the link in the description, or go to www.inspiremereads.com and leave a message. Thank you for listening!