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You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
Today was one of those days which never got off the ground. From the moment I walked into Concert Choir at 7:15am, I proceeded to stagger my way through double-bookings, clashes, missing pages of accompaniment, flat batteries, sick choral kiddies, dropping a jar of ashes (yes, it was Ash Wednesday, just to add to the fun), and other assorted mild to epic fails.
While sitting in the corner of the classroom, throwing down my lunch in record time in stony-faced silence + generally hating all forms of life, my Year 12 Prefects appeared with a cup of tea + a Freddo.
“Okay, Ms Kwok. We need to talk.”
Instantly, the alarm bells went off and the braincells went into overdrive, “What NOW?! Have I forgotten something? Have I let these guys down?!”
Miss Year 12 Head Prefect put her arm comfortingly around me and said, calmly and soothingly, “Look, Ms Kwok, you have to LET IT GO. You can’t do it all. You can’t nail every moment of every day. It can’t all be AMAZING.”
Sir Year 12 Deputy Prefect: “We made a cup of tea + stole a Freddo for you. Chill out. Stop saving the world for the next 20 minutes.”
Miss Year 12 Deputy Prefect: “Plus we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to quote you back to you.”
Damn it, you three. I just got schooled, and in the most caring way possible. 😭
It stands to reason I’ve left this one to the end.
Even while I was brainstorming my five points of reflection for 2019; this one was the hardest of all to acknowledge, to commit to, and to want to invest in.
Forgiveness, in all its forms, has been something which has both fascinated and frustrated me for a while, eluding and embracing me with equal unpredictability. I’ve been drawn to books which take it apart, or have it as its central theme. I’ve listened to TED talks and read reflections of courageous people who have survived far more in a week than I have my whole life, and been silenced and humbled by their words. And the reason why is this: I want to learn what it means to forgive as an act of love, when the issue at stake is bigger than the usual ups and downs of life. I want to learn how to forgive, others and myself, when there needs to be a process to the forgiveness.
In my natural, un-worked-on state, I am a perfectionistic score keeper. If there is an issue, my instinct is to apologise for the 27.5% of my part in the proceedings (because I’m alway more right), and readily expect 72.5% pure, unfiltered apology from whoever has wronged me. And I would remember it if didn’t happen, or happen to my satisfaction. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t keep loving or working with the person who had caused me hurt, I just could never fully forget the hurt in a way which allowed me freedom and full access to myself, and my interactions with them when it really counted. When I read that forgiveness is an act for yourself, not for the other person, it was revolutionary. So then, I spent some time grappling with that concept, not wanting and eye for an eye, but to forgive and acknowledge for my own well-being and sense of hope.
Now, in my work-in-progress state, I am a recovering perfectionist and advocate of the compassion which is required to live life well. And it comes back to one thing: We are not perfect. We get up each day, we do our best. Some of us do better than others. But we all require compassion and forgiveness at some point in our lives, and I’d rather be an active participant in the process than have to ask someone to forgive me with no return if I am able.
The inability to forgive easily is simple to explain; we are tender-hearted and we don’t want to get hurt. Holding that inability to forgive in place means that we’re in a deadlock, and even if that means hurting yourself a little, it means that you’re relatively safe from any further hurt from the person who caused it.
But it also holds all of you – your joy, your ability to love and move forward, your vulnerability and tenderness – in an absolute deadlock as well. You might argue that you can function perfectly fine without forgiving certain people and events in your life. But those pockets of darkness that remain unexamined continue to hum and buzz in the background, taking away from your love and joy. And loving yourself means truly examining things, even if there is no answer.
Forgiving doesn’t EVER mean letting the other person off the hook, it means that you’re no longer allowing them to take a part of your joyfulness and will to live life without your permission. What’s to say that you, put under a unique set of circumstances and pushed to breaking point, wouldn’t cause a situation where you required love and forgiveness?
As we walk through life together stretched and pulled in different directions by opposing ideas and different people, we walk with a common humanity. It would be ridiculous to expect us all to like each other. But we can certainly start by looking for understanding and the middle ground, holding fast to our compassion for each other, humanising each other, and getting better at sitting in the uncomfortable place which allows us to recognise that very rarely is anyone 100% right or wrong.
So, in holding forgiveness in my heart, I remember the following:
Forgiveness is for me. When I need to look hard at something, let my first thought be for my own well-being and those that I love. Put pride back on the shelf, take ego off the table, and just look at the humanity of the situation. Then look at what I need to do to match my values; is it speak my truth? Walk away? Call a mediation? Offer an apology? Forgiveness will often be open-ended and messy, and I need to be sure of two things; that I have done the best I can according to my values, and that my well-being comes first. These two things push and pull in opposite directions, but that is what I ask of myself.
Anger is okay. Knowing when to express anger in the appropriate manner, to the right person, at the right time, is a unique challenge. But for those of us hell-bent on being perfect score-keepers, it’s so much easier to talk about all the things a person has done wrongly behind their back, than hold them accountable. And sometimes, anger is the right form of communication. Anger can show the strength of a boundary, the depth of a connection + love, or the value of something. Anger, without being derogatory, cheap, or hurtful, is a powerful and important form of communication.
Forgiveness is not an exact science. Forgiveness requires the most creative thought process and tracking than any other brand of problem-solving I’ve encountered. Because you cannot predict how people will respond, you can only deal with your side of things. If you go in with an apology, don’t go in expecting one back. You offer an apology because it’s what you hold yourself accountable to do, and it’s what you think is the right action for you. Forgiveness can be quiet or haphazard, unspoken or spoken, serious or playful; don’t be fooled by its presentation. Forgiveness may also never come, and you may need to figure out a way to find closure, and to make your own peace. If you really want to seek forgiveness, you must be prepared for any outcome, not just the one you want.
Forgive myself. Something I have learned in this past year is to recognise when I need to forgive myself. Often, these times will masquerade as extreme tiredness, or my being unpredictable, distracted, being totally over-the-top, going into myself, not being able to make a decision, and most tellingly, not being able to be fully engrossed in whatever is in front of me. When I get down to the heart of it, it is often a time when I need to tell myself that I forgive myself. I forgive myself that I couldn’t respond to a student in the perfect manner today; I will try and reconnect tomorrow. I forgive myself that I have no energy for my family, I will try and rest so that I am better value over the weekend. I forgive myself the frustration I feel with a colleague because I am on track and they are out of kilter, and it has knocked me off my strong, steady path. I forgive myself that I did not speak up when I had the opportunity, let me make a time to have that conversation, and let me prepare for it. I am not perfect. But I can always try again.
Forgiveness is a skill. Forgiveness is a skill that I would like to continue practising. The more I look gently and tenderly at things which upset, frustrate, or anger me, the more I exercise the muscle which connects me to love and forgiveness. Forgiveness, for all its intangibles, requires the ability to think about a situation from every angle, applying compassion where it would be easier to dismiss. One thing I’d like to do differently to strengthen this conversation with myself is to reach out to friends and family to help me tease out the different viewpoints. What I cannot see, they might be able to lovingly and safely bring to my attention so that I’m not attempting to do the impossible on my own.
Forgiveness takes time. You can’t just figure out forgiveness like you can a maths problem, as satisfying as that would be. Forgiveness is like picking up the threads of the impossible fabric from where you left off, and continuing to weave understanding. As you travel through life and get older, wiser, and collect new experiences, this helps in building your repertoire of skills and understandings to forgive. Allow time. Press pause. Go run around and be human. Then come back to the hard work.
Quiet, considered words are powerful. Forgiveness is rarely overt or loud, and requires some degree of stretching to reach a new understanding. If you cannot forgive at an exact moment in time, that is okay. Aim for being authentic and accurate. Quiet, considered words spoken with truth and accuracy are far more powerful than throwing down a careless and flippant apology or acceptance of something when you really don’t feel it. Because the mind and heart keep score, and it’s your job to know yourself well enough that you can understand what is true and accurate for you.
Forgiveness is love. Forgiveness is love in its purest form. It cannot be measured or extracted, it is given. So, let me remember to consider this first for myself, then those most important to me, then everyone I have contact with in my life. Let me strive to be accurate, authentic, compassionate and honest, straddling the line between compassion and integrity. Let me make decisions on how I will act based on my own morals. And let me understand when to hold fast, and when to let go. Let me do so in the highest integrity, compassion and love.
One of those days where I was totally up against it in terms of navigating, negotiating, and behaviour-managing, with my poor Year 12s walking into class after lunch with me in full-behavour-management-flight with a student.
Very quietly and respectfully did they all sneak in, dotted themselves around the classroom and quickly got to work.
After 2 minutes, a cup of tea appeared on my desk in a mug inscribed with “BADASS.”
Then, when my back was turned, a muesli bar + a handful of Minties appeared alongside it.
All of a sudden, I realised my camera was fully set-up and ready to roll for performance masterclass.
While I was looking over some Composing + Arranging issues, a message appeared on the whiteboard, “Kwokkie: Tiny Awesome Teacher! 😊”
And walking to Year 8 Music, I found the downstairs classroom door covered in post-it notes with various encouraging messages of, “GO KWOKKIE!” + “SMASH IT!” + “HANG IN THERE!” + “YOU CAN DO IT!”
My Year 12 kiddies. NINJAS of little acts of kindness today. You guys totally got me over the line!
Comfortable with Discomfort
How do people get comfortable with discomfort?
How do people engage mindfully with challenging discourse, differences of opinions, aggressive interactions, and high emotions whilst maintaining a joyful, resilient and open heart, but a strong backbone?
It’s something I have been consciously practising this year, partly to develop my ability to stay in discomfort with a level head, but partly because I have had no choice. It’s been spirit-ruffling, enlightening, uncomfortable, and stretching. I always think I am doing crap and very often FEEL crap, when I also instinctively know that I am doing the best job possible.
The need to work with integrity drives this desire to engage with the challenging, but it doesn’t come easy. I am often caught at a crossroads when I find myself the only one standing with one side of the opinion, and the rest of the people around me swept up by the momentum of the argument, or a personality which bulldozes. I am not a bulldozer. Words have meaning and merit to me. What simply is “shooting the breeze” or “meaningless rubbish” and falls by the wayside for others affects me until I make peace with it and decide I am done. I am not a needless “hanger-on” person; words and feelings simply have purpose, merit and meaning to me. In fact, I am working hard to let go when conversations are done and expired. And the relief is immense. It’s healthy and wholehearted. But again, never done carelessly without necessary attention and thought.
How do I then learn to walk in integrity, connect with the challenge knowing that it will affect me deeply, and repair myself that I may walk into difference + disagreement with a calm and clear head?
Many of my friends, colleagues and family members think I can do this instinctively. But it doesn’t come naturally for me. If anything, it comes particularly unnaturally, with me having to sit in excruciating discomfort as I work through the framework of each problem and decide what action I need to take. Not what I WANT to take, not what would feel nice and comfortable for me. But what I NEED to do.
It’s times like this I HATE having a moral compass, because when you have stuck with this north-facing pin of integrity, you do not feel RIGHT until you’ve arrived at the course of action which you know is right. And often, the right decision affords personal peace, but it comes with an emotional mountain to climb first; a conversation which requires rehearsing, losing 3 hours sleep, spending the day before dipping in and out of worry, going back over ideas and ground until you are satisfied. There is no easy way to coexist with a moral compass and be a vulnerable, joyful person of integrity.
It WRINGS THE FUCKING LIFE out of you.
But there is no other way.
You need to do it.
So here’s the question: How does everyone else get comfortable with discomfort?
I’m not talking about deodorising a workplace or situation where everything is hunky-dory and annoyingly, superficially “fine”. I don’t buy in for that. I welcome safe discussion and discourse. I WANT accuracy for where I stand and what I do. But too often, pride and ego get in the way, and safe discussion without incidental power-over is impossible. And it breaks my heart, because I am no weakling. I just don’t want to be unnecessarily hurt by thoughtless, pride-driven conversation.
What I am talking about is when integrity does NOT win the day, and you watch as mud-slinging, bulldozer personalities and power-over get top spot? HOW do other people practise being resilient and courageous in this environment? How do you make peace with having to walk into battle, when you didn’t ask to walk into battle? How do you become more capable warriors in navigating shit-storms, without losing yourself? How do you keep your energy levels up? How do you learn to let things go after they are done? When do you know that they are done?
I don’t want total agreement. I want a safe place to put ideas on the table, the be deeply seen and valued, to not have my intrinsic work questioned when I am discussing difficult topics. It’s how we all want to feel.
Seen, valued, and heard, with worthiness which affords us the courage and audacity to have different opinions and creative ideas.
I know that I have instinctively walked this more challenging path all my life, because that’s how I was raised, that is what I am made of to the very core. I am so LUCKY to be lifted in heart and spirit by family and friends, who know me, and know what I do. They know my humility, they know my faults. They know where a should be fighting harder, and they also know where I am gentle in my strength.
For me, I know the cost of this walk of integrity. And I am tired from the heaviness of responsibility. As you know, this comes as UNNATURALLY to me as possible, yet I must do it. How do the great leaders of the world do it? How did Barack + Michelle Obama walk through their presidential term and maintain warmth and humanity, whilst making the hard decisions to guide and shape a nation? How did Nelson Mandela make wisdom and peace from hardship, over and over? Not just for a mere day; but when he least felt like it?
I am asking for some momentum and wind beneath my wings, some advice + wisdom, on how to continue to sustainably walk into challenging situations and understand how to chart a course of action without apology, but without sacrifice.
Day 7: Toronto
My last day full in Toronto, and it’s a family day! I am catching up with my other sister-in-law, the energetic + gregarious Steph and finally meeting her partner Sam. Who is like an instant sunshade for me when I finally meet him!
Steps taken: 15,982, which is surprising since I feeling like I spent more time outdoors today than yesterday.
One memorable meal or food item: The Nanaimo bar, a Canadian speciality. The bottom layer is a biscuit + coconut crumb base, the second is custard-flavoured butter icing, and the top layer is chocolate ganache.
One special photograph: The group photo of my extended family, all miraculously in one place. It felt like we were the Weasley family from Harry Potter, all safely marked as “AT HOME”.
One decent coffee: The delicious and refreshing cold-brew at Boxcar Social along the glorious Toronto waterfront.
Off the beaten track: Today began with a struggle. I had to get my head back into school-mode and draw on my courage and integrity to deal with some decision-making I didn’t agree with. While I’m diligent, it’s so hard to make these decisions where you are away on holiday and wanting to be present here, and you find yourself drawn back into work-mode against your will, despite having put a firm boundary down before leaving. I feel like I am being pulled into a decision I absolutely don’t agree with, and I am missing family, friends, and colleagues back home to talk it through. Luckily, I had my brother and sister-in-law, Robs + Em, to help get me back into equilibrium. I had to work through the issue, step-by-step, all the while anxious and frustrated I wasn’t there in person to be able to give voice to my opinions. I HAVE to trust that my judgment is right and that my decisions, always based in integrity, will have merit.
An unsettling start to the day, which made me so very grateful for the joy of being able to spend it with family, new and old.
And thank you also, wider universe and everyone who loves me, that I work from a place of love, courage, and integrity. It’s such a hard path to walk sometimes, but it’s the only way I know how to be. And this is the case because I have learnt this example from all the people who have played a part in shaping me.
Please let me be at peace with all that I have done, and let me know that my true worth will shine through. Let me trust in this and continue to take joy and delight in my travels.
Because I absolutely must!
Be outstanding, be fierce, be committed, be focused, be whatever crazy you want, but be connected + kind. And if kindness is not possible, then honest + respectful. You’re one of many, unique but the same.
Today was one of those days where I was right IN the whole problem-solving, behaviour management, motivating, and beating kids back into shape. I knew it was coming, and I knew this week would be the week for Grammarphones, Senior Concert Band, and my senior kiddies. The week where I would hunt them all down and have The Conversation, in whatever incarnation was required.
I hate it and love it. They see and hear the care from me, but also the fire in the belly for excellence, for them and myself, in EVERY capacity. Not just academically, but personally. I want the complete package: great people who strive for their best. 🌟
Even though I KNOW that I have done the best that I can, I can’t help but replay conversations, and wonder if I have done enough, and with the right words + weight.
And when it’s Music kiddies it becomes all the more connected and personal because of what they give to you on a daily basis. The conversations inevitably become even more emotionally-charged because you love your kiddies + because of the relationship you have with them. 💛
But I got one tiny little gem back today; walking out of the Music Centre into the Centre for Senior Learning, newly beat-up Sir Year 11 went one way and I went the other.
But not far enough that I couldn’t hear this:
Sir Year 11: “Hey, where were you? We’ve been waiting for ages!”
Mangled Sir Year 11: “Ms Kwok wanted speak with me about Grammarphones. She was disappointed in me.”
Sir Year 11: “Oh shit.”
I had to remind myself to struggle, and struggle hard today.
Isn’t it amazing that when adversity hits you, it hits you and winds you. It’s often sudden, complete, and catches you breathless. Your self-talk becomes focused, petty, and acidic. You get tunnel-vision. There is heat all around you, and blood pounding in your ears.
I read an errant Facebook post today which cut me to the core, and I was caught off-balance. NOTHING about the rest of my day had changed except for that one sentence, accompanied by that one photo. But it shook me, and I realised it was my values and my sense of self-worth being shaken.
And I had to remind myself to struggle. Struggle, and struggle hard. You’re underwater now, but you’ll fight your way to the surface, break through, and breathe. You don’t quite know how you’ll get there, but air will fill your lungs again. And it will feel empowering and awesome. Your wings will work, and you will fly. Your day was fine before your read those words, and saw that picture. You will find your equilibrium again.
More importantly, YOU ARE NOT PERFECT.
That seems so utterly counter-intuitive to write, but reminding myself that I am NOT perfect gives me permission to have emotional “wiggle-room”. I need reminding that I am indeed human, and I cannot be everything to everyone, or myself. I will NOT have it perfect, and I will NOT be perfect.
And after I flail heatedly and argue with myself internally, and the red-hot spark of anger has died away, I find myself on steadier ground. I realise and remember all the things that make me real and complete. I remember how much I add to the world, and how WORHTY I am.
I remember that I am a living, breathing, blessed, creative, thinking, real, loving, and present.
I am here, and I stand my own ground, worthy and beautiful. Not because of what I have, but just because I BREATHE, I LIVE, and I am a HUMAN-BEING.
Struggle is RIGHT. Without struggle, emotional or otherwise, my wings become weak, I forget how to scramble and fight, my heart would forget how to work. And I would never know gratitude. The love and joy of life that sets me alight.
Oh, let me cry hot tears of frustration! That my heart beats and works!
For it is in struggle that I remember all the things that are real and true to me, and how very lucky I am to have all that I have.
Imperfect set of experiences and tools that they are, they are mine, and they are perfectly beautiful. So shining with worth and merit, they are blinding.
And so am I.
It’s been one of those weeks where I have been kicked around. Arse-kicked. And not in the normal “teaching kicks my arse” kind of way. In a deeply personal way.
And it made me think about my own relationship with students, and how I endeavour to have the hard conversations with them.
This week, I had my worthiness as a musician put on the line. I was bumped off the accompanying roster, without word or explanation, and replaced by another accompanist. I am not driven by ego or pride, only excellence, so if it happens that there is someone else more suited to the job with a more correct skills set, then it is absolutely fine with me. And it turned out in the end that the swap made perfect sense.
But here’s what cut:
I was not spoken to. I was not told. I found out in the most uncomfortable way possible. This was a place where I was supposed to be playing for the Year 12s I have spent the year thus far nurturing and growing up into confident and expressive performers. Would I want to play for them? Of-fucking-COURSE I would. My heart’s connected! I love these students, I’ve watched 10 weeks of failure and rising, struggle and success. WHY WOULD I NOT WANT TO PLAY FOR THEM?
And I realised, having watched them perform, and having played for only two out of the original seven students I was supposed to play for, that it was NOT the fact that I didn’t play for them that cut my moral compass.
It was the fact that I was not approached with the courageous, hard conversation in the first place. I was not told, in terms that reflected my value and work, that I would not be doing this gig, but that I was seen for the excellence of teaching, support, and care I was giving to these students. I didn’t even have the logistics explained to me.
Here’s the thing; we all of us can live with things we don’t like if we are allowed to experience them from a place of worthiness. It might take time and struggle, grieving, swearing, and whatever brand of chocolate is your drug of choice to alleviate the annoyance + disappointment of the situation. The point is, everyone DESERVES to feel valued. Has a RIGHT to worthiness.
That’s not to say we deserve to get everything we want. We certainly should NOT. We need to accept our skills, our failings, our successes, and have an accurate barometer of our profile as people and professionals. But at NO POINT should our worthiness be on the line.
It took a day of feeling bent out of shape and a great deal more struggle to get myself back to equilibrium. And I am FLUENT in the language of self-care. I am not afraid of internal struggle. Even with my healthy sense of self as a teacher, musician, and professional, it cut deep and took way more time that it should to recover from.
What this whole experience highlighted to me was the courage required to initiate these challenging conversations. It also demystified to me my rapport with my most challenging students. I DON’T have a perfect track record with all my students. But for some reason, I have street-cred. And I am the most non street-wise, non-sassy of them all.
Yet I am loved and respected by my students. This I know to be true.
I work off kindness, compassion, and courage. I want excellence, but not at the cost of worthiness and well-being. I approach each student and put INTO WORDS why I’ve made certain decisions, why certain outcomes have gone pear-shaped, what realities they’ve placed themselves in. I approach a kid in person about a failed grade. I acknowledge them. My words resonate with value. I agonise how I should language things, or how a conversation should go, because I care about their worthiness. Every kid has VALUE to me.
It’s so incredibly present to me when I’ve been put through the emotional wringer how very important that process is, and how MUCH courage it takes.
It’s a courage I willingly engage with. It’s called integrity.
Darling Girl, who aches with hope, here is what I say to you:
Fill the room with ALL of you. Not pretentiously, but without apology.
Speak with every ounce of who you are.
Succeed. Oh, succeed because it is your life’s path.
Speak. Because you have so much to say that is innate and bursting forth. Speak all of your words, not just the ones that are curated.
Live, not clinically, not withholding, but FULLY. Messily, Completely. Utterly. Totally. Fully.
Don’t make space for a job, a misguided hope, a cultural implication, a relationship, a child, or anything else that is not there. Darling Girl, your heart, soul, and life will stretch to accommodate those if and when they arrives. Because that’s how life works!
If you live like this, in the ghosting of a hope, then you are living in deficit, and on misplaced reality. My beautiful, sweet, strong, gritty one, you live NOW, not for a time in the past or in the future, and certainly not on something that is grounded in only “what ifs”.
Travel. My God, travel and see all that you can, because you have the freedom and license to right now. You are only you at present, and it is absolutely right and true without being selfish. Travel and step into the world, as it fully embraces you as you are. Not as a wife, a mother, a partner, but as all of you.
Travel because it is embedded in the human spirit, that very curiosity that inspires and fires all of the imagination and softens us to humanity, whilst setting us alight. The need to be free, even when you have your own place in the world, is as real as breathing.
Feel. With every ounce of you heart, not just the spare corners, and certainly not just the safe ones. Whilst you get to pick how your mind responds, you cannot tap human emotion. The heart yearns for what it yearns for, to be connected. Do not hold back because you don’t feel you’ve earned the right because you are NOT something.
You are allowed to fall in love with children and be a mother even if you are not a mother. You love with intensity even if you are not in a relationship. You are borne of love, and it is yours to live. You are a woman of the world, and you affect it, and interact with it, any way you choose.
Life will keep moving and you will need to be a part of the change, fleeting, slow, circular, sudden, it is all impermanent.
You can cry, and laugh, and shriek, and run, and dance without any fear that you need to be a little more quiet; you do not need to earn the right to be human.
You already have. Completely. Humanity is a birthright.
Do not let that gloriously beating, beautiful heart stop or harden.
Cry your tears.
Feel your grief.
Celebrate your joy.
Share your love.
Walk through it with integrity and authenticity.
Grief never leaves our cells, we just learn to carry it better. We are all grieving something, either graciously or not. But nor will the absolute, unquenchable desire to live ever leave us either.
Which will you respond to? The fear of being hurt, or the fear of not fully living?
Make new meaning every day.
Change is in the minute, on every breath. Hold too tight, and you will only find pain.
Darling Girl, I love you more than you will ever know.