The Sum of Our Choices

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We were on vacation, driving up and down the hills of Illinois. His voice sounded almost like an echo as he asked: Who am I? These three words got me thinking. Who am I? Who are we?

We had a casual conversation but yet its profoundness hit me like a lightning in the middle of a storm. Silently I let my mind rewind past moments of my life in which I asked myself this question.

I believe most of us spend our lives trying to find ourselves and to define who we really are.

Some people settle with being someone’s son or daughter, allowing their parents’ story to define them. At times, our legacy is so strong that it’s almost impossible to break, accompanied with the fear of failure. Imagine that!

If your father was a successful business man, how can you consider becoming a doctor? You need to follow in your father’s footsteps. Or so you may think.

Other people become someone’s husband or wife, being defined by their partners and losing themselves behind that person’s shadow.

Another group allow their professional lives to define them. It’s funny when being asked who they are, their simple responses will be: I’m a doctor, I’m a teacher, or I’m an attorney.

2011 was a decisive year in my life. At that point I myself had become my work. I had no life of my own and all I did was work. I didn’t spend time with my kids because I was always either working or tired from working. I didn’t go out because I had no time for socialization. I loved the weekends so I could sleep as much as possible (when I wasn’t on call).

However, at the same time I started realizing that there was no balance in my life and that I needed more; my kids needed more. I decided to pursue life and become me, the best me I could possibly be.

That was the hardest part, to define who I was away from my work. And then came the real question: Who did I want to be?

This tough question shook something inside of me and helped me make the necessary changes. I realized I wanted to be a combination of a mother, daughter, sister, friend, co-worker and eventually even a spouse. I had to make peace with the fact that I was more than my work and that playing all those roles was important for me in becoming a better person.

After years of helping others to find balance in their lives, I decided it was time to find my own balance. And so I did.

In 2012 I packed my things and moved to another country, basically to start building a whole new life. I had to be careful to have the space I needed to be who I wanted to be.

I made a list of skills I wanted to develop, the good traits I wanted to keep and nurture, and those defects I needed to work on in order to improve myself. Well, I must say that was probably the greatest challenge of all, but I am so happy I did.

In 2013 I met an extraordinary man who later became my husband. My kids have enjoyed having a mother who now respects her working schedule but is aware that life is more than just working and providing. I am fully enjoying life. I am modeling for my children the ability to find balance in their own lives.

It’s never too late to decide who we want to be, because in the end, who we become is the sum of our choices.

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The Gratitude List

gratitudeHave you made your gratitude list yet? I remember the first time I ever heard about such a thing; a gratitude list.

I had been at the hospital with my oldest son for about a month at that point and yet, the doctors couldn’t tell me what was wrong with him. It started on January 16, 2005.

We were celebrating his tenth birthday and had gone to a pizza place he had chosen to have dinner. However, he was already sick. He had been feeling weak and tired most of the time and I thought it was due to a long walk he had taken with his aunt. During his little birthday party, the fever started, and that’s when the nightmare began.

At this point, February 2010, he had been at the hospital for the third time, and each of those times for different reasons. When he was treated for what the doctors thought he had, he would get better and then be sent home. About three days later, we were walking into the hospital AGAIN with a whole list of other symptoms that would lead to a new diagnosis.

It was like entering a dead-end street every time. I was exhausted. Tired from sleepless weeks, trying to hold on to my new found faith, but falling into despair as I watched my ten year old son get worse and worse every day. We had a group of well certified doctors and none of them could explain what was going on. My son was dying.

Unexpectedly, my friend Gia stopped by the hospital to see how we were doing. She wanted to check on me and make sure I was keeping it together. I had known her from a meeting only a few months ago and I remember how her spirituality hit me then. She won my admiration the minute I met her and the empathy I felt was immediate. We became friends in spite of our age difference and she became an incredible role model for me.

We sat down in front of my son’s bed while he was sleeping and talked. Gia shared her strength and positive view of life and situations, so that it felt almost normal to be where I was at that moment. Soon it was time for her to leave and we said our goodbyes. As she walked to the hallway, she turned around and asked, “Have you made your gratitude list yet?”

“My gratitude list?” I replied.

“Yes, your gratitude list. A list of all the things you feel thankful for today”.

For a moment, I thought she was joking. I was there, at the hospital, for about a month now, my son dying. Nothing was working, doctors didn’t know what else to do and my two year old baby was with my mother because I couldn’t be at home with him. Now here was Gia asking what I felt thankful for?

Then she continued. “There is always something to be thankful for and in your case, being in this situation, now more than ever you need to remind yourself of all the blessings you have in your life or you will easily forget them. Make a list of at least ten things you are thankful for today. It can’t be less than ten. I know it will be hard at first, but once you connect with the gratitude in your heart reasons to be grateful will pour out”. Then she left.

gratitudeI remember sitting in front of the hospital bed with my little notebook, my mind totally blank. I kept thinking about it over and over. And just as she told me, reasons to be thankful starting to pour out of my heart. As I wrote on the piece of paper, I broke down and cried.

I kept making that list every day while at the hospital for the following two months we spent there, as well as when we took him to a Hospital in Minnesota for six weeks that following summer.

The gratitude list became my best therapy at some of my worst moments. When changing jobs, getting a divorce or coping with the health crisis my son had in the following years.

What my friend never told me was that the gratitude list would pull me out of the dark hole of self-pity that hard times and circumstances would push me into. It sent a new strength throughout my veins and helped me remember that there are amazing blessings in my life.

I came from a family that had been close enough to help me cope with the worst moments of my life, to incredible friends who have accompanied me and believed in me when I could barely believe in myself; through great opportunities and professional accomplishments. One of those blessings is that my son is still with me.

It’s been nine years since then. He is now nineteen, his health is very stable and he is full of dreams and plans. He too learned to write his gratitude list during that painful process. We have learned to see the cup half-full instead of half-empty.

How about you? Have you made your gratitude list yet?

Whatever Gives You Peace

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Whatever Gives You Peace

We were having coffee, getting ready for the work ahead. She mentioned she wanted to go do her hair. She could do this at her lunch break, or after work. Then she asked the question: “what do you think?”

I started my speech about how doing it after work will be stress-free, because no one will be waiting for her to go back to the office, plus she can take her time and enjoy it. She seemed to agree on this.

About an hour later, when I least expected it, she asked: “so, should I go do my hair at my lunch break or after work”?

I stopped what I was doing, turned around, gave her a straight look and without realizing how cold it sounded at the moment, I let my words come out of my mouth with an absurd calmness that was not much appreciated: “WHATEVER GIVES YOU PEACE”.

Needless to say, my friend got a little offended and went on and on about the friend’s dynamics in which someone says something and the other person is expected to answer back, even if you end up spending time talking about the same thing without reaching any conclusion, but feeling kind of supported by your listening friend. Or so she says.

Years ago I learned a very helpful lesson about opinions and how people feel about it.

Some people ask for your opinion, expecting you to tell them what to do and therefore, making you responsible for whatever the outcome might be. On the other hand, some will ask your opinion to simply hear what you think about it, but not expecting you to decide for them.

There are also people who will give you their opinion feeling that you have to do as they advice, and getting extremely angry at you when you don’t. They have a hard time understanding each person has the right to decide what they feel is best for them; to go along with what really gives them peace.

This phrase has been my philosophy not only for my own decisions, but also when asked my opinion regarding any situation. I have used it to help me maintain healthy friendships, having my friends feel that I listen to them, I care about them, but recognizing it is “their” decision to make and I need to respect such decisions; either I like them or not. I don’t have to like them. IT IS THEIRS. They are the ones dealing not only with the situation but with the results as well: good or bad. It is their lives and they have the right to live it however they feel is best for them.

I also apply it to myself when having to make my own decisions. When I feel troubled about something I pretty much know inside that I should not go that path. It is simple for me. I can’t cope with doubt. I just can’t.

The whole phrase has been a reason for my co-workers to make jokes about it and have a good laugh when remembering the context in which they heard it; however, it’s been a nice surprise to have heard most of them (if not all) use this phrase every once in a while. I guess they have connected with the amazing freedom it gives to both the talker and the listener.

I invite you to use it any time you feel you need it, because after all my friends, such simple phrase involves a huge profoundness and truth. Whatever gives you peace… Whatever gives me peace.