By Sandy Hwang, Groundswell cohort member
At the Groundswell September kick-off weekend, we were asked to share something about our names. This was what I shared: When my family immigrated to Canada 20 years ago, I had just barely learned my ABCs. So prior to enrolling in the public school system, my parents gave us a book of English names with Chinese translations. To narrow things down, I went to the S section as my Chinese name translates to a name that starts with S. As I flipped through the pages, Sandy caught my attention. First, it was short enough that I can remember the spelling. Second, the pronunciation was simple enough that I can say it correctly. Moreover, the book translates the meaning of Sandy to “someone who is brave”. At 10 years old, having just spent a few months in and out of the hospital after a terrible eye injury then moving to a foreign country, being brave really resonated with me and that was how Sandy became my name.
As a child, a simple definition I had for courage was to stand up for those who are oppressed, to speak up against injustice, and to do things you believe in even though the path to get there may not be the easiest. On a more personal level, “being brave” was to show others that I am doing ok, that I am emotionally strong, that I don’t break down and cry easily.
Having endured a few unfortunate events the past few months, I have learned that true courage stretches beyond my limited childhood definition: Not only is courage standing up for those who are oppressed, it is also recognizing your own needs and standing up for yourself. Being brave is not telling people that you are fine when you are falling apart on the inside. It is not ignoring all the hurt and pain that you feel while carrying on like nothing has happened to you. Being brave is being able to show others that you are vulnerable. Being brave is reaching out for help when you feel that you are utterly alone. Courage is also admitting that you can’t do it all. It’s not about never giving up, but about knowing when you may have to adjust your current course to get to the final destination and realizing that even when your whole world seems to fall apart, you will somehow be able to piece it back together.
Life is tough and it can often get very messy. But it is also full of beauty. As an old Chinese proverb says, “Out of the hottest fire comes the strongest steel”. 2015 has brought me a lot of pain, but it also initiated new growth. As I reflect back on my year, I have realized that hardships are here to teach me about resiliency and life has taught me many lessons that I will carry with me as I embark on the adventures of social entrepreneurship.
Here are a few things that I have found to be helpful in overcoming adversity:
1) Always be kind to others. You never know what battles they are fighting. Especially when you are doing well, be kind. Situations can change in a matter of seconds where you would need the kindness and understanding of others.
2) Surround yourself with good people and don’t lose touch. Don’t take the people you love for granted. Continue to cultivate the relationships that are important to you, because these are the people who will stand beside you in your darkest hours.
3) Be grateful. I am grateful that despite the pain, I am alive. I am grateful to live in a country where I can freely express my thoughts. I am grateful that I have shelter and food. I am grateful for the strong support network I have around me. No matter how bad things get, be grateful for what you have and your mind will be able to cope better with stress. Being grateful accelerates the healing process.
4) Practice self-care. I have realized that I am of no good for the world, if I am of no good for myself. Eat a balanced diet, sleep enough hours, and stay physically active. Take care of your mind, body, and spirit on a daily basis. This will increase your capacity to deal with unexpected stressors. Believe me, you don’t want to go through a major burnout to realize the importance of self-care.
5) See the humor in things. Sometimes when it rains, it pours (or in my case, it floods, literally)! Shit happens and when the dust settles I have learned to see the humor in the situation and not take things too seriously. This is helping me keep whatever sanity I’ve got left.
6) Be kind to yourself. It is ok to feel like a failure sometimes. Recognize that you are doing your best with what you have, given the circumstances that you are in. We are often much tougher on ourselves than we are to anyone else. Be gentle on yourself when you fall, give yourself a big hug and in time, you will be able to pick yourself back up.
7) Forgive. The sad truth is, sometimes people will hurt you for reasons you will not understand. A recent experience has left me dumfounded and heartbroken. But why should I punish myself for the mistakes of others? Forgiveness is freeing. I cannot control the actions of others, but I can choose to free myself because I deserve so much more than be consumed by negative emotions. I forgive because I deserve peace.
8) Do not stay a victim, be a survivor. Scar tissue is tougher than regular tissue. Everything that happens to us prepares us for the next; you gain new perspective and you grow. By shifting your mind away from feeling sorry for yourself, you empower yourself to deal with the situation better. Remember, when it feels like you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up.
9) Get out into nature. Nature never ceases to inspire me. From flowers blooming through the cracks of a large stone, to the salmons’ unwavering quest to swim back to the spawning river that was their original birthplace, I am constantly awe-struck by the resiliency that nature exhibits. It has been here longer than any of us have and there’s a lot that we can learn from simply going out into nature and experiencing its quiet fortitude.
10) Help others. There will always be someone out there whose life you can make a difference in. No matter how small the gesture, reach out to those who need your help. My own struggles always seem to lessen when I am able to focus my energy outside of myself. This is not to say to ignore your own problems, but rather, help others as you are able; sometimes, it will temporarily make you forget about your problems, other times, it will help you gain clarity with your own issues.
Yes, there are still days when I simply want to give it all up, when things as simple as getting out of bed is a two-hour battle, where changing out of my sweatpants takes a tremendous amount of effort. Nevertheless, I know the battle is half over when I pull myself out of bed. I would put my jeans on one leg at a time. I would remind myself of the things that I am grateful for and smile. I would take slow but steady steps to go out into the world to see the beauty that is all around. For I always find that after the storm has passed, the roads are a little bit cleaner, the air is much fresher, and the sky? It is a whole lot brighter. May you all find peace and joy during the holiday season and in the new year ahead.