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Oh, the Things You’ll Know from the Places You Go: 5 Lessons I’ve Learned in 5 Months of Travel

Oh, the Things You’ll Know from the Places You Go: 5 Lessons I’ve Learned in 5 Months of Travel


Jammie Karlman is married to a man I refer to as the James Bond of blogging and travel, Bjorn. This international couple of mystery, salsa-dancing and helping others are chronicling their travels on both their blogs which are updated  regularly.

This international duo quit their jobs in California to travel around the world for a year doing service projects. Their plan is to spend 3 months in 4 world cities: Bangkok, Thailand; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Berlin, Germany; and Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. (They call it the B Tour.) This trip has been a dream of theirs for five years. It’s really an experiment in lifestyle redesign. An international life of do-gooding and adventure is what they want for the long-term. (That, and tasty food.)

Take it away, Jammie!

Right now, we are in Buenos Aires and have just come to the end of our fifth month of travel. The food, so far, has indeed been mind-numbingly delicious. Other experiences (e.g. humidity, taxi drivers that scam you) have been decidedly less so.

But that’s travel for ya — constantly surprising.

Through the ups-and-downs of our experiences, here are 5 things I discovered that (usually) hold true:

1.) You can live with half the stuff you have now. Take the remainder, halve it again and you’re left with what you actually use.

You need less than you think. When my husband and I decided to go on this trip, we got rid of 80-90% of our stuff. And now I can’t remember what most of that stuff was. What does remain is the memory that it was heart- and back-breaking work. A LOT of work.

And here’s the kicker: As we travel, I find I still packed too much. I actually have clothes and shoes sitting in the closet right now that I barely use. This is some kind of craziness to me, especially as I was that girl who had so many clothes she could go a month without wearing the same item twice.

But this is not a rant against consumerism and materialism. I still like pretty clothes, shoes and tchotchkes. But the experience of throwing out nearly everything we owned has made me leery of having too many possessions.

2.) Starting a new life doesn’t mean old problems disappear.

I can honestly say that I am living the life that I want and that I am happy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have pangs of insecurity and doubt about what I am doing or encounter difficulties with my character development. Just because I am traveling the world does not mean I left my baggage behind.

I had thought that by going on this trip, certain problems would resolve themselves. After all, I would no longer have to deal with particular annoying people. I would have more time to keep in contact with family and friends.

But halfway around the world from where I was, I am still having problems with people and keeping connected. How is it possible that almost all of the taxi drivers I encounter have cheated me or tried? I would like to blame all taxi drivers as being fraudulent, but I know that can not be true. If a problem is that recurrent and pervasive, it must mean that there is something I am doing that contributes to the problem. (Perhaps I lack assertiveness? Or is it self-fulfilling prophecy — I expect to be scammed and therefore I am?)

And I am STILL missing and forgetting people’s birthdays!

My real problem, I realize, is that I had wrongly ascribed the origins of my troubles to external sources (e.g. other people, overbearing schedule, etc.) when really they were internal. It’s always easier to blame “the other guy” when really you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

3.) Traveling makes it easier to take a long, hard look at yourself.

Aside from questions of how much time I will spend on service projects and devote to sleep, I have a pretty open schedule (I ain’t gonna lie: It’s pretty awesome.) I have found that the break from the rigors and structures of a normal 8-10 hour job has created more space for me; space that I fill dissecting events/experiences that disturbed me. I can’t as easily push these thoughts away; I don’t have the same distractions.

Usually, these events are so disturbing because they reveal something disturbing about me. For example, I recently blamed a taxi driver for a fast meter. I forced him to stop and made my husband and friends jump out of the cab. Turns out that all meters in Buenos Aires cabs go faster at night and that my accusations were unfounded.

Aside from feeling embarrassed, I was mystified about why I had such a violent reaction. Instead of dismissing it with the rationalization that “most cab drivers are jerks anyway” and/or avoiding dealing with it, I thought about the experience which eventually led to the conclusions mentioned in #2 about taxi drivers, and some strategies that I will employ next time.

4.) Traveling makes it easier to change

Aside from occasional visits from family and friends, Bjorn and I have been on our own. I am freed from the expectations of others who “know” me and how they think I should deal with problems or act. I no longer have to deal with what others think I should do or perceptions of what “Jammie would do” by what I have done in the past.

I can reinvent myself.

That makes it easier to attack character flaws from a new direction, to do things that you normally wouldn’t have. Just like a kid moving to a new school can reinvent themselves from shy to fly (yes, I did just use dated slang from the ‘90s) the same holds true with traveling.

Plus, I don’t feel “rushed.” I don’t feel the need to have changed and improved myself by the next time I meet with someone. It’s been a more forgiving process.

5.) You should just do it.

No, not just travel. What I’m getting at (besides possibly incurring the wrath of Nike) is that I have found it is better to take action toward a goal. As mentioned above, my husband and I had been dreaming about this trip for 5 years.

Five years of thwarted longing is not only torturous to the soul, but also enough time to build up insecurity, doubt and fear as obstacles to this trip for another 5 years (10? 15? 20…you get my point). It is better to take charge and take action for what you want. Now.

And here’s the crucially important (at least for me) part: You don’t have to be without fear to do it.

I found a definition of courage that I really like: “the ability to do something that frightens one.”

Notice it does not say that you stop being frightened— but you can do it, nonetheless. I freaked out (read: ran around a room screaming while wind-milling my arms — many times) before we even began this trip. But not even two weeks into our trip, I realized it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made — aside from choosing Bjorn as my husband, of course (Awwww! Hugs, kisses, sweetness, gags. :D)

Now when I get tingles of anxiety about doing something, it’s usually a sure sign that I should do it. Even if mistakes are made. Actually, that should just read: Mistakes will be made. The journey toward the life you want is not a straight line but a series of readjustments.

In a way, that makes change comforting, instead of frightening to me. Even if the actions you take don’t lead exactly where you want, you can always stop and correct course (unless those previous actions lead to death. Please plan your actions carefully and wisely and avoid most things that are illegal, immoral and fattening.)

Who can know what the future will hold? But as for me, I’m looking forward to what I’ll learn in the next five months.

What exciting places you been to? And what have you learned from your travel experiences?

You can read Jammie’s entertaining and informative travel blog here: Go Karlmans.

How to Fly when YOU feel like you’re drowning. [9 tips for moving forward]

How to Fly when YOU feel like you’re drowning. [9 tips for moving forward]

Who needs United Airlines when I can walk on clouds?

Who needs United Airlines when you can walk on the clouds?

“No matter where you are on your journey, that’s  exactly where you need to be. The next road is always ahead.” Oprah

The fancy home overlooking the glistening turquoise sea.

A fulfilling work-life and entrepreneurial career. Planning glamor weddings or writing best-selling books. Managing that talked-about restaurant that caters to celebrities.

Boating cruises on the Riviera with that tall, dark-skinned French doctor of your dreams.  Weekend getaways to Cannes, where the film festival makes the bottom of your weekend itinerary.

All right, all right.

Maybe not quite so glamorous but you know what  you’ve always wanted; love, career, children, a lovely home, season-tickets to the Teatro alla Scala, tango dancing in Buenos Aires.

Just the basics.

You NEVER imagined you’d be here.

You thought all the pieces of the puzzle were to fall together and your life would unfold as you had desired. Life would be a comforting journey on the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride at Disneyland where you floated around on teacups visiting exotic countries around the world.

Instead, you’ve found it to be like a scary life-or-death, hair-frazzling roller coaster ride leaving you breathless, disjointed and baffled.

What happened to that fairy-tale life you were promised as a kid?

What happened to the life-dreams you had so meticulously imagined in your day-dreams?  

Is your dream job more elusive than ever?

Is your career at a dead-end?

The hunk of a guy you’re dating: more punk than hunk?

Your life didn’t quite turn out the way you imagined. Instead of flying, you feel like you’re scuba diving. Scuba diving without an oxygen tank. Ok, feels like you’re drowning.

Did your life turn out the way you wanted?

Why did you get left behind?

Why is everyone else moving ahead?

Why is everyone else’s life falling into place like a 10-piece jigsaw puzzle when your 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle is scattered across three rooms, missing 150 pieces and is hardly recognizable?

The life I wanted seems so distant.

When I completed my law degree, I spent several years of my life as a courtroom lawyer but was never a fan of the practice. Instead of sticking with law, moving up the partnership track and getting paid!! ($$) I’ve jumped out of law practice all together. It didn’t fit my soul, personality or interest so I bid it farewell. But it set me back a few years professionally.

I married at the age of 25. Like most who walk down the alter to wedded bliss, I wanted this marriage to last a lifetime. Forever. Happily ever after, as fairytales end. A long life together, happiness and children. But it didn’t work out that way. In fact, we married too young, learned we weren’t right for each other and and divorced much later than we should have.

Yup, life wasn’t what I had wanted it to be and the life I desired seemed obscure.

What next? What do you do after the sense of failure has pinned you against the wall?  After the frustrations have set in and the tears have dried up? 

Your journey back to your life starts with:

1)    Resist your desire to compare yourself with others. You don’t know the 99 problems Jay-Z’s got. You don’t even know 99 problems your wealthy girlfriends, attractive exes or bff’s have. Life may appear grand on Facebook postings and idealistic on Christmas cards but you have no idea what deranged and lunatic people your friends and family are.

The more ideal their lives appears, the more likely you’re going to be reading about them in the tabloid papers or TMZ.

2)    Let your life work out on its own pace. No two journeys are the same (except in prison where your daily routine, clothing, bedding and food options are the same.) We each have different lessons to learn and different experiences to have.

You need the setbacks, experiences and lessons learned to shine in the future.

3)    Be grateful for who you are. You’re a divine being. You just forgot about that as you grew up and people around you told you otherwise. As a baby, you were coddled, petted and treated like a precious gem. As an adult, you’re now treated like Amanda Bynes or Justin Bieber on a bad day in court.

You’re not a disgraced pop star or reality tv wannabe. Be grateful for you. Be grateful for your talents, abilities, mind and consciousness. Be grateful for the gift you are to the world.

4)    Be grateful for everything you’ve got. Yes, your flat screen tv. Your diplomas, master’s degrees, student loan payments and photo frames. Your Gucci sunglasses. Startucks coffee-cards, Nina Fern pumps, weekend spa retreats… Your 18 silk scarfs. Your 10-year-old Volkswagen Jetta which drives without protest or resistance. You’ve got food and friends to eat it with. You’ve got a job, however dead-end it might be.

Whatever you have, small or grand, be thankful for it. There are no downsides to a gratefulness practice.

5)    Keep hope alive. “We must accept finite disappointment. But never lose infinite hope,” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Even if your life feels like it’s out of sync and far from the day-dreams you had growing up, never give up hope. The life you dreamed of may not be exactly as you had wanted but it will manifest in its own way. Huh?

What you want will manifest itself in a different form than you had expected.

You might have wanted children of your own,but for now you have nieces and nephews who you enjoy spending time with.  They love your company, but they go home after, saving you your sanity and sleep.

You dreamt of being a financial advisor at a large New York stock brokerage. The good news is that when the market tanked, you didn’t have dozens of angry clients trying to break down your door. Instead of doing it professionally, you’re able to make smart investments for your family members who ask.

You didn’t make it into Hollywood but you’re teaching children how to act and making a difference in the lives of dozens of future actors.

Stay positive and hopeful that the universe will manifest your desires.

Any day.

It may not be exactly as you had wanted but what the Universe felt you needed.

6)    Improve your mindset and raise your vibrations. You’re not going to read a personal development blog without hearing this advice, but it has to be said. Or you have to be reminded.

If you’re a highly negative person, this advice goes double for you.

If you believe positive thinking is a bunch of poppycock and wondering why there’s so much negativity in your life, you might have a problem.

Thinking positive thoughts is not going to mean a house in Beverly Hills and a fat movie contract. It WILL allow for more positive affairs (no, not that kind) to manifest in your life.

Also, hand in hand with positive thoughts are positive vibrations. How in the Universe do you raise your vibrations? My friend Evelyn has some thoughts.

7)    Practice patience. Yeah. Wait.

Some people I know are doing this as a spiritual practice or using it for their word of the year in 2013. Life isn’t a fast food drive-thru or quick-delivery pizza: 30 minutes or it’s free.

Didn’t someone say the best things in life are worth waiting for? So wait a little longer and your many wants and desires might manifest in front of your eyes. And much more than you initially wanted or expected.

8)    Clean your house. I’ve always found that prior to my external world improving, I’ve had to improve my internal world.

“Vishnu,” you’re asking, “did you just get back from a taping of Oprah?”

No, friends, I’ve experienced this.

When you’re a mess, your world is a mess. So, how do you improve your inside world?

Yoga, sure. Meditation, fine. Serious therapy and medication, ok. Standing upside down and chanting to the spirit Gods – whatever works, mate.

What do you need to deal with serious or even small emotional and psychological issues you’re facing? IF you’re thinking reading this blog is going to get you there, God help us all.

Get help.

9)    Be open to the tidal waves of change and gifts coming your way. Yeah, sometimes life’s like Christmas except you won’t know what day Santa is going to break into your pad and shower you with every gift you’ve ever wanted.

In fact, your life may already be like Christmas morning and you’ve failed to take notice.

If you’re living the dream and still feel unfulfilled, go back up to the “gratefulness” parts of this post.

If your dreams and wants in life seem far and distant, then be ready to accept your desires unfolding. Don’t shut the door on the extremely attractive delivery man who delivers you a bouquet of flowers. (Oh, do make sure that flower delivery guy is delivering flowers as his part-time job and that he’s studying to be a dentist during the day)

Be open and observant of what’s happening in your life. Allow your life to manifest what you want in it.

Don’t take another step or leave this post without heading over to the comments section below. Give it to me straight – are you waiting for your life to start or pressing ahead and living it?

5 Challenges When Returning to the Homeland [Portland –> Philippines]

5 Challenges When Returning to the Homeland [Portland –> Philippines]


Janet Brent - sooooo Pinoy!!

I’m a first generation Filipino immigrant to the United States and I’ve got a legit American passport to prove it.

In our first-time plane journey, Mom and I flew to the U.S. from the Philippines to begin our new lives. It all started from one of those pen-pal services that my mom joined pre-online dating sites. Sounds like a ‘Mail Order Brides’ kind of operation to me but who am I to judge?

Mom did what she had to do. All she selflessly wanted was a better life for me.

I spent my whole life growing up in the States; from pre-school through college.

I even worked my first two “professional jobs” in the U.S. We’d visit the Philippines every couple years if money allowed it and when I had those long summer vacations. My last visit was at the age of twenty with Mom. By that time, I was already telling my Tita (aunt) that I wanted to visit on my own next time and really travel the Philippines.

I forgot about this prophetic comment until my next visit six years later. I was twenty-five going on twenty-six.

Newly emerged from a self-proclaimed “quarterlife crisis” in which I had let go of a 5 year long relationship complete with house, mortgage and a dog.  That was slowly killing that fire within, that frees-spirit, that wanderlust that I always had. I knew I had to make big changes and so I walked away.

I uprooted my entire life just to reverse all the opportunities I’d known to embrace my Filipino culture and living with my own people.

I thought returning home would be ‘a spiritual coming home’ experience – a return to my roots. I was going back to the homeland. I’m still here now, but it ain’t all bed and roses. Sometimes, it’s wooden floors and coconuts. It’s a strange sort of culture clash, when you’ve all but lost your own culture.

5 Challenges of Returning Home

1. IDENTITY or “Being Told I’m not Pinoy.”

The term ‘Pinoy’ is used to describe a person from the Philippines; a Filipino.

Pinoy can also refer to the native culture of the Philippines. e.g. “Woke up to bad karaoke blasting from the neighbors singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’. That’s so Pinoy!”   

I have had many times, especially during when I first landed, where people have told me to my face that I am ‘not Pinoy’.

Who am I if I’m not even Filipino?

Are Filipino-Americans, particularly the Filipino-Americans who don’t know their own language fluently (guilty), such aliens?

Am I a freak?

Do I not belong in my country of birth?

Who am I if I’m not Pinoy?

The comments stung as I grasped for a sense of my own ever-changing identity.

Who am I if I’m not Pinoy and these aren’t my people? Identity is a real bitch. Each devaluation, regardless of the cultural context (OK, so I know I’m not as “Pinoy” as I am “American”), is a kick in the gut. It hurts.

2. ICE COLD SHOWERS or “Going Native.”

Joel Runyon, who runs the popular Impossible HQ, thought it would be weird and crazy to take cold showers for a month just because he can.

I mean, who does that!?


And probably a big chunk of the world population not in the top 8% we call America. Cold showers are a reality for developing countries and “going native”.

Filling buckets of cold water and using little “dippers” to dump water over my head is a reality for most, especially in the province (Bonus points if you can do this outside with your clothes on. DOUBLE bonus if you can do this outside in your birthday suit. Context is everything. And if you’re wondering, heck yeah, I’ve done both.).

Despite the humid, hot environment, cold showers still take some getting used to.

My technique?

Grabbing my boobs with both hands to cover them while simultaneously jumping up and down with flip-flops (it’s weird to shower barefoot) under the shower. Once I get used to the temperature I let go of my boobs and hang loose, baby! So who’s the crazy one now?

3. CULTURE SHOCK or ‘You’re so yuppy!’

Culture shock is a broad category that can cover a myriad of situations and examples.

But the opposite of ‘Pinoy’ and not being culturally “native” is being ‘sosyal’ (think “social” with an accent). This term refers to the higher-class, often “yuppy” groups of Westernized socialites and urbanites out of touch with their native culture. These social elites live in high rises and not the bahay kubo (“high rise” house on stilts made out of bamboo that the provincial poor dwell in).

I am the LEAST poshy least social person ever and I live in the slums but I still get labeled ‘yuppy’ because it also refers to the mindset, if not the lifestyle, of a Westernized person. 

(By the way, things like using utensils to eat instead of a fork and spoon gets you marked a sosyal!?!)

4. GIMME A KISS AND YO’ US DOLLARS or “Family Obligation.”

Money is a real bitch here, and family members are expected to help out collectively, for the greater good of the family. That’s all fine and dandy but it also means you can get taken advantage of as the “rich” Westerner. This was completely new to me having gone back for the first time by myself.

This is a huge culture shock for someone trying to travel and live on a budget!

Add to this the passive-aggressive communication style. How my aunts would call my mom on the phone to talk about how I wasn’t paying and my mom would call me to tell me I needed to pay. Big turn off.

To this day, I still hesitate visiting knowing that I’m expected to shell out money, and being guilt tripped if I don’t.

Now that’s so Pinoy!

At my current rate, trying to build my web/blog design business (www.byjanet.net), I’m just trying to survive like the rest of the ‘Pinoys’, with very little money to spare.

5. SLUMS or “I’m a Survivor.”

My life is so much different than it was a few years ago. I am now living in the Manila slums when I found my money run dry and was faced with living in the cheapest rent of the city that I could find.

This is like a season of “Survivor” but I guarantee you there’s no million dollar grand prize if I survive.

Not surviving means not making rent or having dinner!

My ‘coming home’ path wasn’t the path I had imagined but I’m certain it is the path that will ultimately make me succeed as a person.

Coming home does have it’s plusses – I am with my people (like it or not) I speak Tagalog daily (so Pinoy!).

I eat with my hands (more often at least) I’ve learnt persistence, survival skills and become more of a local than when I first landed here.

You know what? It feels good to be home.

Did you enjoy Janet’s story? Have you had to ‘go home’? Was your return home anything like Janet’s experience? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below

Janet Brent is a straight-up Pinoy, still living in the Phillipines and chasing her entrepreneurial dreams. She works with creative and holistic writers and authors to build web platforms, design ebooks and assists with product launches over at the Purple Panda. She’s also living on $2 U.S. dollars a day this month.

How I Cope With My Mother: Lessons Learned From My Most Challenging Relationship

How I Cope With My Mother: Lessons Learned From My Most Challenging Relationship


Gawd, You'll never get anywhere singing like that!

Welcome back to my friend Razwana! Take it away amica mia

Sometimes whatever you do, it’s never enough.

You could sacrifice everything for your family, but it wouldn’t even scratch the surface.

The demands never end.

When my (clichéd) arranged marriage was over and I finally decided it was time to live my life, I announced to my mother that I was moving to London.  Now, the first generation British-Pakistani community do not care for women living independently.

A woman living alone means one of two things – you are either hiding something, or you’re a whore.  I fell into neither category. But the truth didn’t matter so much.  It’s what my actions appeared to say that was the problem.

So I had a decision to make.  Do I do what I want, or do what my mother wants?

I decided to use a bargaining chip so we both get what we want.

‘OK, mother. If I don’t move to London, I will move out of your house and live on my own, but in the same city.’

Only, that’s not quite what I did.

Yes, I moved to a house a couple of streets away so it was just close enough so that she wouldn’t feel too lonely. Was I right in doing that? No.

Then, I would go to my mum’s for dinner 5 nights a week. Was that enough? Never!

So I sacrificed seeing friends so I could spend time with my family. Did I gain acceptance? Nope.

Surely she could see I was trying to make her happy, right? Wrong again.

The worst part was that the circle of misery was going round and round – seeing her disappointed was making me unhappy, so the more I did, the worse it became.

It was decision time again.  This time I did make my move to London.  And it was magical.

I’d love to say that this was the catharsis that transformed our relationship, Hollywood movie style.

It wasn’t.

Over the years, I’ve accepted my position as the eternal-disappointment.  This is perhaps one of the most trying, emotional, destructive, difficult, time-consuming relationship, ever.  But it has evolved, and taught me a few things along the way….

When it’s all over, they are still family.

That blood that you share?  It’s there forever.  They are your family; the one’s you didn’t choose, but the ones that raised you. They fed you, they clothed you, and were there when you didn’t even know you existed.

This doesn’t mean you must now sacrifice everything for them, but it does mean respecting the fact that you have a history.  This may be the only thing that keeps you together, but if you were going to leave them, you would have done so by now, right?

What will other people think?

Yes, dearest, what WILL those people think?  Do you care?  Do your parents care?  The two perspectives are very different.

Know that when your parents ask what the neighbours will think of you, they are simply projecting their issues onto you.  THEY are scared of what the Iyer’s down the road will think of you.  They want the Khan’s next door to respect you because what you do reflects upon on them.

But it is not your problem.  It’s their problem.  Let them deal with their problem. 

Look forward like you’re looking back

Consider your life in 20, 30 or 40 years. How will it play out if you follow one path over another? Will you be happy because you did everything in your will to please your parents?

Didn’t think so.

And the irony is that when you get there and tell them you are unhappy, they will agree and question why you listened to them in the first place. 

And if you DO decide to succumb to the pressure and do what they want you to do, then accept the fact that you will spend the rest of your life living vicariously through TV shows.

Just make sure it’s worth it.

If you want them to be different, start with yourself

Do you want them to show that they love you?  Love them first.

Do you want them to show an interest in your life?  Show an interest in their life first.

As difficult as it sounds, give them what you want from them.  Don’t do so because you want them to reciprocate.  Do so because it’s what we do for the people we love.  And if you DO want them to reciprocate, try communicating it to them.

That’s right.


Talk to them, in a language they understand (!) and explain exactly what it is you want.

The honesty will be worth it.

Over to you — what’s the most difficult relationship in your life? How do you cope?

*Razwana Wahid leads a movement for anyone who, professionally and personally, has felt jaded, exhausted and dull; for anyone who’s forgotten what it feels like to come ALIVE, do work you LOVE. She blogs at www.yourworkisyourlife.com

Photo credit John Barnabas Leith

Great Expectations & High Pressure: How You Can Survive Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Middle Eastern Cultures (And Parents)

Great Expectations & High Pressure: How You Can Survive Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Middle Eastern Cultures (And Parents)

Yup, I'm getting married. And yes, I'm on an elephant.

Yup, I'm getting married. And yes, I'm dancing on an elephant.

This is not your typical post. There’s no talk of self-realization, church-hopping, or spiritual wisdom here.

I’m simply writing this for those of you who read my posts on Culture Mutt last year and have written to me with questions about how to survive living in high-pressure cultures, dominant parents, inquisitive communities and families.

Cultures where your existence is compared to everyone else you know, including your genius brother, American Idol-talented sister, chess champion cousin, Harvard-going family friend, deceased Supreme Court grandfather, highly educated and wealthy very-distant relative who founded Google, surgeon neighbor, and television personalities (Sanjay Gupta, Fareed Zakaria, etc)

                                             Your circumstances.

As a kid of a Tiger Mother or neurotic parents of any highly traditional, high-pressure culture, you know what family and social pressure feels like.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in elementary school, high school, college, graduate school or a working professional. If you’re Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Persian of from any Asian country, you know that your life and decisions are not solely your own.

You’re commanded errr… encouraged to attend a particular college, pursue a specific profession which gives you titles such as M.D. or M.B.B.S., creatively introduced to your future spouse, given hints as to where you should live, what job to get, how many children to have, etc etc.

Of course, you’re never really ‘told’. Simply, asked, questioned, hinted at, barraged with a line of questions a murder suspect would get during an interrogation.

“Why don’t you go to medical school?”

“Oh…the Patel kids are both going to Yale next year. Where did you decide?”
“You can go to India to study medicine, no?”

“Why did you get a B+ in history? Do you know how much we’re paying for your education?”

“He’s a nice guy from a good family. You’re not that young, you know”

“Who writes? You can become a doctor, then you’ll write up patient charts during the week and novels during the weekends”

“So, looks like we’re cursed by the God’s and our fate’s sealed. You’re not marrying and giving us 2 grandkids!”

What do you do if you don’t want to play by the rules of your culture or family?

If you’re muddled about what you should be doing with your life, feeling pressured by your parents and culture to be a professional (and by that, I mean doctor, dentist or engineer) and feel dreadful about not living up to everyone’s expectations and demands, read on:

Survive your family and your culture – 9 tips to get control of your life.

1) Forgive your family and yourself. 

As hard as it may be to do, forgiveness is necessary for your mental health and sanity. You must be able to forgive your parents who are pressuring you and trying to control your life. More than likely, this is their unusual way of showing you their care and concern. And love.

When you forgive your parents or family, you show yourself that they have very little impact on you. You refuse to allow their overbearing and dominant ways to hurt you further. 

Forgive them, then forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for having to disagree with and not pleasing them.  Forgive yourself for choosing to live your own life. Forgive yourself so you can move on with your life, instead of being trapped by your family and culture.

2) Refuse to follow the lead of your parents and compare yourself to others.

Know that others have their own difficulties, challenges, and life-dilemmas.

Your friends getting married after law school and touring Europe may look like they have a perfect life on the outside. But you never know what’s going on with them. That very successful and got-it-together couple may be absolutely miserable internally, seeing 3 therapists or could be alcoholics – you never know.

3) Seek clarity in your life and take action.

You don’t have to have a clue as to what you’re doing with your life but you should try to seek clarity by talking to your inner circle of friends and through self-reflection.

Look at what you enjoy doing, look at your strengths, your skills and move in that direction. No matter who you are, you have certain skills, talents and strengths. Focus on those and keep moving towards mastering those parts of your life.

Stop doing those activities, professions and jobs you can’t stand.

Look for an exit.

Just take a little bit of action a day on what interests you, what inspires you and what makes you feel alive.

If you have no idea, just start. As Alexis Grant says, purpose usually finds you, not the other way around. And it finds you only after you’ve gotten started.

Start doing your hobby, your craft, your art. If you start and lose interest, then that’s not your passion. If you’re not willing to do this for 2 hours a night after a day of school or work, then it’s probably not your passion.

4) Take money, prestige and what people think out of the equation.

Be honest with yourself as far as what you enjoy doing. If you do that and do that only, you’ll find immeasurable success in the long run.

If you love teaching, like a friend of mine did, success will knock on your door. My friend’s parents tried to talk him out of a teaching career but he fought for his dream. And yes, he became the youngest state ‘teacher of the year’ a couple years back.

Unlike what your community or parents tell you, you WILL succeed in what you enjoy doing and what brings you happiness.

5) Seek confidence building activities, daily inspiration and affirmations.

All those things sound zany but they work. You hear a lot of negativity from your parents and culture.

You have to replace it with positive self-talk. There’s online videos, meditations, affirmations, books, more. Do these activities daily to keep all the negative buzz away form you. And affirm your brilliance.

Don’t let them break you down with comparisons, criticism and insults.

6) Stomach your day job until you can actively pursue your interest, passion, art.

If you can’t make your passion into a full time job or career, then spend all your free time doing it.

If you can’t give up your law practice or medical career, then write at night, take classes in the evenings, run on the weekends, shoot photos when you’re on vacation.

Have a vision of your future. Create a vision board to make your vision a reality.

7) Use negative energy, the doubters and the haters to take action.

Use their doubt, disapproval and judgmental behavior of others to move you into action. Allow the negativity to help you become even more focused and determined about doing what you want to do.

Let the negativity motivate you to achieve more.

Allow the doubters to help you achieve your goals.

8) Actively hunt for people who will believe in you.

Spend more time with them.

You already know what to do with the negative people in your life.

9) Seek happiness daily.

Be diligent about seeking happiness. Be like a firefly seeking the light of happiness.

You don’t have to do what everyone else wants you to do but you do need to do something.

Find what makes you happy and keep doing more of that. Find happiness in the mundane and boring tasks of life. Find happiness in the job you hate. Find happiness in the profession you never wanted to pursue in the first place. There must be some aspect of your job or career that makes you happy. Focus on that.

If meeting people who compare you and humiliate makes you unhappy as it well should, avoid them. If reading makes you happy, schedule that in. If family affairs are no fun, find excuses to get out of them.

Fight for your happiness like you’re fighting in a war. Be disciplined about seeking and living in happiness daily. When you’re happy, you’ll do better work and find success.

When you’re happy, it will rub off on those around you. They soon will be happy too.

Keep seeking happiness and vigorously fight against anyone trying to steal it from you.

Protect your dreams and happiness like you’re guarding the priceless Mona Lisa.

Did your community or family insist you live your life a certain way, marry a certain person, work a certain profession? Let me know how you deal with your family or community in the comments below.

How to be as Happy as the Dalai Lama (6 rules for happiness)

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” the Dalai Lama

Do you think about happiness much?

Like why you’re unhappy all the time? Or why your life is as happy as bottomless Mimosas, advertisement-free television and 3-day weekends?

Or are you like most people out there, having experienced brief periods of bliss, but generally searching for that elusive concept called happiness?

If you’re searching for happiness like a banker searching for sunny tax-shelter islands or the Bachelorette searching for the man of her dreams, then you’ve got to watch this video above.

As you watch this video, you’ll ask yourself a number of questions.

Vishnu, what do you know about happiness?

Very little, my friends. That’s why I followed Gretchen Ruben’s advice to imitate a spiritual master and picked up this book by the Dalai Lama called, The Art of Happiness. I dug into the nitty-gritty details and pulled out the pearls of wisdom the Dalai Lama shares on the subject of happiness.

Yes, you can spend 7 hours reading this book or 7 minutes listening to me tell you what I learned from the Dalai Lama’s handbook on happiness.

What I learned from this book, Eckhart Tolle’s book, and my friend, Galen Pearl’s book on happiness, is that happiness is really an inside job. We can change our mindset and take practical actions to strive towards more happiness in our lives. I share at least 6 of the Dalai Lama’s strategies in this post.

Why in God’s name are you in front of a Christmas tree?

I was going for the Santa Claus look then realized that I had neither the costume, the beard or the hat.

Actually, this video was made during the Christmas holidays — what better backdrop for your viewing pleasure than this decorated Christmas tree?

What’s up with the lighting and why does this video look like some low-budget movie production?

Simply, cause that’s what it is my friends. Me, my flip cam, the bad lighting, the Dalai Lama and you. I’m no professional and this is one of my first videos. Until I get the lighting down or hire Oprah’s cameraman, bear with me.

Watch this video, then please share your thoughts with me in the comments below. I want to hear from you – yes, you! Tell me, what makes you happy? What are your rules for happiness?