Eating dumplings for breakfast, challenging yourself and other lessons learned from a week empowering teenage girls in China

Earlier this month, I spent time in Kunming China teaming up Fuel The Happy with Bright & Beautiful, a program bringing girls from rural China together to build self-esteem and discover hidden potential through various art forms. These are girls that have to work harder to access resources that many others throughout China and the world can easily find. These are girls growing up in families that have lost parents. These are girls growing up with very limited financial resources and opportunities. These are girls growing up in families being told they aren’t good enough because they are a girl and not a boy. Before going I knew that I would be one of the only native english speakers, though a few of the rest of the team did speak English. I was nervous, excited and didn’t know what to expect. Yes, this is the work I do, but I have never been in a situation where I could not speak the same language as the girls I would be working with. Why the hell would I go if I didn’t speak the language? I wanted to go because I like to - ok wait like is not the right word- I know it is important (better word) to challenge myself. I believe it is important to seek out and go after things that make you a bit nervous - that challenge you, that make you question yourself and take you out of your comfort zone. That is why. These are the times for growth.

We danced, we did improv, we wrote about and shared our dreams, we talked about health, we played games, we exercised, we drew, we made dolls, we laughed a lot and cried a lot. I led the girls in mini workout routines, taught them how to make salads and make healthy choices, and led writing exercises and sharing circles to encourage them to talk about their dreams, fears and struggles. As the days went on, the girls started to open up and show their strength. They started to embrace having fun, trying new things, and sharing. Seeing them open up inspired me to do the same.

It was hard. I felt isolated part of the time. I felt energized, I felt that I inspired, motivated and empowered. I also felt overwhelmed, confused and frustrated. I even cried at one point - In a group therapy session - in Mandarin… while someone translated what I said… Why did I cry? I shared that I often am the strong one. I worry about being vulnerable myself and having clients and friends not thinking I can help them because I have my own doubts and fears. While I shared this, I realized, NO! THIS is exactly why I am a great coach and leader. When I shared, the rest of the group opened up and told me how much impact I am having on the girls, how much they are learning from me and how motivating I am for them. We also had a psychologist on the team who said that he saw something special within me before I even started sharing. This feedback meant a lot to me. If I had not been vulnerable, I would never have known any of this. The reason I am sharing part of this story is because I want you to know that no matter who you are - IT IS OKAY to share your vulnerabilities. It is okay to be the strong one, but then still need hugs and love and someone to listen to you as well.

I left with a whole bunch of new friends from all over China, a huge ego about my great chopsticks skills (after everyone being impressed that I can in fact use them - too funny) and having tasted pig intestine. Wins all around.

Everyone there was hoping to help and inspire and guide. but the truth is, THEY really inspired us.

One of the girls gave me a necklace. She said it was a necklace she has had her whole life that she brings everywhere. It is special to her and it has brought her luck in life. She wanted me to have it to remember my first trip to China and to give me luck in my own life. (insert warm fuzzy feelings and happy tears) Another girl gave me a doll she made because she wanted to know how much it meant for me to be there and she wanted to give me a piece of her heart so I would never forget her. These girls do not have much and their gifts - something they made, have, or a special note they wrote me thanks to google translate meant SO much. No matter what they have been through, experienced or the worries they have - they still have these incredibly huge hearts that want to love and share love. It was moving and beautiful. I hope they never lose that warmth and love.

When you teach other people, you often relearn the lessons yourself. What I learned from these girls and that I hope you can too is that it does not matter what you have or don’t have. It does not matter where you are from. We all have a special gift. We should share it. We should be kind to people. We should be open. We shouldn’t be afraid to have fun. We need to be brave.

We can accept our past and move on from it - it doesn’t have to define who we are.