“Where are you actually from?” is not a harmless question

– Hi I’m Suzana.
– Hi Suzana, where are you from?
– I am from Brazil.
– Right, but where are you actually from?
-What do you mean?
– You don’t look Brazilian.
– Are you asking where are my parents from?

The year was 2009 and I was working as an Intern in Karachi, Pakistan through the AIESEC program. I shared an apartment with other university students from China, Rwanda, Australia, Sri Lanka, Lithuania, Slovakia and Egypt, besides receiving daily visits from local students and other foreign interns. I would often be referred to as the third Chinese intern because I went as a representative of an university in China, but when I was given the opportunity to introduce myself, I would say I was Brazilian. To my surprise, given that I was surrounded by an international community, many people did not believe me and once I was even asked to show my passport to prove my nationality. Some had called me defensive on that occasion.

It is funny how the situation I described above came to my mind first despite having happened more than a decade ago. That was not the first time I faced a microaggression and I am afraid it is far from being the last one. This a question I get often, everywhere I go. At first I believed it was a “break the ice” interaction in which the other party was curious about my origin, specially when I was traveling outside Brazil. However, the more I listened to it over and over again, I started to feel uncomfortable and blamed myself for such short temper.

If the picture above was removed from this context, one could easily assume it is from a Chinese tourist in Rio. Although I am from São Paulo and was indeed a tourist in Rio, I consider myself Brazilian and get offended when hotel staff, taxi drivers or street vendors approach me in English. Why can’t an Asian looking person be treated as a local?

Why is it so hard for people to understand that Brazil is a diverse nation, mainly formed by native Brazilians and immigrants from Africa, Europe and Asia? I was born and raised in Brazil and pay the same duties as any contributor. Does my looks make me deserve less or more than a Brazilian whose grandparents immigrated from Italy?

I have encountered situations where teachers and clients complimented my “perfect Portuguese”. Why do people assume I would speak broken Portuguese? Or, when I am traveling for business and say I am from Brazil, I get comments that my English is good. One would take it as a compliment, but the reality is that Brazilians are perceived to be uneducated or unable to speak fluent English. I doubt Europeans who speak English as a second language receive such comments…

If you have not dealt with such kind of comments, you might wonder if I am being too sensitive, and this is where the danger lies. Because microaggressions are exercised by ordinary people who are not necessarily racist. Everyone has unconscious biases* and because it is common, it is considered “less offensive”. However, common does not mean correct and only because the majority practices it, it does not make is acceptable.

Why should microaggressions be addressed and why do we need to think before we express a comment? Receiving questions and comments such as “where are you actually from?”, “you don’t look your age because you are Asian”, “I never thought you were gay”, etc implies that a person doesn’t truly belong in their country/community just because of their appearance.

I could go on and on with this topic and list every microaggression I hear almost on a daily basis, and to my despair, I receive it from friends and colleagues “at the best of their intentions” despite the fact that I have addressed some of them. This means that there is still tons of room for the debate and perhaps I am not being incisive enough. I suspect that to some extent I feel intimidated in certain circumstances or people, which makes it easier to express it in my personal blog instead of discussing directly with the parties involved. I am aware of the long path ahead and I am glad many media outlets are still covering this topic.

If you are interested in this topic, the below articles might interest you:

Vox: What exactly is a microaggression?

NPR: Microaggressions Are A Big Deal: How to Talk Them Out And When To Walk Away

NY Time: How to Respond to Microaggressions

Business Insider: What is a microaggression? 14 things people think are fine to say at work — but are actually racist, sexist, or offensive

*Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing. (Office of Diversity and Outreach, University of California, San Francisco)

How much do you earn?

Would you consider yourself successful if you had no job?
Unsplash/@edulauton

For most people the above question is uncomfortable to answer but the point I want to make today is: who cares?

Why on earth is money used as a measurement of success? If you think I am being nonsense, you either live among enlightened people or you are part of those who indeed believes money equals to success. How many times did you have to introduce yourself and you included either your profession or your company in the first sentence? Who are you without a professional title?

Before anything else, quick disclaimer: I am lucky enough to have kept my full-time job during the pandemic, earn an average salary religiously on the 20th every month and I am fully aware of the comfort money can buy.

Although I am not trying to sound like a hypocrite or communist, my focus is to debate on how success is perceived in society, and not so much on capitalism. Why do people use possessions and goods to make them feel they are better than others? Why do some people think they can buy status, respect, love, praise, relationships,etc? It is very common to hear:

I know I’ve made it when I become a billionaire.
I will have reached success when I buy a house.
My goal is to become a CEO.
I will be happy when I receive a bonus.
Success to me is to travel first class.

Why does success always revolve around money? Why CEOs from multinational corporations are praised more than NGOs chief executives? Doesn’t it take the same effort and work for both? Perhaps it is more challenging for an organization without a cash flow to get the same visibility and support than a company that is money-oriented, isn’t it? What is the motivation behind those working for a low or zero income, “only’ to have their voices heard amid a society that praise monetary rewards, beauty and ego? Do you firmly believe only those who have and make money are successful?

Can we just stop for a minute and re elaborate our concept of success? How does it feel when you say out loud:

I’VE MADE IT WHEN…

  • I can make my own choices without fear.
  • I choose “me” before anyone else.
  • I have quality time with my loved ones.
  • I can enjoy the little things.
  • I feel confident in my own skin.
  • I make my parents and children proud of who I am and not of where I work.

When we aim for something that money can buy, it is easy to want more. Also, you are always susceptible to comparisons, maybe by yourself, maybe by other people. It is possible to compare the size of a house, the price of a car, salaries, etc. However, how would you compare the love one can give or receive, attention, respect or praise?

How to lose weight during the quarantine

“Let food be thy medicine” – Hippocrates

Photo from Unsplash/@brookelark

Much have been discussed about mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic and I totally agree with such concern. However, I have been listening to many complaints of people who are putting on weight during the quarantine, despite the raising awareness of how the food we eat can either boost or lower our immune system.

First things first and before I receive criticism on my personal health, please allow me to provide a little background on my overall diet and body type. Although I cannot complain about my shape, like any woman I would not mind losing a few pounds to look my best. Compared to my family members and Chinese friends, I gravitate towards average and chubby. On the other hand, compared to my Brazilian friends, I am skinny. Comparisons aside, my doctors say I am lean and healthy, but could definitely build more muscles. In the beginning of last year I put on some weight and could say I was my “biggest” I had ever been, including the period between 2008-2010, when I was about the same weight and size. I mentioned size because I am aware weight alone means nothing, as fat and muscles weigh differently and one can be slim and unhealthy for example. The whole point here is to say that I am prone to gaining weight (not much, but still) if I don’t watch out my diet and lifestyle. And I can honestly say that during the first month of quarantine I felt anxiety and the change in my routine made me gain 1-2 kilos.

Now I can start my train of thought.

We are approaching the 4th month of quarantine in São Paulo/Brazil and now I can affirm that most people’s routines have settled regardless of being positive or negative. The thing is that we have had a decadent amount of time to create new habits and get used to a reality. This means that there is no real excuse now to improvise and we must stop behaving as if the current situation is temporary. Please don’t get me wrong – I hope the pandemic ends and that our lives get back to normal, but it is nonsense to carry on with fast-food, no exercise and ignoring basic health and beauty routines.

Speaking of food, I do understand that baking and cooking have become more popular during the pandemic and many people have discovered their inner master chef, but depending on what one is cooking, this reflects on their health and body. I love cooking too, but I have developed an awareness that speaks louder towards preparing nourishing and fresh dishes to improve my immunity. I might have started this journey a few years ago, but just like any human, I have my ups and downs, and I can’t help forgetting my goals once in a while. That is why I have sought help from a plant-based nutritionist who is supporting me through my healthy journey and reminds me that balance is key to everything.

We must remember that most people have reduced the amount of exercise during the quarantine, which has also been my case. This is basic math: to keep our weight, we must consume the same amount of calories we burn. Simple as it is: I have lost some kilos because I am eating less than I usually eat when I go to the office, despite the fact that I am burning less calories than usual. To be honest, at first I was not so aware of my calorie input, but if I dig in, I am kinda practicing mindful eating in the sense of eating only when I am physically hungry instead of binge eating due to boredom or anxiety. For those who prefer a bullet-point list, here are some highlights:

  1. Seek help from a health professional
    If you believe you are an emotional eater, perhaps a therapist. If you are feeling well and positive, a dietitian or nutritionist may expedite your health goals;
  2. Eat less calories than you burn
    Say you don’t care about the actual nutritional properties of the food you eat, but you can still maintain or lose weight if you follow this math (although I do not recommend quick-fixes);
  3. Prioritize fresh food over frozen food
    Eating fresh vegetables and fruit will do your body and health wonders. Besides detoxifying your organism, it will immediately boost your immune system.
  4. Load your fridge with the rainbow
    Variety is key to a nourishing diet and the more colors your plate has, the best! If you think of the rainbow colors, you are in the right path. Note that white and beige are not included, as they are most likely processed foods, like sugar, bread and pasta.
  5. Balance
    This might sound cliche, but if you think about it, there is nothing more logical than finding balance whenever you need. You may want to skip a workout, eat an ice cream or watch Netflix all day, but it must be an exception instead of the norm. Got it?
  6. Mindfulness
    The concept might be easier said than done, but it consists of awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be applied to eating, working, playing, etc. and the aim here is to avoid anxiety and focus on what you are doing, eliminating all distractions. In terms of eating, try to eat light (70% full) and do not use your phone or watch TV while you dine. You will notice you will feel more satisfied and probably even taste the food better.

Well, I wasn’t planning on writing that much, but I enjoyed sharing my “secrets” on why I am not gaining weight for the past months. Good luck!

Gratitude

I grew up comparing myself to others and wanting new clothes, shoes and all kinds of trivial stuff every single week. I remember I’d grab a CD at every trip to Carrefour and my dad would drive us to the mall on the way back from the country club on Sundays. I collected shopping bags, cosmetics, shoes and stationary items just for the sake of possessing new things and feel less “behind” my friends and classmates. I was never satisfied with what I had and always wanted and asked for more.

What do these childhood memories have to do with gratitude?

Well, at age 33, I can finally look back and realize how I took my life, my family and even my clothes for granted. Instead of appreciating what I had, I never felt I had enough and did not even consider the sacrifices my parents went through to provide not only the basics but also my spoiled kid demands. Because I was not thankful to them, I felt miserable even though I received privileged education and wore branded clothes.

Today I can still afford some of my childhood luxuries but the difference is that I value every single item I own. I can affirm I live a simple and happy life, thanks to my parents who:

  • Invested on my education so I could choose where to work
  • Provided home and food so I could grow healthy and strong
  • Sacrificed their own dreams for my sister and I to pursue our own dreams
  • Taught me that developing an independent thinking was more important than being a follower
  • Showed me the importance of family, as every school holiday we would go visit my grandparents instead of traveling somewhere else
  • Argued that clothes and shoes do not represent my true self
  • Proved that it’s worth to give up on short-term desires in order to reach a long-term goal
  • Pushed me to learn how to swim, play instruments, Chinese, English, etc because I would need those in the future
  • Made me try eating all types of food so I build tolerance and acceptance of different dishes when I travel the world

The above are only a few things I could list on the tip of my tongue, and I am sure it would be way longer if I took more time to think.

I hope this post reminds you of all situations and people you are grateful for but for some reason, you have not expressed your appreciation yet.

Thank you!

When you say nothing at all

🤫

Does this title sound familiar to you? It’s from a song by Ronan Keating that suits perfectly the topic I want to cover today.

We all have loads to say, discuss, debate or even preach every time we see someone. Or, have you interrupted someone’s speech or sentence just to say “me too”, whereas your comment at that moment was irrelevant? However, do we really need to say something at all times?

The point is to reflect upon our instinct to react at diverging opinions or prove our point at all costs. In both situations we are led by our ego and also by lack of tolerance towards other people and their beliefs.

Yes, it is easier said than done, but are you doing anything to train your tolerance? Are you aware that your ego is dominating your behavior and relationships? Most of it depends on self-awareness, which we often fail to train, or even have not yet developed.

It is obviously easier to criticize anything external to our bubble and the human nature is selfish unless one is humble enough to acknowledge it.

One simple (not easy though) step is to practice empathy and put oneself in the other person’s shoes. You can mentalize that you are the person being criticized and imagine how you would feel if someone disagreed and mocked your points of view or lifestyle. Did you like the feeling? What would you do differently?

Next step is to “say nothing at all”. Can you actually do it? What are the thoughts that cross your mind while you are holding yourself to not express your opinion or criticism?

I hope you are able to practice some of the above and please let me know your feedback after changing your behavior.

You may reach me at coaching@suzanasu.com if you want to discuss further.

Cheers,

Suzana

Intolerance as never seen before

Hello everyone!

My motivation to write this post today is the situation we are currently facing in Brazil, amid numerous discussions regarding the presidential elections. There are plenty of material available online for you to read and make a decision, but my concern goes beyond the candidates and their proposals.

Heated discussions on social media soar during election period, but I have noticed personal attacks between friends and family that will lead to nothing, actually, it may cause relationship disruptions with no turning back. When people start offending each other, one loses respect towards the other and the cycle goes on. We have to bear in mind that mean words cannot be taken back, and the wound created leaves a deep scar.

I also believe we are all becoming intolerant about the smallest things, not sure exactly why, but I suspect it is due to lack of patience, shallowness and because we are treating relationships as disposable. Because many of us are active on social media, we tend to express ourselves more frequently and perhaps more openly because the screen serves as a shield. Our written or recorded words may not seem as powerful as a live speech, and we usually post things without proper thought and revision. What’s posted is posted and will survive the eternity of the internet even if one rushes to delete it immediately after posting.

Although I am not manifesting my vote publicly, I include myself in this massive intolerance phenomenon because I have entered unnecessary discussions amongst my family members and I was judgmental on their choice to support a different point of view instead of respecting them no matter what.

All I can say is that the choices we have are not ideal, and my country still has lots (and I mean LOTS) to improve, which includes its People. We have the country and the government we deserve in terms of maturity and culture of blaming external factors instead of looking at ourselves and making some effort to improve. The government might play an important part on its citizens’ lives, but not entirely.

I think it’s time for us to analyze what we can do for ourselves regardless of the extra work we have to put in from now on and be more tolerant towards different beliefs and points of view. We don’t have to agree with everything, but we cannot disrespect each other. The moment we let our emotions control our behavior, we lose it all.

Finally, we must stop blaming others for our failures. We must stop hoping that the government will fix our personal mess, when the only person responsible for any change is YOU.

Letting go

Hello October!

I am not very good at making frequent posts here but I am trying hard to post everyday on my business account on Instagram (@suzanacoaching).

I used to have a personal account on Instagram but felt the need to let it go in February 2017, during a retreat where I meditated about my happiness and things/ideas to detach from. Back then, I realized how addicted I was to social media, specially Instagram. Not only did I spend many hours per day scrolling through my feed but mainly, I cared too much about who viewed and liked my posts, constantly updating and checking that from time to time, every single day. That automatic behavior had transformed me into a maniac and anxious person, instead of making me feel relaxed and entertained.

I understand that social media is fun and useful to catch up with family and friends, but in my case (and many people can relate to), I started to use it as a tool for self-assurance which resulted in excessive exposure. Ironically, “social media” actually made me less social, to say the least. I believed the illusion that online friends corresponded to real friends and that exchanging messages replaced physical interactions. I woke up every morning curious to check how many likes I had in a photo or how many views I had on my Stories. I would get upset if certain people did not like my posts. All I cared about was to get a good picture wherever I went, whereas I was missing out a lot of the real stuff, including amazing sceneries during my trips.

I am not proud of the person I was but I am certainly glad that I realized in due time that I could change and actually let my Instagram go. I won’t lie that I hadn’t tried to recover it a couple times, but it was too late already: the account is gone for good, and although I had beautiful photos there (with no backups unfortunately), I have accepted that we can’t be attached to the past no matter how good those moments were or how great we looked in those pictures. A photo may register a fantastic frame of time that will never be repeated, but like it or not, it is the present that matters right now. It is what we do today and plan for the future that will transform our lives from now on. Changes won’t happen if we stick to the past or to what we once were, looked or had.

So I propose a little challenge: how long can you stay out of social media? Are you willing to adopt the #scrollfree movement? Would you be more mindful if you let go some of your online habits?

If you are interested in this discussion, my latest Podcast episode is all about the consequence of social media (Scroll free September and suicide prevention – More awareness towards social media):

Click here to listen on Spotify.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts.

Have a nice week!

Any inquiries or comments, please write: coaching@suzanasu.com

Being Wasteful

I thought of writing about this topic because I struggle sometimes while deciding on small purchases despite my awareness on the importance of being sustainable and economical. I think the most frustrating part is to convince myself and my family to buy less groceries or items that are on sale. It is ridiculous the amount of food that gets spoiled in the fridge in our house, or even fruits and vegetables that are purchased in duplicity due to lack of management.

From my own experience, I grew up believing that abundance was a positive thing, that having a lot of things meant status. The Chinese even keep the tradition of hosting lavish banquets where loads of food is served and most of the time result in leftovers (not take-aways). The etiquette in those situations even involves not finishing the dish on your plate to please the host, otherwise they would feel they didn’t prepare enough food for the guests.

I understand that debating about culture can get complicated and controversial, so the focus here is to make a reflection on the actual reason why people put so much importance on abundance and excessive consumerism. Why is it considered sophisticated to spend so many resources in order to keep a lifestyle? Why do we humans buy excessively and with no purpose?

We waste food, money and time on countless things and regret about them over and over. Any level of regret, for me, is somehow wasteful, regardless of one’s wealth. Even though consequences differ depending on one’s conditions, I believe that the core reason in only one, which is (lack of) self-esteem. Surely poor management and impulse may lead to abundance and waste, but at the end of the day, every person who is trapped in such vicious cycle is encountering some level of self doubt, need to be accepted by a group, frustration or anxiety – all related to self-esteem.

What does grocery shopping has to do with self-esteem? My theory is that this could be only one of the several symptoms one expresses when things aren’t going very well is their lives. This could be conscious or not, it’s just a matter of accepting the condition and taking time to evaluate your life as a whole and not just simply ignore it or believe that it will go away on its own. It is common to execute a task in attempt to withdraw or procrastinate from a dull task, and this is where major self-esteem issues hide.

I am not saying it’s easy to identify it, but it’s extremely important to pay attention to your feelings, actions and even to what people you trust tell you. And if you still can’t find what it is, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

In addition to the above, I’ve decided to discuss waste due to the growing awareness on sustainability and ways to live happier with less possessions. I hope we are able to produce less waste, and I trust that the starting point is to change our mindsets. However, we ought to believe in the importance of a cause before being able to actually change for the long term.

KISS

Keep it simple, stupid; aka KISS principle, means pretty much, what it says, except for the stupid part. It was a design concept created back in the 1960’s and praises simplicity over complexity. OK, but what does this has to do with our lives?

Remember a few posts back, when I mentioned “The Minimalists” documentary? Well, the moment has finally arrived!

I would be lying if I affirmed I am a minimalist, or that I have never collected shopping bags, CDs or shoes. I actually did all of that and maybe some other stuff, like stickers, lotions, makeup and the list goes on. Of course, I am not proud of any of these right now, but I believe I was proud of all that junk at some point. I believed the more things I possessed, the more empowered or popular I would be.

Although I wasn’t aware, today it is clear that my self-esteem was low because my grades were not great, I frequently argued with my parents, I was too skinny and was not the most popular girl in school. For me, if I dressed designer clothes, learned the newest songs and owned a cool “Discman”, people would like me more. I had no idea that everything I needed was actually inside of me, that I had to be a likeable person for my mentality and attitudes and not for what I dressed, or what my parents bought me. I guess the latter was the worst part of all because I couldn’t afford my stupid things and I am sorry my parents spent so much money on my shallow self.

Fast-forward some (many) years and I’ve started investing in my education and spirituality. It is an ongoing and long process, but I am making sure the results are long lasting and overall, I believe in my attitudes and that brings me joy. Throughout this journey, I am learning more about minimalism and sustainability.

Collecting things is not the main issue here, and there are actually professionals who do that for a living. My point is to raise awareness of accumulating items or shopping compulsively in attempt to fill a sort of emptiness in one´s life. I understand that most of us live in a capitalistic society and I am far from stating that it is sinful to desire things or dream about a new house or trip, but when such behavior has negative consequences, then change is required.

A house, a desk, a drawer, a cabinet, a wardrobe full of things are already too much to handle, not to mention when on top of that, they are messy as well. Even if you actually needed everything you owe, I doubt you use everything on a daily basis, or need more than one unit of each item. We believe that having options is positive, while having to choose between more than two things is actually torture and causes one to waste time.

Keeping things simple goes beyond having fewer things, which involves facilitating processes, feelings and attitudes. We tend to complicate things by overthinking, by adding extra steps to simple chores.

If you relate to my story and want to learn more about keeping things simple, drop me a line, stupid 🙂

Finding Inner Peace

Have you asked yourself what is wrong with the world? Why are people so intolerant, impatient and angry? Of course I am making a general statement and fortunately there are people and situations that spark a little bit of hope in us every now and then. If you are lucky enough, perhaps your reality is closer to “good vibes”, so stick to it!

Many religions and faiths state that the solution to all the evil and war against each other is inner peace. But wait: what exactly is inner peace? Is it a philosophy, lifestyle or feeling?

In my point of view, inner peace may vary from a person to another and it consists of a combination of different factors. However, I believe that these factors are not material (aka possession-related), regardless of the person’s lifestyle, wealth, culture, etc. Because if peace was reached with belongings, then it would be a contradictory concept, wouldn’t it?

Anyhow, I’ve decided to open this discussion because I hope this topic is debated broadly, and that my fellow humans understand that the world cannot be fixed on its own, neither solved by a different government or based on changing one another, if one is not feeling well with him/herself.

One way to identify if one is not at peace with him/herself is when someone is very critic and intolerant of another person. Usually a person is critic and judgmental of characteristics or attitudes they wish they had, while the person they criticize actually has. Isn’t it a crazy thing? Obviously it’s not something easy to recognize nor acknowledged. Or maybe someone else is totally different from you, has a different ideology or just doesn’t care about what you think of him/her. And this bothers you, someway somehow. So the main question to ask yourself is “Why does this person bother me so much?Why do I care and why do I want to argue/fight/hurt this person?”

This is beyond the sphere of what is right or wrong, but tolerance is built based on understanding differences and respecting one another with patience. In my opinion, this would be enough to establish world peace already, as no one is expected to best-friend someone they don’t like. However, respect is key to civilization and consequently, there wouldn’t be free insults towards people we find different, for instance. It’s the famous “let’s agree to disagree”.

That’s all for today, I hope you dedicate a few minutes to think about this. Let’s find our inner peace. Let’s just be happy :)))