THE BLOG

A Gift Wrapped in Sandpaper

03/12/2013 11:09 am ET | Updated May 12, 2013

My mother was a gift wrapped in sandpaper -- cutting and abrasive upon contact, but when carefully examined and thoughtfully experienced, she became my most powerful and inspiring teacher.

She passed away between Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays of light and gift-giving -- an auspicious time of giving thanks and celebration of life.

Helping to sort out the things in her home, I found something that added significantly to my perspective of her. My mother's home had been left basically undisturbed in the last four years while she was incapacitated with no physical mobility or speech and needing 24-hour care.

Many years ago, in my last futile attempt to get her approval, I presented her with a copy of a Chinese-American magazine that featured me on the cover -- the Chinese-American immigrant success story. Would she approve of me now that even the Chinese-American community regards me as noteworthy? What the general American press said about me in newspapers, Fortune and Businessweek magazines, etc. didn't rate in her eyes. Here was an opportunity to finally show her that I was not "a waste of a pregnancy," as she regularly told me. She took the magazine and laid it on her lap for a moment, then without glancing down, she placed it on the coffee table and turned to watch television.

I realized then yet again that I have to approve of myself and not hope or wait for outside approval. That was my final bid to seek her acceptance. I was freed to be me, living my life as I best knew how, granting myself the recognition that I had secretly longed for from her. What a gift! To be able to fully live my life purpose, without the heavy shadow of outside expectations.

Now so many years later, on the bottom of the hoard of news clippings and articles about my brother, the Buddhist scholar, professor and monk, was that magazine with me smiling on the cover. Maybe she did notice, conceivably she might have actually approved, and perhaps she did feel a little bit proud of me? And equally important, it seemed possible that she might have been happy with all her children, and she was at peace with her own life. I sat there on the floor, holding the pile of papers, magazines and clippings and cried. I cried tears of joy, gratitude and love, I had been given another gift from my mother, that of acceptance.

Her lifelong criticisms had made me stronger and I strived harder to excel than I would have otherwise. I developed deep compassion and the desire to help the less fortunate from understanding how it felt to have less and be judged as not being good enough. So many gifts have I gained from what on the surface was a miserable situation. Thank you, Mother, for your gift wrapped in rough sandpaper. I am truly blessed.

Who or what situation in your life is your precious gift, wrapped in sandpaper? What can you gain from that? How can you share and celebrate your lessons learned?

We can choose how we regard each incident and development in our lives. When we opt for the growth and happiness, we lift ourselves up with each new experience. Elect the course that brings you joy. After all it's your life, you get to choose. Choose happiness.


Marilyn Tam's new book, "The Happiness Choice - The Five Decisions that Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be" was just released. Marilyn wrote the book so that others may benefit from what she learned, often through painful experience on how to be happy, healthy and have a dynamically balanced life. Many experts in the five key aspects of life: Body, Relationships, Money, Spirit, and Community contributed to the book. This includes Joan Borysenko PhD, Jack Canfield, Arielle Ford, MJ Ryan, Harville Hendrix PhD, Michael Galizter MD and many more leaders in their fields. All share personal stories, insights and expertise on the key factors that influence our lives. Each talk about their personal life purpose and their secrets to happiness. You can get more free insights and find out about Marilyn on her website http://www.marilyntam.com/books.html and connect with her on facebook

Marilyn Tam is an international selling author, speaker, entrepreneur, humanitarian and former CEO of Aveda, President of Reebok Apparel Products & Retail Group and VP of Nike and the Founder and Executive Director of Us Foundation. On her weekly radio show, 'The Happiness Choice" Marilyn interviews many experts on their secrets to happiness.

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