“The key to being happy is knowing you have the power to choose what to accept and what to let go.” - Dodinsky
I remember the day when I was sitting there. An incredibly posh bar with matching Asian restaurant at the centre of London. Rooftop terraces, quiet lighting and me... on a sake training.
I was one of the two waitresses that served the glammed up crowd that visited the place at night. I got to know plenty about the taste of lemon glass, the ambitions and aggressiveness of people who wanted to climb a ladder I never knew existed before and, yes, about sake too.
Who would have thought that the bartending industry would be my biggest encounter with gender inequality, weak and strong characters and team-work in stressful situations? My subsequent careers in consulting, investment banking, coaching or psychology, my “I am so busy, I am running my own business and doing an MSc or PhD degree”, none of it ever came close to the rawness that touched me while wiping tables.
You see, I was advising people on cocktails and experiencing new levels of uncomfortableness while searching for “the first right job” with fear in my eyes during the day, a heavy heart in the evenings and a smile of relief EACH time we sent off the last customer, often with the help of the guards - my favourite people of all at 3am in the morning.
I used to take the bus from Oxford circus all the way to postcode E14 where my other half, was long asleep and who felt perhaps as disconnected from me as I felt from him.
But that afternoon, in that posh bar, my life was on pause as I was learning about how important polishing the rice grains was for the quality of the precious Asian drink.
The more layers were removed, the purer the core that remains.
It becomes almost transparent... crystal-clear... and hence the quality of the sake increases.
That’s not to say that less polished rice grains couldn’t produce good sake. After all, it was a question of taste and personal preference, but I was fascinated.
If a tiny rice grain had to let go of that much in order to show it’s real, see-through, high-quality heart, how much should I, a mere human let go of?
How many special techniques should we apply on people to remove their dirty surfaces? Was this achievable at all? I mean, there are no machines that can polish us to perfection the same way they do rice grains.
Do we stand a chance or we are doomed to be our less shiny selves?
Was I getting tipsy?
All the sake tasting left me with light headed but at least with one solid answer - Yes! I was tipsy.
Fast forward 8 years, the “other half” was no longer there, the bar-tending was never making it into the “work experience” section of my CV and while my 31st birthday was around the corner, I was looking through the window of a different bus... one travelling between two wildly unknown cities to the rest of the world, sitting at opposite ends of my home country - Bulgaria. It has been a while since I took a bus instead of flying or driving...
I sure wasn’t in London anymore, I wasn’t a waitress, nor was I a management consultant or anti-money laundering specialist, or a girlfriend, not even a heart-broken young lady... it was beginning to even be questionable if I am young in the first place. Both willingly and forcefully I had to let go of so many layers of my own life and of myself.
My blurred gaze at the road made me appreciative of how much lighter I felt with each passing kilometre...
Layer after layer has fallen during the years and continues to fall, helping me leave expectations, worries, bad thoughts, dreams, plans, comfort zones, ego...
Sitting in my passenger seat I had a strong physical realisation that made me slightly jealous of what snakes experience.
How great it must be to have a tangible thing to show for the process of transformation?
Us, people, we have to settle for the internal understandings and peace that comes with it, but we have little physical artefacts to give as proof to others.
It’s an honest shame that we can’t show anything for some of the biggest achievements in our lives.
Given that there was indeed no technology that removed the unnecessary layers from me, I have to give credit to the journey of conscious personal development through psychology.
Unlike the tiny rice grains or reptiles changing their skin, it took me longer than an hour or a day to self-polish this character of mine and even more unfortunate to that - I cannot say I was gaining immediate satisfaction like I imagine snakes do. On the contrary, letting go of what I thought was a part of me was often painful. Nevertheless, the current result, and God knows not the end result, is worth it.
Just like a good sake, I no longer leave the people I love with strong aftertaste that demands their attention. I am able to give quality that’s not too burdening. I’ve gradually let go of expectations and the ones that I‘m left with - I stand behind and protect better than ever before. When I feel hurt, I get back on my feet with not only more external grace but genuine internal comfort that I can let go… without fear.
Above all, letting go of layers allows us to get to know ourselves better. To remove the need to lie to ourselves. And I personally became both more delicate yet more resilient and firmer.
Occasionally strong emotions take the best of me still. I may shout or talk too much, be rude or criticise, but today I am able to appreciate my own reactions. I like them. I am able to use the right I have to express my imperfections and then... let go of the moment. Let go of the ego that wants me to criticise myself or punish it for not being perfect.
Quality sake, snakes and personal development... you can only connect the dots looking back but you must keep working on yourself in the present, removing layers of misunderstandings, layers of unknowns, layers of expectations and beliefs ....
“Trust your core” is the advice I wish I could give my younger self. Trust your frustrations, your values, your critical eye, yet don’t allow even those things to define who you are as a whole. Take people’s opinion of you and their glances with curiosity, but never believe them fully! You know best who you are.
Stick to it and keep polishing!
Valentina (Ina) is a psychologist and performance coach specialising in the work with ‘high-performers’ from all walks of life. She is the founder of ILC International, a former management consultant within capital markets and a PhD student in social psychology. But above all, Valentina is a woman that walks the talk every step of the way. Meet her and the team and download her free ‘confidence building’ e-book.