After stepping foot in 104 sovereign nations, with my coaching practice in tow, here are 14 lessons I learned, across so many cultures, about becoming happy, about being happy.
1. Life is not fair
Life is not fair. It was never meant to be fair. As children, we innocently believed that we were created equal. Our little ego brains believed that life was for us and us alone. It’s not. Serendipity and magic happens. So does loss, pain and grief. Accepting this makes us beautifully human, rather than victims of ego / perfectionism. It sets us free.
2. Re-inventing oneself is necessary
I’ve had 13 career overhauls from engineering to humanitarian aid, from digital marketing to psychotherapy. People said I was crazy for leaving lucrative jobs, starting my own business, and taking it on the road to 50+ countries. A thunderstorm of criticism and judgment. Today, I live happy and free, while the masses are still debating how crazy I am. Who’s crazy now?
Re-inventing oneself isn't a luxury. It's a neccessity to being happy.
3. Friendship makes the world go round
Family extends far beyond DNA. I met an Indian colleague in California. Little did I know that a year later, I’d visit her in New Delhi, on the way to Nepal to meet up with my South Korean bestfriend whom I met in NYC. On the return trip, I stopped in London for the wedding of the Austrian roommate I had while working in Rwanda. Friends are everywhere, pick and choose wisely. They can make or break your happiness.
Chitwan National Park, Nepal 2008 © Ellany Lea
4. Shenanigans far outweigh accolades
I went on an elephant ride in the Nepalese Chitwan National Park. My bestfriend had to pee, so she climbed down the elephant and squatted in the jungle. Suddenly a rhinoceros appeared a few meters behind her. They’re known to charge forcefully. Talk about being caught with your pants down! Our guide was gesturing to her to move ever so slowly. I laughed so hard I almost fell off the elephant backwards. That’s what I’ll remember most when I die, not my degrees, accolades, or letters after my name.
I laughed so hard I almost fell off the elephant backward.
5. Awe is better than coffee
I don’t drink coffee, nor alcohol. My Marianopolis and Mcgill classmates can attest to that. Instead, I buy awe. In the Okavango Delta of Botswana, I heard rustling and saw big shadows outside my tent one night. I thought I was hallucinating from the anti-malaria pills I took. In the morning, I saw a heap of elephant dung on the corner of my tent and realized that an elephant had used my tent pole as a scratching post. What if it had sad down?!? You mean to say that my face was 2 feet away from an elephant’s ass? Awe. Awe feeds happiness.
6. School doesn't teach about life
School set me up for career success (kind of), but it never taught me about rising strong after a big failure, self-compassion after a big mistake, or self-care before an irreversible burn out. Those are all things I had to learn in counselling, coaching, psychotherapy, and leadership training. School doesn’t teach happiness, nor was it ever meant to. Happiness is a personal choice.
7. Heartbreak is part of growing up
A while back, I set out on a 16-country freedom tour around the world. By the third country, my dad passed away shockingly suddenly. It cost a fortune to fly home for his funeral and airlines showed zero sympathy. Grief annihilated all my business campaigns and launches. All part of growing up, I guess. The road to happiness is often interwoven with heartbreak.