You may not know that I left school when I was 17 and later got my GED. Today I work for a new website that offers online GED lessons and prep tests. Along the way, I learned a few things I want to share with you.

Letting myself be vulnerable. Of course, I am not advocating you to jump off planes and walk through shady alleys.  However, in terms of emotions, vulnerability allows us to just learn how to deal with ourselves and the everyday situations that we cannot control.

Even though it is so innate for us humans to avoid any sort of physical, emotional, psychological pain (i.e. tragedy, sadness, and death) is inevitable.

Regardless, just like everything else in life, practice makes perfect.  The more you take that emotional risk to trust, start a relationship, end a relationship, move across the world; the more you learn just a bit more how to deal with the everyday hardships.

Being single for more than 2+ years. There’s a horrible rumor going around that being single sucks and that whenever you tell people this they must react in sympathy, shock, or feigned hope.  Even though I enjoy being in a couple unit, I will always say that the first day I became or even dared to be myself was the minute I broke up with my ex.

Let’s face it ladies, most of us have always been taught to care about us, we, and practically everyone else besides ourselves.  This isn’t terrible, of course.  In fact, I think it’s one of the strengths of being a woman.  However, when you forget about yourself (which goes beyond your career) you forget about yourself, your needs, passions, and values.

This incidentally, is extremely important when you get yourself into couplehood.  How in heaven’s name are you supposed to know who you are compatible with if you don’t even know yourself?  Really, that’s like going to the grocery store without a list/idea what to get.  It’s do-able but the whole trip becomes a lot harder, longer, and easier to get off-track.

One minute you’re looking for the “one” in isle 1 and then find yourself in the “Sure-Why-not-I’ll-settle-because-I’m-lonely” isle.  With the toothbrushes and toilet paper, mind you.  Before you know it, you’re off eating a Mr. Ben and Jerrys and regretting it all day long (okay I may have gotten carried away with that analogy).  So case in point, the best way to know yourself so you know exactly what you’re looking for in a partner, is to do it single.

Listening to my family history. History may have not been the most interesting topic.  However, when it applies to you, for some odd reason IT IS THE MOST INTERESTING THING EVER.  Growing up, I never really knew much about my family for two solid reasons.  One, no one really spoke English in my family and if they did, they more so were interested in my school and if I had eaten already.  Two, both sets of my grandparents went through WWII, and if you think Europe was messed up, Asia was in shambles.

So as you can imagine, talking about the past wasn’t everyone’s first priority.  It wasn’t until I decided to interview my grandfather for graduate school for my geriatrics class did I not only find out that my grandfather was quite an amusing guy but also the hardships my family had to go through.  I won’t go into specifics but realizing how much my family fought through famine, war, poverty, discrimination, and so on made me much more appreciative of how much my sister and I have accomplished.  Not only that, but also how thankful I was for my parents and giving us the ability to succeed and how I should never take that opportunity for granted.

Living in three completely different countries. Another huge factor that generally changed me was my early exposure to different people, cultures, and the like.  Ready?  It’s long and a speech I’ve practiced all my life:  I was born and raised in London, England for 8 years but I would live in Malaysia every summer.  Then, I lived in Australia for six months when I was three but I can’t remember a thing so it doesn’t quite count.

And finally, I moved to Los Angeles around 8 years old due to my father’s job. Fortunately, the only language I really had to learn was American English.  Even though English is English, the difference in my accent, spelling, and just how I held a knife and fork was just…well different.

Even in Malaysia, how people dressed, the food, and the simple little social interactions were an eye opener.  If anything, that exposure to so many little diverse quirks in people and cultures helped me realize one thing:  what you consider “normal” varies and therefore be mindful of your experiences and biases.

Everything from spelling, pronunciation, to the cheese you put on your sandwich has no real “right or wrong.”  Regardless of these differences, there are still core similarities between and across people, places, and ideas.

Being the black sheep. Because I was living in every nook and cranny in the world, that normally meant I was that strange bowl-cut hair kid with the strange accent most of the time.  However, my black sheep-ness transcended beyond my race, gender, and funny accent.  I was a slow learner growing up and also had a speech impediment.

My life wasn’t exactly like an inspirational disability movie that guarantees any actor/actress an Oscar, no, it was a lot more normal but just as frustrating.  Being labeled in a particular degrading category is more than a tag but instead an identity you assume from what others perceive you to be.  So I dropped out and never finished my high school education in a traditional way. You know the GED was really a thing that gave me a future.

It’s a difficult persona to shake off.  No matter how many successes you gain, it’s the very few failures that send you right into doubting yourself.  Growing up, I was put in the label of “retard”, “dumb”, “slow”, “spaz”, and so on that still, as an accomplished adult, puts a shudder down my spine.  Luckily, I was fortunate to attend a specialized school (free of charge-of course, I was living in the UK at the time) and was able to attend a regular school in the states.

It was that extra push and complete empathy and understanding from therapists, teachers, tutors, coaches, and the like that allowed me to be where I am now.  Which brings up another great point, I most likely would have never chosen my career as an Occupational Therapist or had the desire to work with physical and developmental disabilities if it wasn’t for being a “black sheep.”

With that, I turn to you and say this: It doesn’t matter if you’re a racial minority, a wheelchair user, woman, trying to be a woman, gay, straight, or just-not-quite-like-everyone-else, the only thing that does matter is how you choose to identify yourself and whether or not you let everyone else’s identifications of you get in your way.

Now, I did not just write this to verbally vomit on you to talk about myself (well, okay, maybe a little).  Instead, I urge everyone to both live and experience your accomplishments and memories as well as your failures and your hardships.