Change is Hard: a “Say Yes” Mentor Can Help

by Angela Noel

June 16th, 2016

Julia Zhang. She's on a boat.
Julia Zhang. She’s on a boat.

Julia Zhang sparkles. Not because she has an addiction to the Bedazzler, but because, in her words, “I think everything is kind of awesome.”

Dragon Boat racing? Yes, she’d like to do that. Hot Chocolate 5K? Yes. Deliver Meals on Wheels? Yes, but she might be late for happy hour/book club at Sushi Tango. Julia lights the spark, inviting others, like me, to follow.

In 2012, when a new job, divorce, putting my dog to sleep, and selling my house had turned my life upside down, I had a choice: become an ostrich, head in the sand, or embrace the disruption as opportunity.

Forrest Gump-ish

Fear of stagnation and regret overcame fear of newness and change; my “Say Yes” phase had begun. But I needed help. A near lifelong practitioner of saying yes, Julia wordlessly offered me mentorship in the art of openness.

Later, I would learn that this occasional Forest Gump impersonator had powerful “Say Yes” mentors of her own.

In the 80s Julia’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from China. Children during the Cultural Revolution, Zhiqun (John) and Boling (“like a bowling ball”) raised their two daughters with a very simple philosophy: “Life,” Julia summarizes, “is what you make it.”

John remembers his educated parents forced to work in labor camps. As a child, he was removed from his studies to work in a factory. And yet he knew he had a choice. John would agree with Gandalf in J.R.R Tolkien’s classic The Fellowship of the Ring, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Julia (upper right), poses with her sister Jennifer and mom and dad, Boling and John.
Julia (upper right), poses with her sister Jennifer and mom and dad, Boling and John.

With a quirky sense of humor, John taught his daughters the transformative power of laughter. He entertains them by translating the sound made by an English word into Chinese meaning. “Minneapolis” for example, when said using similar phonetic sounds in Chinese becomes “Beautiful Woman Doesn’t Poop.” “He’s always doing stuff like that,” Julia giggles. John’s decision to always find the fun instilled a lasting lightness in Julia.

As a child, Julia studied at CAAM Chinese Dance Theater. A critical instructor often had her in tears. “She hates me!” Julia sobbed to her mother. The instructor, Boling explained, was investing in her. An absence of this investment would be a problem, the tone of voice was not. Julia remembers that moment as an evergreen awakening; all information, no matter what the delivery method, was hers to use. She need not fear it. She need not resist it. Julia’s “Get better” mindset was born.

Stings and bruises, uncontrollable events and harsh words, these things are inevitable. Life, the bad and the good, is what we make it. Part of Julia’s sparkle comes from her genuine gratitude for being alive in a wondrous world. Saying “yes” opens up new corridors for adventure, discovery, and laughter. She doesn’t live a charmed life, bugs still bite her and her socks don’t always match, but she sees her life as charmed; and that has made all the difference.

If she can do it, so can I. So can you.

Be awesome in real life.


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Seeker and promoter of awesome people and ideas.

2 thoughts on “Change is Hard: a “Say Yes” Mentor Can Help”

  1. Julia sounds like a cute, spontaneous, and funny friend. Thanks for letting me get to know her.

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