Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I’m your host, Billy Lahr. Thank you for tuning in wherever you are. I am still in Seoul, South Korea until the end of the year, and then I head off to Thailand for six weeks, so if you’re like, “Why does he sound like he’s in an echo chamber?” during some of these episodes, it’s because I’m recording from whatever accommodations I can afford and sometimes, like is the case here in Seoul, all I have is a bed and an end table that goes up to my shins, I’ve got this little makeshift studio that you can see if you’re watching this on YouTube, I’ve got subway trains running nonstop behind me, so so I’ve made the best of what I have here in the hopes you’ll connect with today’s episode because at the end of the day the purpose of this show is to provide a platform that gives people the space and permission to share their expertise and life experiences in order to help others navigate the complexities and possibilities of life’s second half, but on the first Wednesday of every month, I’m going to drop a solo episode to share my travel experiences with you and how those experiences are helping me navigate my own mindful midlife crisis, which is actually more of a midlife pivot than a crisis because if I’m being honest, I’m feeling pretty good about where I am in my life, but if you’ve been a fan of the show since Day One, you know it hasn’t always been that way, so I’m happy to share my experiences with you on the first Wednesday of every month in the hopes that my trials, tribulations, and successes will inspire you to take intentional action to live a more purpose-filled life.
Now, just to be clear, this free and useful information is helpful to people of all ages, so if you’re in your teens, 20s, or early 30s, don’t tune out just because you think my guests and I are too old to help you learn anything. Wisdom comes from one’s ability to process the impacts of their life experiences, and oftentimes experience comes with age, so don’t be too quick to dismiss what us Gen Xers have to say because you never know what life is going to throw at you and there may be a story or two in this podcast that helps you be better prepared for the challenges you will face in life, whether those challenges be your emotional, mental, and/or physical well-being, your relationships, your children or your future children, your career…who knows what curveballs life is going to throw at you, but I do know that I would’ve benefited greatly from this information when I was younger…in fact, I’m sure people tried to tell me stuff like this all the time but I didn’t listen for one reason or another, but I’m telling you, these conversations are universally applicable and will help people of all ages reflect, learn, and grow, so if you hear something that resonates with you in this week’s episode or in past episodes, go back and check out some of the other episodes at www.mindfulmidlifecrisis.com or wherever you get your podcasts.
You may have noticed that the production of the show has been a little different the past month, and that’s because I switched production teams thanks to Kevin Palmieri over at Next Level Podcast Solutions who made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I do want to thank Dave over at Podcast Engineers for the work they did at the start of Season 6 and throughout the Summer Sessions because they made my life sooooo much easier, but thanks to Kevin’s podcast business coaching, the team over at Next Level Podcast Solutions has helped me clean up the show a little bit, so that’s why there’s new intro and segment break music, there’s less banter on my part, there’s a clear intro/outro, there’s no meditation in the middle anymore…all of these changes have been made to make the listening experience more enjoyable for you, so let me know what you think by sending an email to email@example.com or by giving me a follow on Instagram at mindful_midlife_crisis. You can also visit our website at www.mindfulmidlifecrisis.com and join the newsletter there. Also, if you like this show, check out Kevin’s podcast Next Level University. I’m hoping to have Kevin on as a guest in the near future as well because he’s a great dude who, like me, just wants to help other people win and I love the energy and expertise he brings to that mission.
November’s episodes really pulled at the heart strings a bit as we unpacked our trauma and adversity tool kits with Dr. Shree Walker. I can’t believe I forgot to talk to her about her ACES score. ACES, for those of you who don’t know, means adverse childhood experiences, and basically it’s a questionnaire that tallies the amount of abuse, neglect, and adversity a person has faced in childhood. The closer that number is to ten, the more likely that person is for being at-risk for a variety of socioeconomic issues or having physical, emotional, and/or mental health issues. If you remember. Dr. Walker’s score is 7, which means she overcame A LOT of abuse, neglect, and adversity to get to where she is today, so I promise you we’re going to have her back on the show to talk about that, but if you missed that episode, go back and check out Episode 71: Navigating Trauma through Resilience, which was also our first YouTube episode, so if you want to watch these episodes on your television or your phone or your computer moving forward, go to YouTube and type in The Mindful Midlife Crisis Podcast and subscribe!
We followed up that conversation with the fiery personality of Dr. Lina Haji, who shared with us just how impactful acts of service can be for our self-care, and I think Jason Clawson’s story of losing his wife to cancer and using that tragic experience to bring sunshine to families going through a similar tragedy reinforced Dr. Haji’s message of how acts of service can in fact be acts of self-care. Last week’s episode was probably the most emotional for me because of how I randomly met my guest for Episode 74, Brook Mallak, who just happens to live ten miles away from me in Minnesota, and yet the first time I ever met her was in some random restaurant in Seoul, South Korea, while she was with her sisters who she met for the first time ever the night before. I mean, once I found that out, having her on the show to tell that story was a no-brainer and she did not disappoint, and because of that random connection we made while we were in Seoul at the same time, I’m proud to say that Brook quickly became one of my best friends, we hung out one day while we were in Seoul, and once I got back to Minnesota, we maintained that friendship because it turns out she’s an amazing person beyond the story that she shared, and now that I’m back in Seoul, I miss her mad cackle dearly and Brook, if you’re listening, I hope you’re doing well and I miss your face but not your stupid jokes.
It’s the first Wednesday of December, which means I have been back in Seoul now for two months, and I have one month to go before I head to Thailand for six weeks, Singapore for a week, and Japan for eight to ten weeks, long enough to see the cherry blossom trees that have been on my bucket list of travel adventures forever, and then I’ll probably head back to Korea oe more time for as long as they’ll let me stay. And if you’re thinking, “Wait, you’re gonna go back to Korea for a THIRD time?!” yes, that’s my current plan because as I discussed in Summer Session 6 with my good friend Iggy Lee of the SeoulShare community, the people I have met here and the friendships I have made here have made me feel so incredibly welcome, and I’m starting to get into a groove here, and that groove has allowed me to do so much growing as a person in the past two months, so what I want to do is this…I’m going to take a quick break, and when I come back, I’m going to share with you what a recent Top 10 Day taught me about embracing the somatic experience of joy. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Welcome back to the MMC. Today we’re talking about this renewed sense of joy that I’ve been feeling ever since I returned to Seoul, South Korea. Now, if you followed along with the Summer Sessions, then you know that I’m no longer in the United States because in October, 2022, I returned to Seoul, to carve out a new life for myself after I resigned from my 21-year career in education back in November, 2021. But if you haven't been following along and you’re wondering what I’ve been up to this past year, go back and check out Episode 39 as well as the Summer Sessions episodes.
So, as I said, what I want to do today is share with you why I’ve been feeling this overwhelming sense of joy ever since I got back here in the hopes that it will inspire you to recognize what brings you joy so you can be more present in the somatic experience those moments create in your body.
Now back in Episode 9, where Brian on the Bass and I discussed the emotionally mature male brain, I talked about how I have not experienced joy since my dog Patches, the sweetest little dog in the whole wide world, passed away in April of 2020. When I say I haven’t experienced joy since Patches passed away, it’s not to say that I have not experienced happiness, nor is it to say I’ve been wallowing in depression this entire time. What I mean is that I have not experienced that feeling of elation that comes from joy since her passing…until now.
Because when I am in Seoul, surrounded by the people I continue to meet from all over the world thanks to my friend Iggy Lee’s SeoulShare and Soul Walker MeetUp groups (as well as Mr. Kim’s Climbing in Korea MeetUp group), I feel immense joy.
For example, last month, I had what I call a Top 10 Day. I went hiking with my friend Vance, who I met through CIK (Climbing in Korea), and my friend Zhen, who I met during a SeoulShare event where we got a tour of a local Korean market. Now, Vance has probably been one of my best friends here in Seoul ever since we met. Vance moved his son and wife to Seoul last summer because, as he put it, they’d been wanting to do this for a while, but as will happen, life kept getting in the way, but then all of a sudden, all these greenlights to Korea started popping up, so they took the necessary steps to make this move happen, so needless to say, he and I have a lot in common when it comes to our midlife pivots.
Zhen is going through her own midlife transition, so we all shared our stories and experiences during our hike together. To be honest, I’ve talked to a lot of people who are in this life transition, whether it be a midlife transition, quarter-life transition, 30something transition, and for some reason, they come to Seoul to sort these things out. Maybe it’s the way Seoul blends the traditional with the future or maybe it’s the way it’s one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world yet still surrounded by mountains and nature, but there’s something about Seoul and its energy that makes this city so welcoming to people like me trying to make sense of themselves.
Anyway, Vance and I recently completed the 2022 meter Seoul Hiking Challenge sponsored by CIK where we had to hike four different peaks in the Seoul area totalling 2022 meters high, so on this day, we decided to hike Inwangsan and Bukaksan on the north end of Seoul, and since it was Zhen’s last day in Korea, I invited her to join us so she could take in the views of the city from above.
Now going back to that idea of Seoul being a metropolis surrounded by nature, one of the best parts of Seoul is that you can get to the hiking trails that lead into the surrounding mountain ranges by subway. Bukhansan National Park is to the north, and there are several subway lines that take you to peaks like Dobongsan and Baegundae, which is the highest peak in Seoul. Now Inwangsan and Bukaksan are a little shorter, only 338 and 342 meters respectively, but the views are still spectacular and the weather that day was ideal for hiking.
I won’t give you a full play-by-play of the day, but needless to say, I would’ve been okay with that day never ending. That’s what I mean by a Top 10 Day. It’s not necessarily that it’s one of the ten best days of my life, but if I live to be 80 years of age, I’ll have lived 29,220 days. 10% of that would be just under 3,000 days. Now, there’s that old corny saying that goes, “It’s not how many breaths you take, but how many moments take your breath away.” Well, I don’t need moments that literally take my breath away, but I do want more moments in my life that elicit that somatic experience created by that feeling of joy.
Another one of my favorite quotes comes from the book Into the Wild. That book is about Christopher McCandless, who ventured out into the Alaskan wilderness by himself and died as a result of eating poison berries, and he came to the following realization while out in the last frontier: “Happiness is only real when shared.”
Now, for those of you out there who say this sounds co-dependent and that we shouldn’t rely on others to experience happiness, I agree, but if you’re a quality time person like I am, you know that having meaningful moments with someone special fills your love bucket. And though I have had Top Ten Days during the past year on my own, most of them involved sharing an experience with someone else. And if that person is experiencing that moment together with you at a similar level of joy and gratitude, that moment is amplified and becomes even more meaningful to both of you, just like it says in the title of Episode 70: “Joy is doubled when shared; sorry is halved when shared.”
So, that’s what I mean by a Top 10 Day.
The friends that I have made here in Seoul are special, and I’ll tell you why: these MeetUp groups know one thing is true–nothing lasts forever. People come and go in these groups as long-term travelers like me or Sveka from Sweden, short-term travelers like January and David from Washington DC, students like Vivi from Switzerland and Dillon from Canada, workers assigned to Korea like Rich from Hawaii and Jessie from China, and digital nomads like Ben from New York. So when we see each other at an event, we get so excited because when there’s so much to do and see in Seoul, the communities that MeetUp groups like SeoulShare, Soul Walkers, and CIK have created here are what enhance our shared common lived experiences, but at the same time, we know that this event we’re both attending might be the last time we see each other. We hope not. We exchange information with each other, we follow each other on Instagram, we promise to stay connected, and we make plans to meet up again somewhere else in the world.
But we also understand, just as Jay Shetty says in his book How To Live Like a Monk, that people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.
When I was in Seoul last spring, I thought I was just here for a season. I had only planned to stay for six weeks. But when I was talking to my wonderful friend Ernie, who started off as my AirBnb host, I told him that if I left Korea at the end of May like I was planning to do, that it would feel like an unwritten chapter of my life. So I made all of the necessary arrangements to change my original course, which if you’ve been listening, and you know how much I like structure and routine and a plan, then you also know how big of a deal that was for me to extend my time here in Seoul until July. Not only that, but I did not expect that the joy I would feel because of these new friendships would lead me back here again this fall.
But as it turns out, I’m back in Seoul for a reason…and that reason is to completely feel joy once again.
So you may be wondering, “Well then, how do I go about feeling this similar joyful sensation?” That’s an excellent question, so when we come back from break, I’ll share with you some of the intentional steps I have taken to experience more joy in my life. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I’m talking about how I’ve intentionally cultivated experiencing more joy in my life, and I know some of you might be saying, “Yeah, well…you have all the time in the world and you’re traveling. I’m sure it’s pretty easy to experience joy when that’s your life,” and I’m not going to lie…it does make it easier. But I’ll tell you this–even when I was traveling last year through Portugal and Spain and on down the Oregon Coast, if you listen to those Season 5 episodes, you can hear the distress in my voice because I simply could not embrace and hold onto those moments of joy that I experienced for very long because I was dragging around with me all of these old wounds that I had never allowed myself to heal from, and I was wallowing in uncertainty and gray areas as our friend Kari Schwear from Episode 61 calls them, so I had to do a lot of intentional work to heal from those old wounds and grow as a person. And you don’t need to quit your job and travel for a year to do it because even though that’s what I did, as I said, I was still struggling emotionally because I hadn’t taken the necessary steps to quiet the storm of self-limiting beliefs and heal from the adverse conflicts that were still bubbling up from my old job, and because of that, the narratives I was telling myself kept getting in the way of fully experiencing that somatic feeling of joy.
So, what changed? Well, I think the biggest realization I came to last June was that I’m a people pleaser, and I was spending way too much time investing in people who did not value or invest in me. Once I made the conscious decision to stop doing that, I became more resolute when it came to reciprocity in communication. If people weren’t putting in the same amount of effort I was putting into a relationship, I just stopped putting in the work, especially if it was a newer relationship. If the new people I was meeting weren’t excited to meet me and weren’t interested in putting in the same amount of effort I was putting into meeting them, then I just stopped communicating with them and put the ball in their court. Once I made this conscious choice to stop people-pleasing and stop going above and beyond for a one-way relationship, I found myself able to detach from the expectations that had always made me feel so empty when others didn’t live up to them before. That was the biggest step I took in allowing myself to experience joy.
I would say that equally as important to this was continually meeting new people through the MeetUp groups. I’m telling you now that if you’re feeling isolated or if you want to just meet new people, MeetUp is the way to go. If you’re worried about not knowing anyone, the good news is that one of two things will likely happen: either almost everyone else in the group will also not know anyone and will just be so happy to connect with you, or the group will be so inviting and welcoming that you’ll immediately feel like you belong. Genuinely connecting with strangers, even if it’s just a brief elevator or subway interaction, may be the jolt of joy you need to carry you through the rest of your day. My dad used to do this all the time, and it would embarrass the hell out of me, but people really enjoy being around my dad, and I think it’s because he has the natural ability to engage strangers. In fact, according to this article I’m going to cite quite a bit during this segment called “Exactly How to Find Joy Today–And Everyday” by Melissa Goldberg, which I will link in the show notes, she quotes Professor of Psychology Elizabeth Dunn, PhD, of the University of British Columbia as saying, “Social interaction is the thing that most reliably increases people’s positive emotions, whether you're introverted or extroverted.” This is especially important for you MEN out there! Go all the way back and listen to Episode 2 if you need more proof as to why men need social interaction! I’m planning to do a whole series of episodes on this in the future, but ladies, encourage your men to attend social engagements and encourage them to make new friends. Bring them with you. And men, stop complaining about going to these social engagements and invest in some meaningful conversation! I have met some absolutely amazing people during my travels and it all started with engaging the stranger next to me. I can’t even imagine what these last two years would be like if I hadn’t said, “Hey it sounds like you’re a solo traveler as well…want to hang out while we’re in Portugal at the same time” to my good friend Ciro! You can go back and listen to Episode 39 if you want a list of all the strangers who made my time in Portugal, Spain, and Dakar that much better simply because we took the chance to talk to each other even though we didn’t know each other. And if anyone knows how to get in contact with the founder of MeetUp, let me know because I want to have him on the show so I can personally thank him for his platform because without it, I wouldn’t be back in Seoul experiencing this level of joy I’m experiencing these days.
Another thing I recently started doing was I took Dr. Haji’s advice I started performing more acts of service, namely, every Tuesday I lead a virtual mindfulness session with the SeoulShare community, and I’m opening that up to listeners of this podcast as well, so if you’re interested in joining those virtual mindfulness sessions, they’re at 8:00 pm Korean Standard Time, which isn’t the most ideal time for most Americans, but those meditations can also be found at The Mindful Midlife Crisis Podcast YouTube page if you want to follow along with those there. Not only that, but because I’ve been so involved in the SeoulShare community, Iggy asked me if I’d like to host some SeoulShare MeetUp events, so I’ve been volunteering my time to take people to places like Seoul Grand Park and organizing events to see some live music from our friends The Jonnybirds, and I’ll link their EP on Spotify in the show notes so you can check them out as well! They even asked me to MC and introduce them at their future gigs because they saw how much I enjoy talking to a live audience on a microphone, so all of this giving back has helped me find my groove here in Seoul and live presently with joy.
Another thing that I’ve been doing is I’ve been committing myself to a routine in the morning. I usually get out of bed around 7:00, and then I take a long, long shower, where I’ll actually sit and do a meditation with the hot water running over me, and then I’ll do my morning mobility routine, and then I’ll go work out in the gym downstairs because I intentionally chose an officetel here in Seoul with a gym so I could get back into the habit of working out because I always feel better about myself when I feel fit. So that’s kind of a three-for-one deal right there because routines, mindfulness, and exercise can all help us experience more joy according to this article from Melissa Goldberg, and what’s cool is I’ve been doing these things on my own, and here I am finding out that there’s actual research around routines and exercise helping us feel more joy!
And part of my mindfulness practice has been intentionally expressing my gratitude for these experiences, and I think the tragedy in Itaewan reinforced the importance of gratitude. My friend My Le from Vietnam put it best: she said, “There is so much beauty and pain in parallel with each other in this world that we must remember to extend gratitude for what we have in our lives so that we can be happy.”
If you listened to our conversation with the clutter-free queen Janet M. Taylor, which is Episode 54, then you know that I don’t like keeping a lot of clutter around my spaces because a clutter-free space brings me joy. But I do keep what I call my “Smile File,” which is currently in storage at my dad’s house, but basically, it’s every “Thank You” note or graduation invitation I ever received during my time as a teacher and a dean. Sometimes I’ll go through those and smile at those classroom memories because despite the challenges I faced as an educator, those connections still mean the world to me.
Finally, and I’ll bring back around full circle here, I keep two lists in the Notes App on my phone–one is a list of Top 10 Days, and I assure you my hike with Vance and Zhen is on that list. Secondly, I keep a list of the nicest compliments people have ever given to me. These serve as reminders as to why people value my friendship and my company, so when I’m feeling unappreciated, I look back at these compliments and I’m reminded why I matter and what impact I’ve had on the people in my life.
One of those compliments came from my good friend Mike Calawerts, who said, “Billy, what I like about you is that when you’re excited about something, you want everyone else to be excited about it as well!” and one thing that I genuinely look forward to on a weekly basis is my BetterHelp therapy appointment. Now let me be very clear, BetterHelp is not a sponsor of this show (yet), but I love using BetterHelp. I was matched with a licensed therapist based on my preferences and what I’m looking for in a therapist, and she does an amazing job of helping me process the overwhelming amount of thoughts I have running through my head throughout any given moment, and this in turn has helped me embrace more joy as well. In fact, talking to my therapist on a weekly basis has helped me reframe and let go of some of the self-limiting thoughts I had when I first arrived in Seoul. Again, BetterHelp is not a sponsor, but I am a huge advocate of therapy because if you go back and listen to Episode 3, you’ll hear about how therapy and mindfulness not only changed my life but most likely saved it as well. So if you’re looking for some affordable mental health services, you can get a free week of BetterHelp by going to the show notes and clicking on the referral link. Just to be transparent, if you sign up, I also get a free week, but if you sign up, then you’ll get your own referral link that you can share, and if one of your friends or family members or colleagues signs up using your referral link, then you get a free week and it becomes this beautiful pay it forward cycle of emotional support and healing that allows us to experience and live with more joy in our lives, which in my opinion, we all could use a little more of these days. So check out the show notes for that referral link. I wish I would’ve started using this service a year ago when I first started traveling and transitioning because when you’re doing something like this alone, it can feel overwhelming, so it’s nice to have a licensed therapist to help you process everything so you too can live more mindfully and presently in your moments of joy.
If you found joy in this week’s episode, be sure to look in the show notes for all of my contact information. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. If you’re an Apple listener, leave us a five-star review with a few kind words, and if you’re a Spotify listener, click those five stars under the show art. There are a LOT of resources in this week’s show notes, so be sure to look at those. Finally, remember that sharing is caring, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would share this episode with the people in your life who may benefit from living more mindfully and presently in their moments of joy.
So, with that, this is Billy, thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care, friends.