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Hard Knock Life

Beautiful things can bloom from the seeds of your most difficult times. The details of my personal story are way too long for this submission. Though it is vibrant, the version of me today went through hell to reach the tranquil flow of life in harmony I have today.

On many parameters, as a child of immigrant parents, I was unofficially expected to outperform my own best self. I have always been an over achiever and my parents knew that about my character. In an effort to create balance (mom’s a Libra), she wanted me to connect with role models outside of our home and cultural community– so on TV or in Books, which spoke to me on an emotional level. In other words, rather than suggesting I decide what I want to be professionally when I grow up, she wanted me to focus on what kind of woman I wanted to be when I grew up and how I want to make people feel. I learned to pay attention to how a character made me feel and determined if I liked or disliked the feeling.

In 1988 I watched the film Annie for the first time. While Annie was the popular choice for most kids, I was intrigued by Ann Reinking’s character as Grace Farrell, Assistant (Estate Manager) to Oliver Warbucks. She was intelligent, kind, respectful and respected, compassionate, empowered, assertive, she dressed well, was influential, danced, smiled, owned every room she walked in to, had fun while working, approachable, nurturing, thoughtful, fair, understanding, and bold. What is there not to be drawn to? It was from Grace’s character in the scene where she brought home an orphan girl rather than an orphan boy, that I learned to handle unaligned decisions with grace and to be kind to myself when I screwed up. I knew that I wanted people to feel what I felt in that moment watching that scene. So, I became a little obsessed with her character, so much that I would pretend to be her and delegate tasks to my parents, sister, grandparents, and cousins. They all entertained “my dream” so I could grow into what they perceived were my future leadership skills.

While my family accepted those traits, the rest of the world did not, especially from a child, a teen, and a young adult. My parents always taught me to follow my heart and my passions while at the same time being realistic and practical. They did not teach me that there would be resistance to me being me and they certainly did not teach me best practices to protect myself in those situations – other than walking away – I know it’s not their fault because no one taught them. So, I learned some important life skills on my own, the hard way, and I created my own way. When I was judged, I chose understanding. When I was rejected, I chose acceptance. When I was shamed, I chose compassion. I chose to love myself radically because I felt no one else did. I became what I needed when I was hurting, not the person who hurt me. 

The road paved in following my passions has not been easy. In fact, it was ugly. I didn’t have the correct tools to cope, I didn’t know what options there were to thrive, and I certainly didn’t understand the position society wanted me to be. I rattled my world for years as a result of all the pain and difficult circumstances life presented me. The rate I was going, I didn’t think that I would make it past seventeen. I wasn’t counting on fighting for my life. Yet here I am at thirty-eight feeling grateful to be alive and thriving.

I choose to share the darkest details of my life to help others not feel shamed into silence and so that my struggles were not in vain. I learned to celebrate the interplay between life experiences and creativity, on occasion I made mistakes, and that didn’t make me unworthy– thank you Grace Farrel. Despite the circumstances of my life, I found the most important thing is to be honest with myself. I earned my own respect and I stand grounded in my own confidence. I learned that the value of the human experience is being proud of who I am in all moments, both strong and weak and that it’s one of those aspects of the human condition worth holding onto. The lessons came at a very high price. One I didn’t know I was willing to pay. 

To me, complaining about how unfairly I have been treated by others is not an option if there isn’t a solution. Instead, I choose to look at how I treat myself, how I treat others, how we as people treat one another, and collectively how we treat each other with empathy, compassion, kindness, and respect. Now more than ever, we need to create a world where we are all seen, heard, understood, and appreciated. 

I personally know and understand the benefits of a positive state of mind because it helped me get through some unimaginable times. It’s actually one of my top 5 strengths– according to Gallup Strengthsfinder. When I refer to positivity I am not speaking about unrealistic or toxic positivity associated with false hope, I mean, real tangible positive thoughts leading to actual real-life beliefs. 

So, what’s so great about feeling good?! For most people, the point of living boils down to one or more of these three things:  quality of life, contribution, and learning. The hospitality industry is the perfect setting for this. It cultivates this philosophy and embodies it. Positive emotions serve all three of those things and are at the heart of quality of life. My career path was not an accident, it was very intentional. I knew I wanted to be in roles where I could channel my inner Grace Farrel. I wanted to make people feel positive; like empowered, trusted, cared for, comfortable, safe, understood, curious, enthusiastic, grateful, awe, content, happy, satisfied, that the work they do is meaningful and has purpose, and respected. 

With my career choice I could coach talent and guests alike, to live in a state of positivity. To find that balance between work and play. To breathe in-between it all. It was from all the people who treated me terribly in this life that I learned that the brain has a built-in negativity default, better known today as biases. So, because I felt it was SO IMPORTANT to consciously, deliberately help brains register positive experiences, I wanted to work in an industry that provided that opportunity.

One day, I was introduced to the world of Personal Service, so I made the shift from Hospitality to Private Service, which really to me is Private Hospitality. The transition was quite beautiful. Every single day I work in this industry, selfishly, I know I have opportunities to remodel my own brain, to grow and evolve as a human– and thus my whole being – slowly, gently, and authentically.  I try to create positive and good experiences for all – and the positive emotions they produce. If I have the power to make people feel something, why wouldn’t I choose to make them feel good about themselves while at work, a place they chose to be more than their own home? Sure, there will still be the 10,000 sorrows of life, but who can say that, with a little mindful focus, one could not experience more positive feelings each day for no reason at all? Even through simply a change in perspective …

If there is one thing I can share with everyone it is to take in those positive experiences so they become a permanent part of yourself. There could be no kinder thing you could do for the person you have the most power over, and thus the most responsibility for; yourself. While many of my career ambitions revolve around being a hospitality minded professional in the Private Service industry, the most important goal in my life is one which deals with the inner nature of myself. Success as a leader is certainly important in determining my happiness, but without first being the best possible person who I can be, success in any area of my life would be very minimal and, likewise true happiness would be unattainable.   — Aline Urkumyan

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