Live and learn: valuing surprise

- 5 mins read

In 2015, on my first trip to Tokyo, Japan, a colleague referred me to The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. Bruce learns from soccer moms, self-help authors, investors, military vets, coaches, pastors, and software developers to coalesce an interesting array of strategies to improve organization, communication, education, and all of the other -tions that happen to make “happy” families. In a few words: adapt, talk, play & try. I enjoyed the book and learning about it was a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t expected to learn about a family book on my work trip.

Just after the Tokyo trip, I went on the best first date of my life with Mar. She was kind, selfless, family oriented, driven, health focused, and bright. We’d quickly go on many more dates and start falling for each other. An original is hard to find, but easy to recognize.

In 2016, about 1 year from our first date, I decided I would propose to Mar after watching Tim Urban’s TED2016 talk “Inside the mind of a procrastinator” on a Saturday night (Thanks for the nudge, Tim). I planned to propose Monday night, after we ate a home cooked meal. When I got home from work, the steaks weren’t thawed. Plan thwarted, darn! So, I called an audible and recommended we go to the fantastic Uchiko as a conciliatory option. The meal was amazing, as expected. The night was feeling right. After dinner, we waited outside for our car. But there were too many people walking around near us. And, Mar mentioned she was tired. Ehh, didn’t feel right. We went home, without me proposing, and went to bed. I had to adapt my plan.

Surprisingly, I woke up the next morning completely energetic, and before Mar. At this point in our lives, Mar was primarily waking up before me. And, since she’s so thoughtful for others, after she showered in our bathroom, she’d move to the other side of the house to dry her hair, so she wouldn’t wake me up. What a sweetheart, right? Anyways, so oddly, I was up first today. As she got into the shower, I hopped out of bed and schemed how I could propose. I knew she’d go across the house to the other bathroom to dry her hair. I decided I’d write on the mirror in the other bathroom using a dry erase marker “Will you …” and after she read it, I’d finish the sentence with a verbal “marry me?”. So I wrote it and then went out to the living room and pretended to be doing something – so I rolled around on the ground, stretching. Predictably, Mar came out of our room, saw me oddly stretching in the living room in my typical morning outfit, likely thought “WTF is he doing?”, and started towards the other bathroom. Eager, I followed and peaked in the bathroom. She looked at me and said something like “Can I help you?”. “Oh, no, sorry” I said, and sheepishly backed away. I thought she’d have read it by then – I was too eager. But, then it happened. She said out loud “Will you…” and I jumped around the corner and filled in the rest. It was surprising to her. Normally I was not awake at this hour. What’s this weird writing on the mirror? Why is my boyfriend jumping out into the doorway like a total weirdo. Oh, what did he say? After confirming my seriousness, she said yes. The adapted proposal was much more playful than my original plan – perhaps, more “me” :P We married 1 year later, in 2017, in an unforgettably personal ceremony and joyous celebration.

Later in 2017, during my second trip to Tokyo, Mar joined. She joined me a few days late, because she had been out of town when I left for Tokyo. I picked her up from the train station and when we got to the hotel room, she surprised me: she was pregnant. Yay! We’d wanted this, but it was a pleasant surprise :) 

After I wrapped up work, Mar and I traveled around Japan for 2 weeks. After Tokyo, we went to Kyoto. On the day that we sauntered around the Kyoto Imperial Palace and thought about our to-be-born first child, we wondered how we would raise a good human. I thought of The Secrets of Happy Families and how the author described documenting family values, to guide the family both during stressful times and forward-looking times. Mar and I took advantage of our reflective time in Kyoto to discuss and arrive at the following family values:

  • Respect: self/family/friends/others, inclusion, honesty, generosity, nature

  • Learning: empowerment, travel, practice

  • Wellness: health, balance, mind, meditate, body, movement, confidence

  • Engagement: initiative, impact, drive, discipline, progress, goals

  • Joy: presence in the moment, gratitude, family, friends, music

  • Communication: direct, describing emotions & reactions

By hashing out these values, we give our family a common language for life. The values help us prioritize our time, make decisions, and grow. They’re a tool in our toolbelt.

Will the values enable us to raise good humans? Time will tell. Leo is almost 3 years old now; so far so good :)

Life is full of surprises. Sometimes those surprises change the course of your life. How will you harness the value of surprise? How will you adapt?