Mai Pen Rai

Mai Pen Rai

I want you to take a moment to think about your perfect self, if you’ve ever imagined one.

Who are you? What is your career? Who are your friends? Where do you live? How are you defining success – by experiences, by free time, or by the monetary worth of your belongings? Keep this in your mind as you continue to read.

About five years ago I mentally created the perfect “me” and did every single thing I could to get myself there. In college, I sought positions of leadership in campus organizations and tried way too hard in my classes. I spent weekends searching for internships and stressed about paying rent, promising myself that once I graduated with my business degree I would never, ever, have to worry about my inexistent funds again. I saw myself in a position of power, living in the perfect Manhattan boutique apartment, living freely and independently without a financial worry in the world.

With every small success, I saw two more obstacles ahead of me. Then came the worries, the anxiety, the self-inflicted pressure and stress that I would never actually complete this perfect picture because of my heightened capacity to drop the paintbrush. Satisfaction was an impossible reach because of wanting. I wanted more out of myself, always.

It only took me ten months out of college to realize that in the past five years, I was too busy worrying about the outcome of my efforts to actually see what I really wanted out of life. It was at this point, right around mid-February of 2015, when I decided to drop everything and move to Thailand to… what? Teach English? I may as well have scribbled all over that damn painting.

Even when I thought I had escaped the confinement pushed into by my worries, they continued to haunt me after I made this life-changing decision. I wondered: Will I find a job when I eventually come home? Will I hate teaching? Will I be lonely? And the most daunting of all – Am I setting myself back by moving abroad?

During the first week of my teacher-training course in Chiang Mai, we learned some important Thai phrases to help us get by while we continued to figure out the language on our own. One in particular that caught my interest was “Mai pen rai,” literally meaning “No worries.” The first time I heard it in action was, coincidentally, on my first day of school when I was teaching my first graders for the first time. I prepared an excellent lesson on the first five letters of the alphabet, only to realize too soon that they were way too advanced for it. Kru Nui, my daunting but oddly kind Thai co-teacher, knew I was stressed while I tried to re-plan the hour that lie ahead. She smiled and said softly, “Mai pen rai.” This woman saw right through me as if I were made of glass.

Fast forward eight weeks, and I have learned so much more about this little magic phrase, “Mai pen rai.” The consistent pressure that is placed on students in America is, in no way, reflective of how the Thai classroom operates. The students who are enthusiastic and do well in the classroom are those who actually want to learn, who want to do well for their family and for themselves. They are not really forced to do anything at all, and in effect they do not (to my knowledge) act or do as a result of pressure.

Thai culture is much more collectivist than individualistic, and I see this through the way my students act. If one cannot finish a worksheet or writes the wrong answer on the blackboard, his or her peers help out until the problem is solved. They work together to complete tasks, they cheat on tests, and they share colored pencils. They share everything, maybe even a little too much personal space, and it is all quite wonderful. They have “no worries” because sweet time is taken, and someone will always be there to compensate for lazed efforts. The strengths of some make up for the “weaknesses” in others, yet they are all equals in each other’s eyes.

The Thai people I’ve had the pleasure to know well believe it best to let “the little things go”, or to “not sweat the small stuff,” resulting in a stable, if not permanent, state of contentment. And I think they’ve got it right, because in the grand scope of things… do our worries really matter?

The relaxed and laid back nature of Thai people, along with their “Mai pen rai” lifestyle, has forced me to look at my own condition and re-asses it all.

The perfect picture I longed for, wished for, worked so completely hard for, let me down because I latched onto it like a life-vest on a sinking ship. By having such deep desires for my life, such high expectations, I was only setting myself up for inevitable disappointment. My wants created more wants, which created worries, which created a “wanting” to rid of the worries. It is a vicious cycle, and I am just now breaking free of it. I do not know if my time abroad will somehow lead me on the right track, but I have stopped worrying about it. I have finally realized that this is a path that I am traveling, not just a road to an inexistent destination, and I have never felt more at peace.

I am not saying it is bad to have expectations. Because without expectations and goals, how could our society ever accomplish anything at all? I am saying that expectations do not have to be so severe, so permanent in our minds that they may as well be tattooed on our foreheads.

Think back to the “perfect you” that you created at the beginning of this post. For those of you who have fulfilled your perfect self, I am happy for you. For those of you who haven’t – what is keeping you from doing so? Stress? Problems? Pressure? Worries? I get it. Some of them seem to be inescapable. In no way do I have the right to preach, as I am only a rookie in this topic, but I think it’s better if you let them go.

Let go of the “perfect you” and understand that nobody is perfect, that expectations will only lead to disappointment. Break free of the chains you contain yourself in, the conceptualizations we create called “worries” or “problems,” because they only exist in your mind, not anyone else’s. Know that letting go may actually lead you in the right direction anyway. It’s okay to backtrack to get to where you need to go.

Stop worrying so much. I know I have.

Mai pen rai.

Wash away those worries.

Wash away those worries.


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One thought on "Mai Pen Rai"

  1. Weinnajicance says:

    Hey! Thanks for that,luv this. Like a Mojoheads Records 😉

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