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Virada Chatikul Rockwood blog post

Nicha and Saranya take an obligatory self-portrait before we start the retreat

Recently, a friend of mine asked me to bring my day job here at Rockwood to the Thai community. I agreed. So, I packed a small box of Rockwood tools to share at a planning retreat for the Thai Association of Northern California. The volunteer-run organization puts on annual events for the Bay Area Thai community – galas, festivals, bowling and soccer tournaments. I grew up in this community, so I knew it would feel more like a weekend hangout with friends rather than a pro-bono service. I’d been talking up Rockwood so much that it felt natural for them to invite me to join the retreat.

I planned to offer a half-day “sampler” of our leadership practices adapted to complement a Thai palette:

Virada Chatikul Rockwood blog post

Franco and Garfield learn POP

  • POP (coincidently, the word “pop” is actually a common Thai nickname)
  • a feedback and appreciation exercise framed as “New Year blessings”
  • personal ecology (the Thai language excels at mood descriptors)

It was important for me to recognize these tools as Rockwood while honoring who we were – Thai-Americans passionate about our heritage.

However, leading up to that morning, I have to admit: I was scared, and a part of me didn’t want to do it. I had devoted the better part of last year to my own personal ecology. I love the community – yet I knew that I wouldn’t last much longer volunteering almost every weekend to youth workshops, dance rehearsals and meetings. After seven rewarding years of coordinating projects, I pressed the pause button because I was exhausted, and I wasn’t ready to press play again. Would you? I’d been enjoying a year of self-care! I trained for a 30-mile a backpacking trip! I re-discovered my love of Tai Chi! I took a writing class! My house is clean(er)! I felt protective of my newfound balance.

Virada Chatikul Rockwood blog post

Young men on the team felt the need to self-segregate onto one sofa. Then Virada split them up.

I consulted with my friends beforehand, more to alleviate my own re-entry anxiety than anything else. I expressed my excitement in sharing my day job – and at the same time, I made it clear that I was not joining the logistical planning that would follow. My fear to set boundaries is a side effect of how the community (myself included) has usually “roped in” its volunteers, but it was unwarranted. They are my friends. They understood, and they told me all they envisioned and expected from me was morning of team-building.

Offering this sampler was stepping into the very leadership and capacity-building that Rockwood hopes to cultivate – overcoming fears and taking risks to share what I know. In the least, I had fun.  My community received the practices with open arms. One participant, Tim, told the group: “I feel like if we did appreciations at my job, I wouldn’t hate my life.” The practices also had a huge impact on the group; as volunteers, they never took time to appreciate each other. Now, the team plans to hold another retreat later this year…and is already looking forward to it.

In taking space from the community, I am able to be more targeted and effective with my time and energy. I can see my community involvement beyond the horizon of the next project and instead lasting decades – which was the reason I prioritized personal ecology in the first place.

What are your triumphs in personal ecology? Do you have recommendations for maintaining balance?


  • Roberto says:

    Thank you for your sharing! Glad to hear how you are living respect for your personal ecology and being courageous to set limits. Also, loved how you were able to share your Rockwood lessons in ways responsive to your cultural community, e.g., doing the “New Year blessings”. Continue!

  • Eileen says:

    Nice, Virada! Makes me think of the ways I am applying leadership to my own communities as well. Thanks for sharing!

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