On Feeling Restless

Thoughts

Around a year ago this time, I started mentally preparing myself for “repatriating” back to the United States – that is, coming back home for good after being abroad for two years. I Googled and read articles talking about the dark side of repatriation (I’m not sure how I read this article anymore seeing as how I’ve never subscribed to WSJ) and I worried about how difficult it would be for me and my nostalgic self to ever stop missing my life in Asia.

Turns out it was a lot easier than expected – at first. I bounced around on couches and Airbnbs for two months in New York while I figured out whether or not to quit my job. I moved home to Chicago to hang out with my grandparents. I networked and job-searched, blogged and soul-searched. Found a job (not sure about the soul, though), and moved down to Chicago. And so here we are.

Through that period, feelings of nostalgia ebbed and flowed – but things were changing frequently enough that I was constantly distracted. Now that I’m settled in downtown, it’s suddenly hit me that maybe, missing Asia isn’t what I should have feared (although honestly, that still does hurt quite deeply some days).

I wish I’d been prepared for what it would be like to feel restless amidst stability.

For all those times in Asia that I’d wished I had a home I could decorate, friends I wouldn’t leave, a club I might join for good – for all those times I’d wished for stability and longevity and business as usual-ty, I find myself now constantly wondering these two dangerous words: “What’s next?”

Dangerous because they take away from gratitude for the present, from appreciation for my current state. And it’s not about about my new job, which is fun, or about Chicago, which I adore. It’s not even about being back in America – and it’s definitely not the travel bug (if you know me well, you’d know that I actually hate the word ‘wanderlust’ with a passion).

No, it’s because, for the first time in my life, there is no clear “next” – I could be in Chicago for two years or twenty, and I have literally no idea right now what that means. It’s not the not knowing itself that terrifies me; that in itself is, I think, liberating. But this restless feeling IS worrisome: I’ve been in Chicago all of four months and already worrying about my “What’s Next.” What if I can never actually feel 100% settled because I’ll always be wondering what comes after? What if I’m one of those people who complain that they can’t find The One (city, not soulmates) because I’m too busy looking for something…different?

I’ve written before that I – humans, really – have a tendency to always want more. I always thought it would be in relation to what I wanted, not to where I lived. This is the dark side of repatriation that I never considered: I got so used to having an expiration date for my location that I don’t quite know what to do without it. I feel lost and somewhat anxious; I’m disappointed at myself that I’m so easily entranced by all the “What if’s” rather than that “What is’s.”

Here’s to accepting that it’s okay to not know, that it’s okay to stay somewhere a while – or not. Here’s to facing the “dark side” of repatriation with the “bright side” of being thankful to even know what that word means. Here’s to not living in the past, not even living in the future – but living as hard as I can for the present.

On Education

Thoughts

I did not cry when Donald Trump won the presidency.

Not because I agree with the insane things he says. Not because I believe that he is a good man (not even close). Not because I had any optimism about his presidency. But because, as irresponsible and as selfish as this is, I simply didn’t feel like whether or not he was president would directly impact my day-to-day life. As an Asian female, I’ve already accepted the racism and sexism around me as a fact of life: it was bound to happen from time to time, but I could deal with it. I’d already dealt with it.

I did cry, though, when these things happened:

  • In 3rd grade, I cried when I heard that my bus driver had been fired, because as an English-Language Learner, I did not understand what “fired” actually meant. Instead, I imagined my kindly bus driver tied to a stake and literally being lit on fire, and the thought of this awful cruelty was too much for my 8-year-old self to bear.
  • In 8th grade, I cried when a classmate threw a book at my head for daring to say that David Beckham was ugly. I cried because it was embarrassing. I also cried because my teacher failed to reprimand the book-thrower, who was one of his favorite students. My faith that I could unequivocally trust all my teachers was broken.
  • In 11th grade, I cried when my coach, whom I deeply respected and admired, yelled at me for skipping swim practice. I knew I’d messed up. I knew I deserved it. I cried because I cared so much about what my coach thought of me, and it devastated me to disappoint him.
  • In my senior year of college, I cried when I nearly failed the last finance course I needed to complete my major. I was terrified because failing meant one of two things: 1) that I’d wasted my previous three years’ worth of financial aid and tuition by failing to get my finance degree, or 2) I’d have to somehow pay for another semester to actually complete that degree.

The above events serve to describe the moments that made me as a person. These were the years – my K-12 years, my college years – these were the years that were formative in my development. These were the teachers and educators – for better or for worse (luckily, mostly for the better) – who have irrevocably impacted me.

These were the times when I prided myself on performing well on state and national assessments, unaware of the difference between growth and proficiency. These were the times when I confided in a compassionate counselor about my fear of school shootings, unaware of the bipartisan debate on guns in society. These were the times when I carefully filled out FAFSA, unaware of how crippling student loans could become in a jobless economy.

I’m aware now of these things, and much more – but I’m thankful I didn’t have to be. I was lucky because the system did not fail me: I trusted my family, my teachers, my schools, to seamlessly guide me through my educational journey, and they did. And so even though I was so unaware, it worked out for me: I just concentrated on being a kid, a student, growing up. Because I trusted the system not to fail me.

I am one of the lucky ones, and that is an awful fact.

The gaffes from the DeVos confirmation hearing make me think twice about what it means to trust the system. Sure, it all turned out fine for me – but every single child, every student, should have the opportunity to go through a system that’s built to maximize the probability of their success. With DeVos’s appointment as the Secretary of Ed, this probability is not being maximized: on the contrary, the system will be built against the only users who matter.

How many more will have to worry about progressing in their education because lawmakers are measuring them by metrics they’re destined to fail? How many more will have to worry about a peer bringing a gun to school because lawmakers are unwilling to make the claim that guns have no place in schools? How many more will think twice before taking out student loans because lawmakers have no idea how to structure a service they’ve never had to use, implement consequences they’ve never had to face?

How many more students – the ones who aren’t so lucky – how many more of them will be negatively impacted in these formative years? Because their needs are being ignored? Because they can’t trust the system not to fail them?

Maybe I should have cried when Donald Trump won the presidency.

On Insecurity

Thoughts

Tomorrow, I will go through an identity change.

I quit my job exactly one month ago, making the decision to leave an unfulfilling job to come home and enjoy quality time with my family – specifically my grandparents, who are spending the summer here in Chicago. This is the longest time I’ve gotten to spend with them since I was three years old, and it has been incredible.

Tomorrow, that all changes as my grandparents get on the 14-hour flight back to China. With them, they will take a part of my current identity. Because here’s the thing: as long as they were here, I was the doting granddaughter, cooking lunch and dinner every day, helping them with technology, taking them on field trips to the library.

But as soon as they leave tomorrow, I’ll just be a regular unemployed 25-year-old.

Of course, I made that decision. Rather than using my remaining vacation days or finagling some sort of extended leave of absence, I made that decision to quit my job instead. I made that decision knowing that with unemployment comes a period of job seeking, of not knowing what’s ahead, of losing the career identity I’d built over four years. And I don’t regret it at all, because it has been worth it for this past month.

Yet the insecurity has been slowly seeping in, and I see an invisible taunting “loser” following right behind the phrase “unemployed 25-year-old.” No matter what my family and friends say about my resume, my personality, my whatever, I’m not confident that I can find a job easily. I’m scared, and I’m worried. I’m insecure.

As I prepare to say yet another farewell to my grandparents tomorrow, I’m inwardly saying farewell to that doting granddaughter identity I’ve held for the past month, instead saying hello to that insecurity of unemployment that I can no longer easily ignore. I’m bracing for what feels like failure, trying to remember that failure itself is actually just another opportunity to learn. I will not only be searching for jobs, but also be coping with consequences, learning to live life as I chose.

Tomorrow, I will go through an identity change…and I hope I’m ready for it.

On Quitting My Job

Thoughts

Last Friday, July 8th marked the final day at my job.  My first and only job out of college, I had been at the company for just over four years. Two weeks prior, I had given notice to my boss after endless discussions with my family, my friends, and my own little mind.

I’d toyed with the idea for a long time, weighing the pros and cons, guessing at what “funemployment” would bring to my life. Unlike people who quit their jobs because they’re stressed out, or because they have terrible bosses, or because they work awful, long, hours, I quit simply because I wanted to.

It may sound silly, especially given that I wasn’t in some unbearable situation that was taking a toll on my physical or mental health. In fact, when I’d think about it, I’d feel like I was being spoiled: here I was, with a perfectly fine job – not amazing, but by no means bad – making a steady income, living in New York City, and I basically just gave it away, back to the universe. Compared to the thousands searching for jobs to be able to feed their families, pay their mortgages – I was certainly making the ultimate wasteful, foolish decision.

But for myself – and as self-centered as it sounds, this decision was ultimately about myself – I needed to do it. Coming back after working in Asia for an incredible two years, I found myself back in the same place I had worked in right out of college. All around me, my peers were on their third jobs, or completing their MBAs. And while it goes without saying that comparing yourself to others is pointless, it was difficult to avoid feeling like I was stuck in a rut, unable to move on from a job that didn’t excite me.

I thought about it some more. I had the financial means to do it – savings to last me for a period of unemployment. I’d live with my parents until I could find a job, but I wouldn’t be a millenial freeloader; I’d pay for my “rent” and expenses, do the cooking and chores. I could do this.

In the end, what really sealed the deal was also the fact that my grandparents are here from China, staying in Chicago for the summer. This is a rare visit that’s only happened once before, back in 2000, and likely won’t happen again given their age: flying 14 hours is awful, but flying 14 hours as an 85-year-old is, I’d imagine, another level of awful. I distinctly remember texting my mom back in May, as I debated about resigning and moving home: “Mom, I just feel like if I quit now and go to Chicago to spend time with you guys, I won’t regret it. But I do think that if I don’t quit, and I miss out on this chance to be at home with them, I will regret it.”

I’ve read so many articles about nurses and doctors quoting people on their deathbeds, all with the same refrain: “I wish I’d spent more time with the people I loved. I wish I’d worked less and focused on my family and friends.”

And so, I quit my job. I wanted to be home in Chicago, after 8 years of being away in Philly, New York, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. I wanted to be closer to my parents and back in time to spend quality hours with my grandparents. I wanted a fresh start, some time to regroup after an incredible time in Asia. I wanted to rethink my career path, to reevaluate my strengths and weaknesses, figure out what really made me tick. I wanted to be out of New York City, a place I’d grown to appreciate more but still never really loved. I wanted to have control over my life, get away from the status quo of complacency, be proud of the decisions I made.

I am young and have my whole “career” ahead of me – but I would be lying if I said I was 100% confident in this path I’ve now taken, one that is now too late to take back. I am terrified it’ll take me ages to find a job (or worse, what if I NEVER find a job?). I am unsure of the career path I want to take, at a loss as to where I can or should specialize. The world is my oyster…but the oyster is freaking huge.

It’s a choice I’ve made, though, and I’m ready for it. I don’t anticipate this to be an easy period, but then again, no one ever said it would be. Laura said to me the other day, “Don’t worry, it takes time to find a job. It’s good you have time to be with your fam and grandparents, and this time around you can take time to find a job you’re interested in and passionate about.” She’s right, and I’m so thankful for a support system that loves and encourages me through my sometimes-rash decisions.

Wish me luck on this (hopefully) mini-chapter in my life!