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.

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On Hoffman Estates, Illinois

Thoughts

I miss Asia almost every day. There are triggers all the time – evil ex-coworkers tagging me in food photos around Asia, fluid Cantonese spoken in local Chinese restaurants, media photos of F3 reunited in Bali to attend a wedding. There have been so many things, since coming back to the States, that cause a little pang of nostalgia, of missing those two years I lived back in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

I was worried about moving back home to Hoffman Estates after I quit my job in New York this past July. After all, New York City was probably the most similar setting I could have to the urban metropolises that I’d lived in abroad; I worried that I’d find the suburbs too quiet, too limiting, and quite honestly too boring – especially after my grandparents left to return to China mid-August.

But I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that this Chicago suburb I grew up in has been more than ideal for my transition back to the States after two years abroad. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I’ve found those words to be true more than ever. And while there are multiple reasons why being in Hoffman Estates has been awesome, the greatest reason by far has been the people.

After my grandparents left in mid-August, I started to spend a lot of time catching up with different people, from childhood friends, to high school teachers, to college classmates, even to new friends I’d made in New York and in Asia. After every single meet-up, I have the exact same thought: “I am so incredibly thankful to be friends with people who I admire and respect so much.”

I’ve been repeatedly blown away by how my friendships haven’t changed despite years apart; by how career success or new life chapters haven’t diminished the strong, down-to-earth characters of my favorite people. And there was absolutely no need for me to worry about my newly found confidence declining, because I have been surrounded by the support and encouragement of people who believe in me more than I believe in myself.

It’s said that unemployment and job-seeking can often be depressing and lonely, and that insecurity increases while confidence plummets. But being back home in Hoffman Estates has prevented me from really feeling any of that negativity – and I realize how incredibly fortunate I am. Each hangout with a friend leaves me feeling warm, happy, confident, and thankful. Each visit to downtown Chicago leaves me satisfied with how close I still am to a myriad of opportunities and (more importantly) restaurants. And each night spent at home, cooking with my parents, leaves me feeling like I’ve made the right decision in quitting and taking a break to come home after eight years away from Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

It’s so good to be home.

On Being Not Social

Thoughts

I tagged along with my parents to a family friend’s house party this weekend, where I saw friends’ parents whom I hadn’t seen in months, if not years. “How long are you home for this time?” they asked. Bracing myself against the fear of judgment that covered me, I took a breath and replied, “Indefinitely, I guess. I quit my job.”

Telling a group of Chinese parents that you’ve quit your job without anything lined up is pretty scary: in a culture where practicality and stability are highly valued, my risky plan and unemployed status probably banish me to the dungeon category of “people we don’t EVER want our kids to be like.” But now that the cat’s REALLY out of the bag to arguably the most intimidating group of people to tell, I can freely talk about what it’s been like for the past two weeks!

The past two weeks have been interesting because I went from leading an extremely active social life to basically having zero social interactions (besides my family, of course) for literally fourteen days. I know, because I counted: from an awesome lunch with the Tanakas to celebrate my newly engaged best friend + her fiancee, two weeks had passed until Laura and I caught up this weekend at a cool coffee shop nearby (check it out – really cool shop supporting kids with Down Syndrome).

This, I told my parents, is probably the longest I have EVER gone without seeing someone from outside of my family (not counting cashiers and librarians and people I run into on errands). Because of the fact that most of us spend our time either in school or at work, in fact, it’s nearly impossible to go more than maybe the weekend without conversation with a classmate, a coworker, a friend.

I guess it’s technically cheating to say I had no social interactions, because of course I’m home with my parents and grandparents. But while living in New York, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, I got into the habit of having or making plans nearly every weeknight and weekend – it was definitely a way to make sure I wouldn’t feel lonely or homesick in a new city, and I was so stimulated by the unending places to see and places to eat in these huge metropolitan cities.

Suffice to say that I thought I would quickly go stir crazy being back home in the suburbs, particularly with two weeks passing without seeing any friends. But interestingly enough, I didn’t mind it at all. So here’s what I’ve learned from this experience of being not social:

  • There’s more time to get stuff done. I had time to do arts and crafts yesterday. I cook lunch and dinner for my grandparents every day. I cleaned my room of my childhood belongings and high school scantrons. When I’d come home in the past, I would spend my time going out to meet up with old friends or just enjoying time with my parents; I never made the time to just sit down and take care of stuff around the house that needed to get done.
  • The suburbs are really pretty. I’d started appreciating being in Hoffman Estates again on my breaks from the cities, but I’m just so reminded of how pretty the suburbs can be. I like seeing the houses with the yards all lined up neatly on the streets. We are lucky to have an awesome library with surroundings that are nice enough for people to make it a pre-prom photo option. My grandpa has become a regular visitor of two turtles that live in Victoria Park. The sky is so, so, so blue. When I’m not being too distracted to get somewhere or to see someone, I’m able to appreciate what’s around me a lot more.
  • I’m okay being not social. More okay than I thought I would be, anyway. I’m still an extravert at heart, and of course it helps that I have my family to hang out with while I’m home. And I recognize that I’ve only been home for a few weeks. But these past two weeks, despite not seeing any friends, I didn’t feel at all antsy or bothered – and I’m proud of myself for it. It’s refreshing to remember that what makes me tick is really just being around those I love, not leading a packed social life. I’m excited to being more of a homebody, especially when Chase and I get to spend more time together.

So far, I’m enjoying this quiet break from working. I’m sure things will change if I stay unemployed too long, but wish me luck, guys – let’s hope that this isn’t TOO long of a break!

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!