Here’s what I learnt.
For the past couple months, I’ve been really feeling the pressure with my job and various other things in my life. It got to the point where a couple weeks ago, all I felt all the time was anxiousness. So I decided it was time to make a change. I quit my job and I went on a road trip to the mountains by myself.
Okay, so that sounds a lot more dramatic than it was in real life. I want to write a separate piece on why I left my job and my takeaways from that whole experience. However, I didn’t quit just to go on this road trip. This trip was more of a way to relax, get out of the city before I start my next job, and hopefully inspire a sense of adventure in myself again. I also wanted to clear my head of all the distractions and reset my head of its triggers for anxiety. It was only a couple days out there on the lake surrounded by the gorgeous mountains, but I wanted to share some of the thoughts that kept running around in my head while I was there.
What’s the rush?
I’m going to contradict myself a little here from what I wrote in my last piece.
As someone who self-identifies as being a hardworking and aspirational individual with many things in life I want to do, I tend to get caught up in all the things my life can or should be. This leads me to panic about how I’m going to fit it all in. After all, life is short right?
Yes — life is short, so we shouldn’t spend too much time doing things we don’t enjoy. However, I think this mentality even seeps into the time I spend doing things I do like, maybe a little too much. For example, I was only there for a couple days, and so I kept asking myself — “how do I make the most of my time here?” I think this is a very valid question to ask when given constraints like time and a budget. I’d think about all the things I could do, make lists to try to rank these things by a number of arbitrary metrics, and then I tried to plan my day accordingly to make my time here most efficient. Then I remembered — I’m here to just enjoy the process, and I shouldn’t need to feel that pressure to “do everything that I need to do here.” There’s nothing that I need to do here.
So after realizing this, I decided to spend a couple hours at the beach, submerged in the cool water because it’s freaking 42 degrees (celsius) outside! No worries about time or what I should be doing next. Just trying to beat the heat.
Connection is everything.
Now that I’m moved out, graduated from university, and self-sufficient for the most part, life has been quite different in ways I couldn’t have expected. I think a big part of this was because of the impacts of the pandemic over basically everyone. I think specifically to this point though, the pandemic made “the first year of being a true adult” look not at all what I imagined it was going to be.
When I was a teenager living in a moderately strict Asian household, I’d dream of all the things I could have with this freedom. I didn’t have as much freedom as most of the other kids my age. While they were all hanging out after school, I’d be stuck at home because “it’s not safe to stay outside without constant supervision.” So this developed a yearning in me to have independence. A need for freedom, adventure, and connection.
Now that I have the freedom, the adventure also naturally follows. I’ve been alright at finding ways to be adventurous in my own city — whether it’s taking walks on streets I haven’t walked before, or biking down to a part of the city I haven’t been to before. It’s the little adventures that I’ve been really good at creating for myself. However, freedom and adventure was just a part of the equation, and recently I think connection to community has been a big struggle. I think part of this struggle is attributed to the pandemic isolation, but another part I think is because of how different adult life is compared to school.
Adult life is so much different once you leave school. You’re not forced to be around a specific group of people anymore, so you have to “find your people” amongst a much larger pool of individuals (especially if you live in the city like me). Not that I don’t have amazing friends — I’m so blessed to be able to quite consistently see most of my closest friends. However, I think even the friends I’m not as close with play an important role in my life. Even strangers have a role in my life. I find that it’s in my discussions with the people who know me less that I reinforce who I am.
I don’t need to tell or show my closest friends who I am, they already know. As I grow and change, they’re there with me to experience that growth and change. However, I think it’s the people that still don’t know me well that I get to reveal myself in a new way. In doing that, I also reveal parts of me to myself as well. I get to see who I am in contrast to these people who may or may not be as similar to me, compared my closer friends anyways.
I found even having conversations with random strangers there in that small town in the middle of the mountains was very refreshing. In sharing bits and pieces of my story to these people, I reinforced those stories as part of who I am and how I got to that place. Furthermore, in hearing bits of these people’s stories as well, I get this sense of novelty for life. I imagine what it’s like to be in these peoples’ shoes — to have lived my entire life in years, but times 2 or 3. To have experienced and seen and felt all different things than I have.
These connections, although maybe in passing, are so meaningful to me. I may never meet these people again, but in getting a glimpse of their life, I am reminded that life is so much more than me and what’s going on in my head. I am also shown new and real perspectives of how life can play out for some people. Rather than getting ideas for where I want to take my life solely from strangers on the internet, aka social media, I can get a more authentic depiction of the paths my life can lead down. A lot of people living here at this lake seem to have moved here from the city. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up like one of them.
Stories are much different than real life.
Related to what I was just mentioning about how other people’s stories impacts my perception of where my own life can go, the story I then tell myself about where my life can go in the future can also impact where my life actually goes. Sometimes for the better, and sometimes not.
I think that part of being me and identifying as a “storyteller” has its own pros and cons. I am very grateful to have a good imagination as it allows me to be creative and see things that others might not see. It allows me to view the beauties of life with my own lens. It allows me to romanticize my life. However, I think even doing this has its extremes and thus requires a balance.
When I romanticize too much, I get all these ideas in my head for what “the perfect life” can look life for me. I could go on endlessly about what could constitute a “good life.” Then for as an analytical and strategy oriented person, this gets dangerous once I try to conceptualize how to maximize that list for efficiency. Similarly, as a perfectionist, I’ll go down the rabbit hole of how to actually execute and do the things that make up a “good life” and do them in the “best way possible.”
This all stems from the skill of understanding what makes a good story, and how to construct a good story (alongside being raised to give everything 100% of course, but I’ll stick to the storytelling piece). You can analyze any movie or book for what made it good or bad, and I think I take that further and start analyzing life in the same way.
I want to architect my life into “the perfect story” and write the perfect plot and have all the perfect main and side characters. I want every moment to have beautiful lighting and an epic soundtrack associated with it. I literally have spent so much time developing tailored Spotify playlists by mood and genre for this reason.
However, all these wants are unrealistic.
This leads me to my last point.
You don’t need to have life figured out.
And it all circles back to the first point.
I’m young. I have time (assuming I don’t get hit by a bus anytime soon). Even apart from the time aspect, I think even people later in their lives don’t necessarily have everything figured out. This is the thing about stories compared to real life:
When constructing a good story, you build everything to lead up to a predetermined ending. Further, when you analyze such a story, you analyze it in the context of the full piece. For example when analyzing a movie scene, often you relate it in context to what happened before, what will happen after, as well as how it ties to the ending.
However, when going through life — we don’t know what the ending of our story is going to look like. Thus, we don’t know if the pieces of time we are living through right now actually fit in well with our overall story. Although I want to, I can’t analyze my life on-the-spot like I can a movie scene, because I don’t know how it fits into the bigger picture (aka, the future). I can only analyze past events in relation to the present moment, because that’s all I know of.
“But tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present, since it is in the present and only in the present that you live. There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly.” Alan Watts
Overall, what I want to say is that at any given moment, I have no idea where my story can go. I can try to do things to guide it towards certain directions and endings, but at the end of the day, I’m shooting in the dark. And that’s alright. That’s the best any of us can do.
Realizing this can take a bit of pressure off myself from writing the “best story” for myself. Of course I won’t stop trying, but understanding how circumstances are different between real life and stories is a good way to stay grounded. Plus, the best stories always have a bit of conflict and uncertainty for the main characters — so who am I to think I’ll live a life without conflict and uncertainty?
The best thing I can do right now is keep writing my story, however I want. The ending is flexible and ever-changing, and the middle is messy and confusing, but as long as I enjoy the current moment, that’s good enough. One day I’ll fit the pieces together, and I’ll be able to look back and tell everyone that it was a good story, and I wouldn’t change any little thing.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope this was valuable in some way or another, and if not that’s alright too — like I always mention, this is mostly for me to look back on anyways.