Looking back at the end of another year, it’s striking to see how differently things went from my expectations. This time last year, I was frantically preparing for a move to China, where I would be teaching English and potentially managing a department of foreign teachers in a language academy in Yangzhou. Now, as I write this, I’m sitting in a co-working space in Sevilla, Spain, getting ready to go meet my sister in Portugal for Christmas.
Sometimes, you can shape the path of your life, and guide your own path.
Sometimes, things spin out of control, and even the best-laid plans go awry.
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.– Lao Tzu
China started out well enough. I felt settled relatively quickly and my job seemed to be going well. Sandy, a dear friend from back home who managed to visit me in Thailand years ago, was able to visit me during the Lunar New Year on her way to explore Tibet. We braved the teeming hordes of Chinese tourists, missed a train, and climbed a mountain — all while shoving as much food into our faces as possible.
But life has a funny way of throwing you curve-balls, and my experience in China began to sour. The job I’d gone there for was quickly becoming more than I thought it would be — more stress, more hours, more responsibilities — and I had managed to acquire a horrible, hacking case of bronchitis which showed no signs of letting up. On top of that, my relationship felt like it was crumbling, and I knew I had to leave.
So I began to search for another job. I began to look for an escape.
In the midst of this upheaval, I remembered the standing invitation from a dear friend to come visit her in Dalian — a city just to the northeast of Beijing. With a long weekend coming up, I decided to go for it. I know myself, and sometimes a short escape is all I need to clear my head and figure out what I need to do.
I was right. The weekend with Nino and Natia was exactly what I needed. I gave my notice before I returned to Yangzhou.
I learned something there, at the end of my truncated stint in China. Even ventures which sputter and fail can lead to growth. Even a pool of muck can contain treasures. And those treasures make the stain and soil from our trials worth it.
Do you know those moments in life when everything clicks and you know you made the right decision? Arriving home after 5 months in China was one of those moments. I mean, just look at the happiness on this face…
As part of my decision process for leaving China, I’d closely examined what my priorities were for this year and the future — trying to figure out who I want to be and what I want to focus my effort and attention on. This meant studying Spanish almost every day. It meant eating healthy, getting a job that would let me travel, spending time with the people closest to me. It meant hiking EVERY. CHANCE. I. GOT.
So that’s what I did!
Summer came, and summer went, and before I knew it the time had come to leave again. But this trip… this trip was different.
My four months of grinding against the millstone of the job search had paid off spectacularly, and I’d managed to get a job with one of my dream companies — Airtable. In my new role, I can work remotely — so long as I work US hours — so I decided to relocate to Mexico for a couple of months to study Spanish.
Staying in San Cristóbal de las Casas, working at a job that fits me like a glove, studying a language I love, and even being reunited after nearly a year with Luz… all of these things made the trials of the year seem worth it.
I’ve always been stubborn — a character trait I believe to be one of my best and one of my worst. Hitting my low point in the spring really drove home the fact that things desired must be fought for, and dreams not strained and stretched and clawed for will always hover just out of reach.
Hay que gozar mucho para desquitarse de la vida.
One must enjoy much to get even with life.-Unknown
Color me done with being passive.
So next? Portugal, and beyond. I’m trying to focus on the things which bring me joy, and chase after my goals with all the strength I have. 2019 was a year of upheaval, a year of trials. But 2020 is coming, and I have plans.
So this Christmas, I’m focusing on mindfulness — being aware of myself and my state of mind, and where I am in relation to where I want to be. Learning to distinguish between situations I can change and ones I can’t, and knowing when to fight for something instead of letting go.
And I’m focused on thankfulness, too: for the strong network of friends and family who root for me and support me even though I slip in and out of contact; for the job I have which enables me to live the life I’ve dreamed of for years; for the mix of beauty and power, wildness and humanity, which make this world such a fascinating place to explore.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you’re able to spend this holiday season with people who make you feel like you can take on the world, who make you feel safe, who make you feel loved. I hope you smile, and I hope your heart is light <3
For me, I’m going to spend it with my awesome sister, as we explore our seventh (!!) country outside of North America together. And, apparently, we’re doing Christmas karaoke ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Still undecided on how I feel about that…