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A glimpse into our expat life in Mudanjiang, China, circa 2011.
Sometimes I get into these very thoughtful moods where I begin to deeply appreciate my life and put things into realistic perspective. I feel appreciative more often than not, but today I felt especially so.
I was walking home from work and thought, holy shit, I live in China with my incredible and loving fiancé who makes me laugh all day long. We have a big apartment with jobs that more than pay the bills. I have amazing friends, the best, most supportive family I could dream of. I’m healthy and happy, AND I get to hang out with Chinese babies for work. My life is awesome.
These days of reflection and realization are great. I never feel more alive or satisfied than on these days.
So what spurred these reflective feelings on? This afternoon I had a two hour private tutoring lesson with a 16 year old young woman named Betty, which bled over into two and a half hours because she’s a joy to talk to and can speak fluent English, a rare gem in the third tier city in northeastern China where we live. (We’ve only met six expats here, including us!)
Betty and I were chatting about China and politics, and her future goals and dreams. She asked me what I majored in during college, and I told her I got my B.A. in Speech Pathology, but didn’t continue on to a three year Graduate program, so I can’t really use it.
She was understandably inquisitive as to why I didn’t go on with my studies to become a Speech Pathologist. I explained to her that while that might have been a good idea, looking further down my life path, it wasn’t the future I wanted.
Going straight into Graduate school after getting my Undergraduate degree would mean piling on the student loans, meaning that I’d need to get a job right after graduation so I could start paying back said loans. And getting a job would mean being dedicated to establishing a successful, long term career, and then soon after likely settling down and starting a family, leaving me no substantial amount of time to pursue my passion of travel and seeing the world. I just didn’t think I could choose the former over the choice of having a grand adventure and doing what made me happy. It’s not that the other path of going straight to Grad school is wrong or bad; it’s just not the path I wanted.
Betty nodded and smiled, but her eyebrows were still raised, cocked awkwardly to the side and I could tell she was puzzled.
So I broke down my reasoning for her asking one simple question about life choices: Why?
It began like this:
“So, right now you are studying hard everyday in high school. Why?”
“To get into an amazing college.”
“To graduate with a useful degree.”
“To get a great job.”
“To make lots of money.”
“To be happy.”
Her answers are common around the world, especially in westernized and quickly developing nations where happiness and making money are viewed as one in the same. This prescribed stepladder to happiness definitely does pan out for some, and for the people who planned it out like this and achieved it, that’s amazing. But for a lot of us, this isn’t a path we choose. It’s a road we think we should be on. It’s a life that was laid out for us by our family, by social convention. It’s what we’ve been told we’re supposed to do. And by following that path, yes, we have chosen it, but why? It’s by no means easy, and it’s not necessarily the road to happiness either. We can graduate from the great college, get the high paying job, but then what? What if this scenario does pan out, but we find ourselves unfulfilled?
What if instead we choose another way? We have the option to choose a life that never involves saying the words “Thank god it’s hump day!” or feeling the need to post on Facebook “It’s almost Friday !”
What if our Facebook statuses instead read things like “Just climbed Mount Fuji” or “Getting paid while at the beach 🙂 ” What if we chose a path less traveled and more uncertain, with the potential to yield more happiness, simply because the typical plan that’s been laid out for us isn’t guaranteed to please either? Isn’t life just one big uncertainty anyways? Why not go for exactly what we want, what we know makes us happiest?
I find myself
occasionally frequently idling for hours in front of my Facebook news feed, reading and looking at pictures and statuses of people I never barely ever talk to from high school or college, stalking what’s going on in their life. Why? Great question. But the better question would be why do I sometimes feel like shit afterwards?
My life is great. I’m doing what I want to be doing. I really have very few complaints except that I’m looking forward to when Stevo and I move to a bigger city in China with more to do. But that is something we’re taking action to make happen soon. So what’s the deal?
When these crappy feelings happen, I really should be the one asking myself “Why?” Why am I wishing I did/was doing the things other people are doing? Do I really wish that? Why am I not pleased with what I’m doing? And if I am happy, then why do I care about their business?
It would be great if I, if we all, could get to a point when we are so comfortable with our own lives that browsing through our Facebook news feed didn’t cause internal flailing about our own life choices. If seeing those seemingly daily wedding and baby pictures and “Landed an amazing job with Apple!”, “I’m going to Maui!”, “Got my masters!” and “Just ran my first marathon!” statuses didn’t turn us into envious, self-deprecating shadows of our true selves. If we could just say “Wow, that’s great for Jessie, the girl I barely knew from high school Chem class, that she just won the lottery. I’m truly happy for her.”
But not only is this not always an immediate reaction, some perverse part of
us me (I won’t presumably drag you into my darkness) even seems to find a small joy in others’ downfalls. Like when I found out through the grapevine that my high school crush, who somehow never realized how awesome I am, got herpes at a skanky party during his freshman year of college.
I’d like to think my happy reaction to that news was more so relief that I don’t have herpes than that he does. But still, why did his horrific genital life sentence make me even slightly happy? Or any happier than finding out something positive about him, like the sweet job he landed in the Bay Area.
Maybe people we know, or barely know, chose a different path than ours. And maybe their decisions went a little more smoothly, or appear to on the surface, their red bumps hidden from public view. As long as the path we are on was the one we chose, and we chose it because we wanted to, we ought to be pumped about our own lives, every day. We control our own destinies, our own life stories. No one is holding a gun to our heads and telling us how to live.
On days like today when I realize this and appreciate my life and the choices I’ve made, I do feel excited for others. Truly. Not a pang of jealousy or guilt for choosing the path I did goes through me as I waste my morning scrolling down my news feed. I am happy, and I realize it and admit it to myself.
I should feel this way every day.
My point is, we can choose our own path and choose to appreciate our own lives for a lot of reasons, and we should do it more regularly. And instead of beating ourselves up for things we aren’t doing or didn’t do, we can move forward from today to live life the way we want.
When we get to the point where our victories aren’t simply that we’ve won out against our peers, but that we are honestly excited for their achievements as well, that will be a great day. I hope we can all find a way to get to that point and remain there.
But if that day never comes, at least our high school crush didn’t give us herpes.