If I could have met myself in January, I would have told myself to get my shit together. The day the company shut down, I came to work wearing cut-off shorts and had spent the previous night watching an unreasonable amount of Netflix. I was dumbstruck by the puzzle I faced—how to proceed?
In America, when you ask an acquaintance where they work, you simply ask them “what do you do?” Linguistically, the answer to that question implies the person’s life direction and passion. I took advantage of this logic’s inverse: by holding a steady job, I was able to claim my job as my passion instead of defining what my passion is for myself.
However, it took me some time to realize this as a positive thing. One day while casually chatting with the guy checking out my groceries, I mentioned that I had lost my job. The guy lifted his smiling gaze up to my eyes, paused and said, “Congratulations.” Still not getting it, I laughed nervously and promptly exited, confused by his mysterious response to my troubles.
Soon after that, a friend living in China told me to come visit and it sounded like a good idea. I bought a plane ticket and a few weeks later my trip was in motion. Moving through time and space can be like kayaking down a rushing river but it can also be like sitting in a canoe in the middle of a placid lake. Sitting on the plane, I turned over the enigma of life in my mind.
The experience of having an abundance of time at my disposal was utterly new. There was all of these moments: checking my watch halfway through into an 18-hour train ride, realizing the time after spending five hours just sitting in a teahouse, the feeling of surprise to have “already” arrived at a destination after having walked ten miles. It was in those moments that the vast ocean of time revealed itself to me.
In the past, I had been paralyzed by perfectionism because I was afraid there wasn’t enough time. I would refuse to start something before I even began. I realize now that this is essentially a fear of the unknown–maybe even a fear of dying. How could my entire life not contain enough time to finish what I started? How much time did I really need?
I try to remember that on a second to second basis, I constantly have the choice to do any given task or not. Go to work or not. Call your mom or not. Ask a question or not. Scream out loud or not.
Sitting in a deserted Chengdu restaurant eating dumplings in the early afternoon, my friend explained what it was like to live so far from your family. He told about one time while video chatting with his father, he remarked that it seemed like they were just sitting together on the couch, when in reality they were over 2,000 miles apart.
The magic of the 21st century is that technology allows you to keep in touch with the people you love. Your family is still just one telephone call away. You can still text your friends. Your home is still just a few hours by (air)bus. Life is pretty normal.
I have studied Chinese for six years, write and speak fluently, and enjoy living in China, but I have been apprehensive to make a permanent move to live there. There would undoubtedly be more professional opportunities for me in China and it would afford me a more luxurious life than I currently lead in one of the most expensive cities in the United States, so why do I continue to refuse to go the direction that my life pulls me in?
It’s Fear-of-Missing-Out, mostly. Fear that my friends will forget about me, the fear that the guy I’m “talking to” would to turn out to be “the one,” fear that I won’t be able to go to that sick party. The FOMO is also peppered with the flavor of materialism. I find myself worrying about what will become of all my clothes, furniture, books, and bikes. On further inspection, I realize that the trauma is associated with getting rid of my stuff, rather than actually missing these items once they’re gone.
When I acknowledge the convenience of travel and communication, as well as my own heartfelt desire to move there, I am left only with my own personal fears. Overcoming FOMO and releasing my grasp on material possessions leaves me free to reach out towards fulfilling my dreams.
The motion of life is chaotic and free, moving like molecules of water sliding past one another, intense like atoms bouncing off of each other in matter.
For some people, losing their job could have been devastating, but now I realize what that guy from the grocery store was talking about. This has been a chance to confront my fear and let go of ideas that no longer serve me.
To be honest, we didn’t do a whole lot of sightseeing on my trip. We drank a lot of tea and gambled our money in hands of mahjong. If you judged from my itinerary, you might think that I wasted three weeks and a couple hundred dollars in Sichuan. But in reality, I was able to explore my internal landscape much more than ever before. It was one of the most valuable experiences I could have afforded for myself. At this point, I won’t say that I have a much clearer of idea of how to proceed now as I did when this whole thing started, but I can say that there is certainly plenty of time and space for me to figure that out.