I keep thinking about the months of January through June of 1998. I struggle with how to label this period, because to say something like “this was a massively influential time for me” or “it was the most pivotal inflection point of my life” feels like an understatement.
Looking back, I genuinely believe that choosing to leave the life I had known up until that point allowed me to begin to discover who I was. And because I was, for the first time in my life, evaluating the world around me based on my own lens / my own value system / an expanded sense of what might be possible, I discovered several practices and perspectives that have been with me ever since.
What happened (in a nutshell)
Two and a half years into a Bachelor of Science degree at McGill University, I had become disillusioned with science as a way to explain the world. I fell into an existential crisis that called my entire approach to life into question: Why was I working toward a degree that reduced everything I loved into numbers and statistics… particularly when all the trends seemed to show that everything was doomed?
More importantly: Why was I in university at all? I certainly hadn’t made a conscious decision about the matter. Twenty years into my life, I suddenly realized I had been blindly following the path that had been laid out for me, with little regard for what I actually wanted to do, much less who I actually might be.
I made this video ages ago for work and even though we decided not to publish it, it’s still one of my faves 🙂 especially as it’s all about the inevitability of crashing, which I hope can paradoxically motivate all of us to get over our fear of failure.
Thanks to my colleagues Cat and Nadim and Kylie for the motion graphics savvy — turns out it’s not easy to, say, “draw” a red circle into a video, much less one that moves! — and to Luda for moral support always, including encouraging me to share this one ❤
As soon as I posted my last video it occurred to me: what I said was sort of true, but not nearly a COMPLETE representation of my experience of identity growing up. I thought about deleting the whole thing, but then I realized it was actually quite interesting to think about why it bothered me so much to leave an “incomplete” presentation of myself up on YouTube.
So many questions around how we present ourselves to others, and why!
Is it even possible to fully represent ourselves, in all our complexity, to anyone? How would we do it? Would it be worth the effort?
I am Chinese and Canadian-European (though to be honest I’m not sure if I marked that or the “American European” box on the New Zealand census last week) with both American and Canadian citizenship. Oddly, moving to New Zealand has made me feel more culturally Chinese.
But there are so many other ways that we identify ourselves. People like me often get asked the question I’ve used as the title to this post… which, incidentally, is not usually considered respectful, in case you were wondering 🙂
Americans love to ask “what do you do?” as if that is the only way to define who someone is… and that’s a question I also find really limited.
For years I told myself I wasn’t cut out for a 9-5 job. When I ditched that story, I found a job that ultimately inspired me to move across an ocean. As of last week, this has officially been my longest stretch of employment ever (not counting the years I worked for myself) and I’m not planning on leaving any time soon!
Whatever it is that I’m tapped into right now reminds me a LOT of a similar period I went through back in 1998 (dropped out of University; went to Australia to chart my OWN path; “discovered” art symbols God yoga Buddhism and so many other things that remain very important in my life…)
I still have lot of questions about how to make correspondence work in an era when we have too many communication choices. And I’m still hoping you’ll interact with me via this YouTube channel!
You can read more about the Paradox of Choice and the actual details of the jam sampling study here; I didn’t quite get the details right during the recording.
Per my last post about how nobody ever reads YouTube descriptions, here’s the description in most of its glory (I took out bits that are irrelevant in this context):
Dear friends: I miss you… and yet my life is so much better without social media. (“But YouTube is also a form of social media!” “I know, I’m embracing the contradiction!”). Can we figure out a way to transcend time zones and busy schedules so we can connect and collaborate around the BIG, JUICY STUFF that’s beyond what can happen via social media? I hope so!
Also a note – just because Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat don’t work FOR ME doesn’t mean they might not do wonders for you! I don’t mean to judge anyone who finds that these platforms do in fact improve your lives. And I’m still hoping you’ll join me here somehow 🙂