I’ve never really been one to share much about my life with others, so blogging goes against everything I was raised to do. My parents were born and raised in Shanghai, a city that currently has 27 million inhabitants. In order to succeed in the PRC you must fight for yourself at all costs. This includes keeping your life matters private; any amount of sharing is seen as a weakness. My parents hate the CCP. My grandfather on my dad’s side was murdered in 1966 as a prisoner of war during the Proletarian Revolution launched by Chairman Mao. Anyhow, long story short, I was taught to keep to myself at all costs, get straight A’s, make buttloads of money, and redeem all the suffering that my ancestors went through at the hands of evil China.
I am well aware that most parents are doing their best given what they have. My parents did not have much, so they sheltered me from human interaction and the outside world. They indoctrinated my sister and I with classic Confucian values, and discouraged our integration with Western culture. It was only after getting my first job at age 16 that I could leave the house for anything other than school, sports, or orchestra recitals. The culture shock I experienced during this transitional period motivated me to study this intangible but very real phenomenon. From the works of psychologist Hazel Markus, I learned about the concepts of the independent and interdependent self. The studies that highlighted the behavioral differences between North Americans and East Asians intrigued me. When I watched Everything Everywhere All At Once, I cried at how liberating it felt to see that multicultural children such as myself can feel judged by everyone but accepted by no one. Double the rejection, yay!
So, the million dollar question I’ve been asked countless times by both my Chinese family and my American friends this year: why did I leave my comfortable 6 figure salaried job with great health benefits, and let all my ancestors down? The answer is simple to me: my brain felt like it was rotting from the inside out. We’ve seen it countless times whether you are aware of it or not; from white male CEO’s like Brian Armstrong mandating that employees remain apolitical at Coinbase, to the lawsuits I’ve followed over the years that prove time and time again that corporate America destroys lives. Pay inequality, outright racism, the glass ceiling, sexual assault. I kid you not, I was sexually assaulted at a work sponsored happy hour by an inebriated Staff Engineer at my first job at LinkedIn. After I pushed him away, he told me nobody would believe or care. “You’re just a contractor, what do you think will happen?” he taunted. He was right. Either nothing would happen, or I would spend a ton of mental and emotional energy to be pushed down further by HR. Maybe get a settlement to leave silently if I pressed charges. I had already experienced this once in college and another time at an internship, so I wasn’t about to make a fool of myself again.
I could not understand for the longest time why I was happier living in poverty. I grew up with my grandparents in Shanghai where we had no running water (I bathed in a public bath house), ate eggs and rice, and played card games for entertainment. How can that compare to living in a nice apartment in San Francisco, raking in the proverbial dough, and going to happy hours every week? I have been to dozens of countries where the locals endlessly envy where I live and what I do. What they don’t know is that I have had to either self medicate or take a combination of anti-anxiety, antidepressants, and ADHD medication just to get by at work. This is such a foreign concept to the majority of the world outside of America. By the time I closed my laptop on weekdays, my head and back both hurt. I visited my chiropractor and masseuse bi-weekly and they never understood why my neck and trapezius were so tight despite my ergonomic setup – how stressed could a 26 year old be? It took me less than 5 years and a few mental breakdowns to realize I would never find happiness in the corporate world. My body and brain would disintegrate into medicated mush by the time I saved enough to “retire”.
I put in my two weeks notice on the day after my birthday. I went into the meeting laden with anxiety, since this was the second job I’d quit during the pandemic. How could I give up something that so many people seem to want? I didn’t do it on my birthday because my manager sent me a pair of pink boxing gloves as a gift. “Well, you really just pivoted and jabbed me with those,” he halfheartedly joked during our final 1:1. I reminded myself that my raise for the year was less than America’s 7% inflation. All my anxiety dissipated after we ended the meeting. My partner and I went for a celebratory run and I did a cartwheel in the park for the first time since middle school ^.^
Finally, part 2 of the million dollar question: What am I going to do now? For one I can finally wean off of the trifecta of medication I’ve been numbing myself with for the past year. I can sleep without checking Blind at 5am when threads regarding impending layoffs are updated (thanks for that one Uber). I’m making a dent in the list of 53 books that I want to read. I enrolled in that Spanish class I’ve been interested in for years. And when I meditate, my mind isn’t cluttered with all the to-do’s of the day plus an “urgent” Slack notification just popped up oh no what do!!! All those years of frugality & mental fortitude about living in shoeboxes is finally paying off. My current role is a hybrid of pet sitting, personal training, and organizing all the aspects of our nomadic life. Oh, and refilling my partner Mark’s cup with sparkling water 8x a day. This is my dream after all, not yours 🙂