It’s winter in Beijing and I’m at a crowded bar with loud music.
As I take my jacket off, I ask my friends if they want a drink. They nod. I push my way to the front of the bar, squeezing through the crowd and lean my elbows on the counter. I sigh as I wait impatiently for the bartender’s attention. There is a man sitting alone beside me, he says it took him forever to get a drink. While I wait he asks me the typical questions: are you living here? Where do you work? Where are you from?
He tells me his son is about my age and he’s traveling the world. I can tell he is proud of him. I tell him I’m envious of his son, and that as nice it sounds to travel the world, I need to build a career here in Beijing and figure out what I’m doing with my life. He looks at me with eyes of understanding. He responds with, “I met my wife when I was about your age. We married because it was expected. We bought a house because it was expected. We had children and then we got divorced” he looks at me and shrugs. He tells me that he always wanted to travel. That he ignored his passion to see the world in order to live a life everyone else thought he should live, only to end up exactly where he wanted to be years later. I nod my head sympathetically. He tells me that he loves his son and wouldn’t have done it differently; he just wished he listened to what he wanted rather than what others expected of him. Before I have the chance to respond I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn around to see my friends looking at me as if to say who is this guy? Do you need to be saved? I smile and tell them hold on, one minute. The man notices and says “hey – go be with your friends, you shouldn’t be wasting your time talking an old geezer like me!” I laugh and say thank you for the advice. He smiles, takes a sip of his beer and looks away.
I hand the beers to my friends, feeling inspired by this unexpected conversation. I imagine this man young and eager to take on the world, reluctantly living a traditional life to satisfy others around him. Although I can understand appeasing others at your own expense, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to setting up expectations. My immediate family has always been a supportive force that has given me tremendous space to grow and to never be afraid to make mistakes. They have never been the type of family to pressure me into certain things because it made them happy. The problem I realize is within me. It is so much harder to silence the expectations I’ve created for myself. After all, I can fly miles away from overbearing and controlling family members but I can never get away from myself. Each day I scroll through my Facebook news-feed or talk to my colleagues with Ph.D.’s and Masters degrees, I am reminded that I am not quite as far along as I probably should be. I compare my journey to theirs. However his words of advice still ring true whether it be external or internal; let go of expectations, forget about what others are doing and just do what makes you happy. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.
I have never felt this to be truer than I have since moved to Australia. In Sydney, I am surrounded by positive reinforcements constantly. I feel as though I have opened an unsuspecting door and entered a magical world of Narnia, but instead of centaurs and snow queens, its people living life in a way I never knew could be lived. It’s meeting the kinds of people that have proven that life does not need to follow any a traditional sense, that there are endless possibilities and paths to take. It’s our life, we can do with it precisely what we want.
Maybe all these current experiences are in fact building the groundwork for the kind of life I hadn’t known possible. Maybe enjoying what I have now and following what makes my soul happy will lead me exactly where I need to be, rather than where I think I should be. Maybe I don’t need to feel suffocated in making the right decision because there is no such thing.
As the saying goes, it’s the journey, not the destination. And you know what? I think I’m finally learning to enjoy the ride.