Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Accelerated Exit

The process of moving, in brief:

Step 1: Commit -- check.
Step 2: Get ready to go -- check.
Step 3: OK, go -- oh, I actually am doing this?

Now, imagine that you were moving halfway across the world.  To China.  You were in the midst of leaving your first non-finance job (the first job you've ever loved), saying goodbye to great friends both new and old.  Your entire family put aside their own personal sagas to fly to New York City to say goodbye.

This move represents a wide variety of new beginnings: a new career, a new phase of a relationship, a new location, a new way of life.  You have 24 hours left.  What would you do with it?  How would you spend those last 24 hours in a city you've grown to love, a city where you've built a life over the last 4 years?

Now take those plans, and throw them down the garbage chute.  An apocalyptic hurricane is headed straight for New York City and you have to drop everything and leave 24 hours early to avoid the storm.  Accelerate all those goodbyes, pack up all your shit, wipe off the tears, and get the hell out of there.

Yep, that's what happened.  It seems even more ridiculous to see in writing.  I mean, there was also this little T11 typhoon that came along last time I was visiting in Hong Kong this summer -- the worst the city has seen in 14 years.  Maybe I should start fancying myself akin to Halle Berry in X-Men and add "conjuring apocalyptic weather" to my CV.

I'm not sure I can even sift through the emotions I felt having to give up my last 24 hours in NYC, but it definitely was a sense of loss.  Since this move popped up on my radar months ago, I didn't think much of looking backwards and missing where I was coming from.  Somewhat surprisingly, I didn't question the decision.  I was mostly just excited for what was to come.  But in that moment, where I had to truly detach from all my plans, all my pre-determined motions for saying goodbye, that hurt.  Now I was actually going to have to experience these last moments for real, with no predescribed schedule of motions and feelings to go through.  I was forced to be truly present in my exit.  And let me tell you, that's pretty fucking hard.

It's just as hard to be present in my arrival.  Though it has played it many times in my head, there really is no montage of memories playing in the background as I lean my head against the window and watch the ground draw closer and the wheels of the plane touch the ground.  Upbeat inspiring music doesn't turn on as I step out of the taxi from the airport and gaze up at the endless skyscrapers in this new and foreign city.  Life doesn't shift into slow motion, nor does the soundtrack turn epically romantic as I am reunited with my love after months of being apart.  My hair does not blow perfectly in the wind as I laugh and he picks me up and twirls me around and kisses me desperately, telling me how I am even more beautiful than he remembered.  Damn, I was thinking some Mumford would fit in quite nicely right there... "I Will Wait" seems appropriate, no?

But it felt nearly as good to feel a genuine smile creep over my face as relief takes over and I look up see him waiting beyond the exit of the train station.  I'm not alone, a big hug is only a few feet away, and he can help me with all these damn suitcases I brought.  After multiple attempts to jam the luggage cart through the exit, I finally got to him and the moment became reality.  Being present for that was fantastic, too, but I'm not sure that I will ever stop half expecting the music to kick in.  Are those remnants of expectation a bad thing if they don't necessarily translate into disappointment?  Or, could the moment actually genuinely be that beautiful and epic on its own if the expectations didn't even exist?

You say goodbye, I say hello

In order for a blog to be somewhat relevant, I think it needs an introduction.  I also function under the belief that it needs a theme.  Otherwise, it's just a public diary.  And while I admit that I have dozens of started and forgotten diaries littered throughout my childhood memories (perhaps some choice entries will be posted here at some point, purely out of my altruistic desire to share the hilarity of my imagined suburban teenage angst), I want this to be more than that.

That said, this blog is about figuring shit out.  It's about calling bullshit on all the excuses you use for not doing what you want, and just doing it -- whether or not you are "ready".  It's about getting started - no matter what that means to you.  So, I had to stop waiting for the perfect theme to hit me in the face and just start writing.  As a result I'll have to ask that you bear with me while I try to figure out a theme that is unique, entertaining, appropriate and informative.  Suggestions welcome.  I must also warn you that I both write and speak like a sailor.  I must stay true to my filthy vocabulary, or else this blog would not be truly genuine and we all know that's what I think is most important.

Quick summary for those not interested in the longer version:  

When I was young, I thought I was boring.  Then I went to Harvard, got a job (and a hot boyfriend) at Goldman Sachs, and for a brief moment I thought that made me interesting.  Then I woke up and I got started.  I left finance for an incredible place in the epicenter of the start up world called General Assembly, and my whole life opened up.  I discovered more about myself and the world around me.  I recognized and embraced that I was actually quite in love with aforementioned hot boyfriend, who happened to be moving to Hong Kong.  He moved, I experienced the pain of celibacy for 6 months, and threw myself into pitching a General Assembly in Hong Kong.  Now, I am here.  And.... I'm getting started.

The longer version (with pictures):

Now, I'll attempt to fill in the back story to my recent move to Hong Kong.  It has certainly been a journey, but nothing like what is to come.  Anyway, I was born in Chicago to 2 very loving parents.  Though I spent years desperately trying to escape the fact that my upbringing was nothing but fantastically normal, I have now come to truly appreciate it (except for the accent).  My parents raised a true millennial by providing me with all the opportunities I could ever ask for and telling me I was truly capable of doing anything I wanted.

It's funny, because I was in the middle of writing that I was basically blind to myself in middle school, completely unaware of how my actions were perceived by others.  I didn't even mean to bring it up, but really goes to show you how we are raised to only understand ourselves through the eyes of others.  I'm still trying to figure it out, but I want to get back to this pre-high school era where I was not governed by others' reactions to me, free to just experience the world through my own two eyes.

But so it goes and our identity is soon formed by how people view you.  That process has never failed to make me miserable.  Consequently, I pretty much hated everything about high school.  Somehow I miraculously ended up completely out of my element at an Ivy League school where I had a fucking blast.  Met some incredible people, learned a ton, and truly rebelled against the anal, hard-working, disciplined person I was in high school.  This also happened to result in a lot of bad decisions, very drunken evenings, and a love affair with Camel Lights.

Corporate Allison
In pursuit of my desire to overcome my "boring" upbringing and become an interesting person, I set out to find a job that would allow me to travel the world.  Not worth fully delving into here, but long story short, a childhood passion for Japanese led me to a spring break internship in sales and trading at Goldman Sachs.  The excitement of the trading floor, the potential of early financial independence, and (nerd moment) the intellectual challenge of learning derivatives all led me to come back internship after internship.  Okay fine it was also a little bit alluring and self satisfying to be asked to join the ranks of so many smart, good looking, and successful people.  Would that make me all of those things too? I would have never said this at the time, but I secretly (and sadly) hoped so.

3 years later, I was desperately unhappy.  I was at the doctor almost every other week with some new type of stress induced illness.  I woke up every morning wondering why I was so miserable, desperately wanting to just be grateful for what I had achieved and enjoy all the things that came along with it.  I thought I was so lucky to be invited into this exclusive club of the New York City financial elite.  I really did believe that the fact that so many people wanted this job made me both better than everyone else, and also quite special to be chosen for it.

Lucky for me (and perhaps not so lucky for my closest friends), I know how to tell people I'm unhappy.  Or at least I know how to make sure it shows on my face enough that you'll notice.  This serves an interesting purpose because it forces me to change even when I might not yet intellectually know how to.  My waning interest in my sales & trading position and my desire to move on pushed me to pursue more meaningful extracurricular activities.  I was lucky enough to get involved in producing a film.  I started to learn about the world of microlending.  One day I even ended up at a dinner with an ex-investment banker turned monk.  All of this soon encroached upon my commitment to succeed at work, and also led me to grow increasingly disillusioned with all things related to Goldman Sachs.  This fact, coupled with huge dark circles under my eyes and a sarcastic, snappy, attitude at work quickly changed others' perception of me and I soon had to confront that it was time to make a change.

For nearly 5 years, I had imagined myself climbing the ranks of Equity Derivatives at Goldman.  I saw myself wearing all the Theory suits my little heart desired, being one of the few badass ladies who could command the respect of any douchy dude.  I would fly to GS offices across the world, getting to settle right into those luxurious First Class seats as I jetted to my next destination.  While this might sound silly to you, it was exciting to me at one time.  Someone had offered to me and I naively said 'hell yeah'.

Post-Corporate Allison
In April, I finally said "Thanks but no thanks" and left to produce Education Programs at an amazing and inspiring place called General Assembly.  Unfortunately this was concurrent with my boyfriend being transferred to Hong Kong.  Luckily him being gone allowed me to really dedicate myself to GA. I fell in love with everything about GA - the people and the place. I relished once again being immersed in a world of creativity, possibility, and positivity.  I haven't visited a doctor since I left Goldman, and I wake up everyday (almost) excited to get out of bed and motivated to my best at every piece of what I do.  I didn't even know it was a possibility to feel this way.  I was (and still am) overwhelmed by my desire to share that with everyone I can.  From desire grew determination and I spent every spare second I had developing an undeniable case for opening a GA in Hong Kong.

I soon admitted (to myself and to my boss) that I had to follow my heart to Hong Kong.  The timing gods smiled upon me and in the days before my departure, General Assembly decided to expand to Hong Kong.  So, here I am.  A recovering financiere and materialist.  A somewhat reluctant romantic transplant.  An aspiring creator and entrepreneur.  Standing on the precipice of it all.  So, there's nothing to do but just get started.