Monday, May 27, 2013

Yes, I care what you think

I've recently been lucky enough to have a steady stream of visitors in Hong Kong.  Since I lived on the East Coast of the US for most of my adult life, where everything and everybody is basically a train ride away, the experience of people traveling to a city (let alone halfway across the world) specifically to see me is very new.  In addition to the geographic hurdles, there's also the fact that I don't usually invite people to visit.

Yes, I admit I'd much rather be the visitor than the visitee.  In part due to this fact, I have historically thought of myself as somewhat of a selfish person.  Obviously I love my friends and family, but hosting, carefully planning activities, and generally attending to others' needs hasn't really come naturally to me.  These things tend to require a lot of thought, time, and planning ahead.  They involve cooking, cleaning, buying gifts, and other tasks I haven't yet embraced as enjoyable.  It's really quite embarrassing to say out loud that instead of eagerly awaiting the ability to make someone else happy, instead of relishing the smile, warm embrace, and appreciation that comes with doing these things, I thought of doing things for others as a chore, and a hassle.  Yes, I am an asshole.

But I swear I'm not that superficial and horrible.  Upon closer inspection, I think my aversion to hosting was more than that -- it came not from a place of self involvement, but a place of fear and protectiveness.  A fear of letting people in to see the true daily routine of my life, and the fear of taking responsibility for someone else's experience.  What if something went wrong?  What if they don't enjoy what I planned?  What if they think Hong Kong is lame and leave believing I am an idiot for moving my entire life over here for an indeterminate amount of time?  What if they think I've done a bad job building General Assembly HK, or that I'm not working hard enough to foster entrepreneurship in Hong Kong?  What if they think my boyfriend and I aren't good together? Worst of all... what if they think my couch is ugly?  What I'm trying to say is that in my twisted brain, visitors = judgment, and an opportunity to let down the people you love the most.

However, in this case, desperately missing my friends and family outweighed my usual fears and I eagerly planned and awaited my visitors' arrivals.  And over the past few weeks we did lots of awesome things, both planned and unplanned - attended lots of GA classes, hung out in Lan Kwai Fong, ate at the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei, shopped in Graham Street Market, watched movies, drank wine, trekked in Nepal, laughed, lamented, reminisced, gossiped about celebrities, and everything else.  There was also a process of getting to know each other again in a different context - this comes along with knowing glances, occasionally awkward laughter, frustration, unspoken tension, some adverse intestinal reactions to Asia, and other not so pleasant things.

Even though they are my closest, dearest, most beloved friends (my Mom included), I can't help but feel that sense of nakedness that comes with opening up your life and sharing its imperfections.  I know I had a fantastic time, and I hope they did too. But now that they're gone I feel my heart skip a beat when I wonder how they recounted the visit to their friends back home.  What do they really think about me in this new context, about the life, career, and opportunities I am building here?  Of course I can ask them, and we've talked about it before, but what do they really think now that they've seen what it's actually like here?

After initially beating myself for being pathetic and weak placing so much emphasis on what others think, I am starting to come around to the belief that this is just a sign of how much I love them.  Who says you shouldn't care what others think of you?  How could we ever learn about new parts of ourselves and our lives if those closest to us didn't point them out?  Sure, it's one thing to spend all day, every day obsessing over appearances -- you can't solely judge your self worth on how you or your life looks to other people.  But if we can't rely on our most trusted friends and family to allow us to project these sometimes unanswerable questions about ourselves onto them, maybe we wouldn't ask them at all.  And then we'd be confined to our own view of the world and we'd miss out on the opportunity to fix what isn't working in our lives.  Not to mention all the other good stuff that comes with exploring, growing, changing, sharing, and truly loving both ourselves and others.  So if I love you and trust you, I care what you think - sometimes even more than what I think.  So there, I said it.