Monday, July 29, 2013

Settling in and looking up

I can't even begin to comprehend the fact that I have been in Hong Kong for nearly nine months.  Everyone always cites "time goes by so quickly" as a general truth, but now I understand that there are actually certain points in your life where you feel like you're moving so fast you're bordering time travel.  That said, I think it's established pretty early on in human life that it takes nine months to create something new and fully functioning.  After that point, your creation continues to grow but it remains fundamentally the same.  No, I'm definitely not pregnant, but that's exactly how I feel about my life in Hong Kong.  I'm fully functioning and finally ready to really grow again.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I stopped checking my work before I submitted tests.  My teachers remarked (and even mocked) my exceptionally efficient test taking abilities, but the reality was that I did much better if I didn't check my answers.  If I went back to review my responses, I would talk myself out of my initial instincts.  I might not have been able to rationalize exactly why I thought my first response was right, but I would end up convincing myself another answer was better.  If I went back to check, I'd think... "Well, how do I really know that's right?  I could actually rationalize this other response as being correct, so it must be better."  It turned out most of my erased/replaced answers were wrong.  So, relatively early on, I resigned to tricking myself into following my intuition.  It consistently turned out for the better.

I have applied this purposefully deceptive methodology to my broader life as well.  I have specifically sought out new and different experiences as a means of avoiding over-analysis and just experimenting on myself.  I craved situations where I didn't have time to do anything except react from my gut.  Just as I had felt with the tests, I was surprised by the accuracy of my own thoughtless reactions.  I realized that it was in these moments that I could see my "true" motivations, capabilities, and desires -- because I didn't have the time to try to control them or convince myself of anything other than my natural instinct.  Sure, maybe I could have just learned to "trust my gut", but I didn't even trust I could do that.  That's what drew me to sales and trading in the beginning.  If someone yelled at you, you didn't have time to analyze it, you just yelled back!  Similarly, this is why I love to travel.  Take away all your familiar surroundings, your habits, and life's other common denominators, and you are free to see what really makes you you.

I have learned a lot about myself by observing those instantaneous reactions, such as the fact that if you scream at me, I will fucking yell back (this tends to surprise a lot of people, which is also entertaining.)  Or the fact that I'm surprisingly okay with multiple days of not showering, but terrified of swimming in the ocean.  Sure, these things are interesting and relevant in certain contexts, but now I realize that constantly forcing yourself to react can actually prevent you from seeing the bigger picture.  These situations may be useful to observe, but they are really just distractions from doing the deeper digging.  Maybe it's just that I'm older, but I'm now much less afraid of asking myself, "What am I actually good at?  What do I really enjoy doing?  What do I need from life?  What can I give back?"

When I first left finance for the startup world and my boyfriend moved halfway across the world, I was in reactionary mode.  But after a few months I got used to it, and I have to admit that I kind of found my groove.  I developed my routines, I made myself comfortable in my new surroundings, I found a place where my basic needs were met so I could start truly observing myself.  Sometimes, the way that we react when we're truly comfortable is when we learn the most.  Where are you drawn when nothing is pushing you in any given direction?  Though I'm not strong enough to truly not care what others think of me, what am I like when I am at least aware and accepting of how I am viewed by those around me?    What happens when you really let your guard down?

I think I have finally gotten to that place in Hong Kong.  I have settled into my life here, I have accepted my general place in this foreign context, and now I am itching to get back to looking past the immediate.  What truly matters and what is only a reaction to my present surroundings?  Where do I find myself taking initiative and where am I simply scraping by?  What do I do when I have nothing to do?  These are much scarier realities to face, but I think I'm finally ready again.  I'm not sure how that applies to test taking, though....