“Why am I here?”
“I want to go home…”
“Should I stay?” “Should I leave?”
“Where am I going?”
On this late night when I was screaming my lungs out, I was breathlessly holding onto a lamppost to avoid getting blown away by the gale-force sub-zero wind chills.
I was nineteen years old in my sophomore year at Syracuse University.
Syracuse is famous not only for its college basketball team (The Orangemen), the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications (my field of study), but also its brutal winds and freezing temperatures. (my worst nightmare.)
I wasn’t confused or lost, I was just so cold that my head was spinning and I couldn’t think straight. What was probably twenty minutes of waiting at the bus stop alone in the dark felt like a lifetime of struggling in quicksand.
Quicksand experts will tell you – the more you struggle in quicksand, the faster you sink.
I did not know it then, but the sensory experience was so shocking to my body and mind that it would stay with me to this day when I think about what I can and cannot handle and how I should decide my next steps.
Looking back on that night – I was physically overwhelmed by my struggle – how cold and alienated I felt, how in the middle of nowhere… “Where was the campus bus!?”
When the bus finally came, I calmed down. I could breath, relax and return my mind to all the reasons that I’d chosen to come to Syracuse despite the bitter cold, the long distance from my hometown (Hong Kong), the initial culture shock and prolonged period of adjustment to a new environment.
What happened way back then might have been a one-off emotional meltdown in my distant past. But today, I see different versions of those feelings of frustration or despair playing out among some of my younger friends who are pursuing higher education, career or adventures in America or China.
Some of their existential cries of agony “Why am I here?” “I want to go home!” “Should I stay?” “Should I leave?” remind me of my own journey.
Throughout headwinds and tailwinds I’ve experienced over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that life-changing choices at a crossroads involve the deepest most honest conversations within myself along these lines –
We all have tendencies to react and sometimes overreact to the immediate circumstances of stress and distress, unfairness or injustice. Knowing the source of those stress points is one thing, but deciding to let them break or blind us from our big picture pursuit is something to avoid.
What is my big picture goal?
At different stages of my life and career, I have different answers. But inevitably, all bold adventures that pull us out of our comfort zone are by nature hard. But why have we put ourselves in those challenging circumstances in the first place?
Checking and double-checking our motives and intentions and examining the core level that feeds our desire can be reaffirming to our commitment and our calling.
Personally, I love challenges and uncertainties – pushing my limits and reaching the highest possible standards of excellence without killing myself or hurting others. That is always what I’ve learned about myself.
But as time passes, I’ve also developed a peripheral vision that focuses beyond my personal development to include those around me – my husband, my family, my community of causes that I care about. How will my personal choices affect them now? In the next year? In the next five years? Can I afford those consequences? Can I discuss with them openly? Can we reach a consensus?
#3) Peace & Pride
Last but certainly not least – how will I feel about my decision? One of the rewards of the right decision is often a sense of peace and calm, pride and joy. It’s what we call our GPS for the soul. It has taken me many years of having made the wrong decisions to realize that peace and pride are the reassurance of the right choice at the right time.