Happy (Lunar) New Year! By now, I hope all of you are off to a great start on your new paths and goals, whatever they may be. As we move into the Year of the Horse, here are my reflections on the past year, which was one rich of personal transformation.
Picture: art exhibit I saw at Burning Man
Experiencing something for the first time in your life is a magical moment. Sometimes it can be as mundane as the first time you tasted bacon (ok, maybe not such a mundane moment). Other times it can be more significant, perhaps life-changing, such as witnessing the death of a loved one. In all cases, they will trigger a feeling of delight or despair (hopefully more of the former); they’re moments of transformation, inspiration, discovery, and learning.
It was the first time that I’ve ever felt completely lost in my life path. Throughout my life, I’ve always known what I wanted to do or accomplish every step of the way, or I’ve always had a logical next step when faced with a fork in the yellow brick road.
Remember when we were little and we had the “goal” of retiring and settling down at 30? And, at the time, “30” felt like such a long way to go? I still remember meeting people who were 30+, thinking they were really old. Well, when I turned 30 myself last year, it was the first time I felt old, and subsequently lost. I felt like I followed my path step-by-step, eventually fulfilled my career goal of starting a company, and suddenly I hit the “end” with no next step in sight. It’s as if I was Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and I hit the wall at the end of the world (side story: I felt this again when I hit the outer fence at Burning Man).
It was also the first time I’ve ever felt complete freedom. On my life path, I’ve always felt restrained by external forces, whether it be school, (undesirable) work, or the need to please the people around me. When I let go of those restraints, I had the liberty of, as James Altucher puts it, choosing myself. Whenever an opportunity presented itself, I simply said “yes.” And by doing so, I’ve opened my eyes to so many remarkable things in the world. I felt like a child again, experiencing something for the first time — the “lightness of being a beginner again.”*
It was the first time I really traveled, and mostly alone — 30 cities, 16 countries, 3 continents, 15 currencies, and 14 languages to be exact.
- A first to explore Europe, from Brussels - the capital of the EU - to Istanbul - the 3rd largest city in the world (by population).
- A first to see most of Asia, from the serenity of Bali and Thailand to the bustling of Seoul and Tokyo.
- A first to experience the Middle East, from the modern wonder of Dubai to the world wonders of Petra and the Dead Sea.
- A first to many festivals, rekindling my passion in music, including: Ultra (Miami), Coachella, EDC (Las Vegas), Full Moon Festival (Thailand), and Burning Man.
If you’ve never traveled the world before for an extended period of time, I highly recommend you just do it. Pack a small bag and leave everything else behind, and get on a one-way flight alone without a plan. Let serendipity play its course.
Other firsts for me, in no particular order:
- Watching an international baseball game (in Korea). A lot more fun than the games in the US.
- Witnessing the dichotomy of the super rich and super poor next to each other in coexistence on the streets of SE Asia.
- Being trained on a military base to sharpshoot with guns not available in the US.
- Riding a camel (a lot more glamorous in cartoons) and an elephant (really fun).
- Riding a motorcycle “taxi” in the city, and a scooter (around a Thai island).
- Going on “Airplane Mode” (no pun intended) for weeks at a time. Try it.
- Being threatened (essentially robbed) by airport security in Cairo.
- Seeing animal cruelty on a completely different, worse level.
- Being in a city where I’m the only Asian person and as if people around me have never met one in person before.
- Eating food new to me, such as stinky tofu, foie gras sushi, Turkish delight, mulled wine, etc.
This past year, I made many new friends, and rekindled old ones. I experienced things I never thought I would, and I felt emotions of every extreme - highs and lows - that I’ve never felt before. Through all this, I’ve learned that there is no one path, there is every path.** As long as you’re not afraid to choose yourself, and focus on inner health and happiness, you will be in the right direction. And when in doubt, just say yes.
Thank you for being a part of my incredible year. Here’s to another year full of firsts.
Thanks to Lindsay H., Greg W., Garrett W., and Eric T. for helping me proofread this post.
* inspired by Steve Jobs
** inspired by Dick Costolo