In August 2008, I embarked on what I thought would be one year abroad in Japan. I had high hopes of going to graduate school to pursue a Master’s in International Development. I thought I wanted to go into consulting and work with organizations like UNICEF and USAID. I was drawn to a profession that seemed to help people and incorporate my passion for soaking up foreign cultures. Strangely enough, looking back, it was a conversation with a Vietnamese American UNICEF employee in the back of a shared taxi in Nha Trang that changed my mind. I came to the conclusion that it was not the best lifestyle for me.
Skip ahead to 2016 and I’m still abroad, but finishing up a second and final year in Italy after a half decade in Japan and a year’s stint in the UK. As I stand on the cusp of “either” continuing my career abroad or moving back to the land of my birth, I was recently reminded by a friend of a friend that no move has to be permanent. That I can totally decide to move back to the US, “chill” for a few years there, and then pack my bags again for another far-flung destination. It was comforting to hear that from a fellow American who’d also spent a fair amount of time abroad before returning to the US within the last few years.
I contemplate the trajectory like the one you see on your inflight entertainment screen. How did I, that little airplane on the dotted line, end up at Point B, C, D, etc.? What brought me to those decisions I made to move around the world? I settle on a.) my heart b.) my never-ending desire to learn c.) a mission to make the world a better place and yes, d.) a thirst for upending those annoyingly incessant negative American stereotypes.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder if I let my desire to explore more corners of the earth cloud my judgment at times. A Canadian friend of mine tells me, “You’ll end up where you need to be.” Note that this is in future tense. What if I haven’t been where I’ve needed to be? I’m still very much far away from many people who need me most. Simultaneously, I acknowledge the catch-22 of my GPS-necessitating location – the diasporic nature of my community: no matter where I go anymore, I am most likely far from where (specific people) I am needed.
Wanderlust, a curiosity about the culture, and a love for working with children brought me to Japan. Lower higher education costs, close friends, and a European playground led me to the UK. A “free” MBA, an opportunity to excite students about their global environment, and more time abroad to understand – and ideally better – the international waters of the world I was swimming in enticed me to move to Italy. But it is only natural that these choices resulted in heavy positive and negative consequences on both my personal relationships (love life included!) and my career.
Michael Zanoni, Tesla’s former VP of Finance, had the following to say about his last day at the company before returning to work at Amazon:
“What a journey. I look back on the posts a year ago and remember the excitement and fear and the undeniable feeling that the universe was conspiring to open a door and push me through it.
Sitting here almost a year and a half later, I am left wondering what the universe wanted me to experience. Did I play my part; did I stay too long, too short, just right? I am confident now as I was then, so I chose to believe that the cosmic play has run its course and the curtain is closing.
I feel no strong emotion about this other than excitement to get back to Seattle and to be with my boys every day – and the rain. Maybe one day it will become clear what this was all about, but until then I’ll spend some time thinking through the possible reasons…”
Of course, this particularly hits home as I question whether moving to Italy was the “right” decision in the end and as I tinker with the dates when I will actually be back in the Pacific Northwest with my family and beloved dogs for the first time in three years. Additionally, it gives me hope that the answers do not have to come right away. And that maybe clarity will come when I least expect it.
Only a few days ago, I sat down and watched Dan Pallotta’s epic TED talk titled “The Dream We Haven’t Dared to Dream.” In it, he lays it all out in saying, “What we fear most is that we will be denied the opportunity to fulfill our true potential.” I have honestly struggled with this notion lately and it has certainly frustrated me over the past two years. I believe I am nowhere near achieving my so-called true potential and that I can do far more during my time on this planet. Now, with my MBA graduation in sight, I find myself at a crossroads with a tremendous set of options and it’s time to maximize them for the good of others – wherever I may find myself.
So the question remains: How can we work together today to build a better tomorrow? Wanderlust’s inherent dreaming may just have the capacity to serve as a complementing compass – a cue that steers us in a meaningful direction we never knew existed.