What Southeast Asia Taught Me
((Humble Brag alert) I’ve been to southeast Asia three times. There’s nothing really brag worthy about that, until you think about the distance, time, and potential expense of such a trip from the NYC area (Note that the expense is not quite a bad as you might think; the distance, on the other hand, is). Each trip was for about two weeks, and each trip brought it’s own learning experiences. So far, these trips have been the best of my life, yet they haven’t always been the most enjoyable.
All trips were with my wife, and the first one to Thailand (when she was still my girlfriend), was probably the point in our relationship where I said, “I think I can marry this woman.” If you can spend two weeks with one person (24/7), in a foreign land where you don’t speak the language, where the weather is brutally hot, the food is spicy and seemingly a roulette of will this make me ill or not, the government has been recently overthrown by a coup, and you make it out without killing each other, marriage should definitely be on the table. However, our second trip back to the area, for our honeymoon, threw us many other unexpected curve-balls. The cultural experience was not as immersive, and the sites were not as impressive. Throw in an overnight volcano climb that was tougher than anticipated, and our general vibe not being in sync (read: we were not getting along much), and you have a bad trip.
Yet, when I look back on it, I’m able to see that trip with a true fondness. But why? Emotionally, we aspire to vibrate at a certain level. We want this never-ending happiness, because we we think we will just feel good all of the time. But the truth is, experience is what brings us joy, directly or indirectly. Good, bad, and everything in between. This is true for our work too. There are plenty of people who have left "terrible" jobs only to look back with a feeling of nostalgia. It’s because we are now able to see that experience as something other than the challenges we faced regularly. We are able to see where it made sense, and how it made us grow. We are more clearly able to see where we could have done things differently, or where we had an opportunity to change our perspective.
The challenge is changing your mindset when you’re in the thick of things. It’s not so easy, but it is possible. On our first trip, as I outlined above, the conditions were not ideal. However, my mind was open as we rolled with the punches. My second trip was full of expectations, because I had been there before, and ended in disappointment because those expectations were never going to be met. I only needed to stop and recognize this unique experience for what it was. This frame of mind was helpful for the third trip. Of course there were expectations, but I no longer expected my experience to feel as my first one did. I embraced it for what it was, the good and the bad, as I did the first time.
So, if you’re sitting in a job that is making you miserable you have to ask yourself why. Did you create an expectation that was impossible to meet (or worse, did they)? Are people telling you about their experience elsewhere, and you’re comparing your experience to theirs? What is it that doesn’t feel good? Is it truly the place you are at, or is it your attitude? There are plenty of questions to ask yourself, which will help you make a smart decision to either stay or go But if you get to a point where you say, I’m certain that this isn’t where I want to be, it’s okay to move on. But it’s also a good exercise to evaluate what went well. What did you like? What did you learn about the role and about yourself. What didn't you like? Most importantly know that this experience is the balance needed for you to recognize happiness Without this, you might very well take for granted when things are (by your measure) great.
Which leads me to my last point. Live in the moment as best as you can. Stop and pause often. Don't settle or become complacent, but bask in the glory of all that is good a couple of moments a day.