When you live in a foreign country, it doesn’t matter what you do, you will always feel like you’re learning something new, conquering a new challenge, and ending the day with a sense of accomplishment. I’m guessing the same goes for foreigners who move to the United States. It must be exciting for them to tackle life in full English and adapt to the American lifestyle. For foreigners, getting to the grocery store or finding the closest bus stop is a huge achievement. Having a conversation with a local and only misunderstanding a few words can feel unbelievably satisfying. Not having to check the dictionary every time you order food – a milestone.
However, let’s consider if you just stayed in your home country. You speak the language. You fully understand the culture. Hmm… there really aren’t any daily challenges that you can tackle and make you feel like you accomplished something at the end of the day. Crap, that must mean you have to find some sort of high paying job, start your own company, or win the lottery. Notice how high the standard suddenly got? Funny how much your surroundings affect the way you live, the way you think, and the way you view yourself.
When I lived in Taiwan, even if all I did was walk around the park and ate lunch, I’d feel like I accomplished something because I managed to survive in a foreign environment. If I did that in the States? I’d be a loser who should go and get a job. In Taiwan, if I found my way to the department store, deciphered all the Chinese characters, and purchased a blender, I’d be an open-minded person who wasn’t afraid of new experiences and new challenges. If I did that in the States? I’d just be a regular Joe who went to the department store.
Point being, the secret to happiness is living a lifestyle that allows you to feel like you’ve accomplished something every day, no matter how big or small. Subtle annoyances, even if it is just a language barrier, actually keep life fun. A life that’s too comfortable is boring, a life that’s too difficult is undesirable – You just want enough to feel accomplished by the time you go to bed at night. I think the funniest thing is how when I’m in Taiwan, I consider going out and talking to my friend in Chinese as having done something. But in San Francisco, all of the sudden, I feel like I have to create the next Facebook. Jeez.
Maybe what you should be asking yourself is not, “What’s my passion?” but “What are the subtle annoyances I enjoy working through on the daily basis?” Finding something as colossal as a lifelong passion is too daunting of a task, which often results in grown men and women weeping into their pillows at night. Maybe you can try creating a lifestyle that provides just the right amount of hiccups on a daily basis that will eventually lead you to where you’ve wanted to go all along.
In my case, I communicate with my Chinese-speaking friends, write, take pictures and exercise daily. Each activity has a challenge of its own that I enjoy. By doing this every day, my Chinese, writing, photography, and health will keep improving, and I get to end each day with a sense of accomplishment. While being a fluent Chinese speaker and an accomplished writer and photographer is my ultimate goal, I do not let the idea of my perfect life in the future get in the way of what I can do today.
So while I would still love to move to Taiwan, I know that what I really want is to feel a little sense of accomplishment when I go to bed every night. This is something that each and every single one of us can recreate for ourselves just by taking note of the little problems we enjoy fixing.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Lao Tzu
by Jason Lam