Ten months ago, I moved to New York. The funny thing is, I distinctly remember visiting this city when I was seven years old and thinking, I will never live here. Bustling Manhattan was a nightmare for me. While my brother and dad marveled over architectural wonders, I was startled by their imperious height. The loud shouts, the summer smells, the trash, I took it all in, and I didn’t like it one bit.
At the same time, I was growing to love books. My parents were English professors, novelists, and book lovers, and every second they got, they read to me. What I didn’t know is that most of the books I read so often and loved so much were designed and published by firms in New York City. Little did I know, I’d be trying to get a job with one of those firms sixteen years later, right in the middle of the city I supposedly would never live in. It’s funny how life works like that. One moment, you think you know everything and you’re very sure of who you are and what you like or dislike, what you want with your life, where you’ll go, the city you’ll live in, the people you’ll love, and then years down the lane, you can’t help but laugh at how everything has been turned upside down.
Maybe it’s just hindsight at work, but it’s easy to trace back the lineage of important, defining features of your life and realize they (luckily) didn’t match your initial thoughts and expectations.
Although I grew up in New Orleans, I decided to go to the University of Minnesota for college. As a high school sophomore, I bought a book that had a map in it with the locations of various colleges. I traced up the Mississippi River and found the University of Minnesota near the end of the river and after briefly looking up the statistics on College Board, decided it was the one for me. I wanted a complete change from New Orleans, so I thought, upstream of the Mississippi Delta, I’ll become something different completely independent of my origins. But once I got to Minneapolis, I clung to my New Orleans roots like I’d never expected. I had never felt more proud of my city than when I was separated from it. I had to leave to really appreciate it anew.
Another reason I decided to attend the University of Minnesota was because it’s sheer size meant it had thousands of courses and hundreds of majors. I thought, I’m so indecisive of what I want to major in, I’ll need that variety of coursework! Yet, as a freshman, I entered the College of Design as a pre-graphic design major, and four years later, I graduated with a degree in Graphic Design. I only took a few courses outside of my major. Something that had been so important in principle, didn’t end up mattering as much as I thought it would.
I decided to minor in Mandarin Chinese because I was sure I wanted to travel in China. However, as a requirement for my major, I took a general Asian Studies class that was taught by a professor of Japanese Studies. That professor’s enthusiasm for Japanese culture inspired me and reminded me of a time when I was obsessed with Japan. In the same semester, a friend I met in my Chinese Calligraphy class posted on social media about applying to JET. I suddenly remembered a childhood dream to teach English in Japan, and decided that perhaps it was time to fulfill that dream. I applied and a year later found myself in front of hundreds of Japanese students, on a stage in a sweltering gym, giving a poorly pronounced speech, wondering how I was going to get by in a country where I didn’t speak the language.
Such strange twists and turns make it difficult to fathom how our lives turn out the way they do. I’ve made a lot of decisions to end up where I am today, but nothing is as I expected it would be. And that’s usually for the better. While I’m all for taking things seriously and thinking them through as much as you can, for having strong opinions, for fulfilling childhood dreams, it’s good to be reminded that years from now, all of it will absolutely be different, a little horrifying, a lot of exciting, and not at all expected (hopefully in a good way)!