This article originally appeared on a now defunct blog of mine. I’ve edited and reposted it here.
Traveling does weird things to you. When you travel alone, you obviously spend a ton of time by your lonesome self. Have you ever not talked to someone for more than five days in a row? It’s terrifying. At the same time, you start to have really interesting conversations with yourself.
It sounds like I’m starting to head into cat lady-level crazy territory, but I’m thankful for these conversations with myself. When I was traveling, traipsing through these foreign lands and carrying my baggage–both metaphorically and literally–many of these internal monologues led to the most eye-opening and interesting revelations. I’ll tell you about one of these brain vomits. This one is about significant moments that I’m gonna call whooshes.
Whooshes are those transformative life moments and decisions that slowly shape you personally or professionally (or both!), but you don’t easily notice them, because the things that somehow lead up to whooshes are actually very ordinary and unimpressive.
Let’s take a weight loss goal, for example. I’ve always said that taking your healthy habits one day at a time, patiently, and consistently is ultimately what matters.
Unfortunately, healthy habits are boring. Skipping out on Wing Wednesday night so you can wake up with your dignity doesn’t seem sexy (at the time). It doesn’t help that the process can be so turtle-like and make you feel as though your efforts are constantly in vain. But stick with it long enough and– whoosh!–the scale, mirror, or your improved energy and well-being affirm that what you’ve been doing was actually right all along.
I suspect we miss these whooshes because we often have lofty ideals about what “the end” of a goal might look like. We weave these stories of victory and achievements based on what we watched in movies, read in books, or saw on Facebook. And I don’t know about you, but I expect “the end” to be presented to me in a super obvious way to let me know I’ve “done it”; or that something rad had happened, like having nonstop Michael Bay explosions going off in the background or something.
But the pages in-between the beginning and those hopeful Michael Bay explosions? That’s all missing because all the stuff that needs to happen is just less interesting.
Sitting here on this train now that’s headed to an area north of Tokyo, I’ve learned that there are no Michael Bay explosions, or anyone popping out of a corner with jazz hands and announcing that you’ve grown or you’ve changed or you’re a winner!
As I said, the path to whooshes isn’t totally obvious, and worse, we don’t even know it’s not. The entire time we inch and crawl in the tiniest baby gerbil steps, we expect the whoosh to be something incredibly obvious, like it’s the “right thing” to do. Well, we never know it’s the right thing to do, or if anything is happening at all until one day–whoosh!–you take a step back and notice something has changed in dramatic ways.
It wasn’t magic.
The corollary is that whooshes don’t automatically happen. You still have to take constant action, say Fuck Yes!, and make decisions that get you somewhere. At the same time, this constant action can get you all myopic and make you miss the whooshes happening in other areas of your life.
Earlier in 2016, I was pretty bummed because I felt I hadn’t accomplished as much as I could’ve, would’ve, or should’ve. The thing is, when I boarded the plane in Los Angeles to take off for the first time on my new digital nomad lifestyle, I had a different idea of what “success” looked like. At the time, it was only a vague idea: maybe a CEO of some startup; maybe a Japanese husband named Gundam; or maybe the final answer to life. It was a grand vision–that much I knew.
Deep down inside though, alongside the Chipotle I ate earlier, I was probably just hoping for that Michael Bay explosion to indicate I was doing the right thing with my career.
And just like that, I obsessed over the idea that my only measure of progress and growth would be something big and crazy happening in my business. Maybe a product launch or Stephanie Lee statue or or or or…
Nah, it’s not that easy.
In the process, my YouTube stuff fell off for a while, which I thought was a “failure” on my part. My FOMO made me agonize over the long hours I’d often spent hunched over my laptop, all the while a new country, new adventures, and new experiences awaited.
I didn’t realize it then, but after reflecting on it now, the time I freed up by cutting down YouTube and spending so much time initially to get some proper footing in the industry allowed me to discover new things I wanted to do; and also nip at fantastic opportunities that now let me work with super smart, super passionate people. Whooshes!
Also, I grew in ways I never planned for or expected. Being a Fuck Yes’er and a digital nomad afforded me many whooshes in my personal life.
In Hong Kong, I got to spend a lot of time with my once estranged siblings and family in ways I wouldn’t have been able to if I’d just visited for a week or two. It all seemed so insignificant and innocent at first: eating dinner together, buying bakery bread to share, and being a nice daughter and taking my mom to Singapore. Months later–whoosh!–I leveled up my personal life. I’m now far closer to my family than I ever have been in my entire life.
Ordinary moments, like sharing a beer with my mom even though she never drinks, playing with my three-year-old niece, talking more with my sister when she was down, and realizing the things I can slowly work and improve on, led to amazing whooshes that I almost ignored or just couldn’t see.
They’ll happen unexpectedly, and they’re easy to miss.
I’ve learned that the moments leading up to whooshes will never be obvious. But sure enough, these seemingly insignificant moments will somehow lead to whooshes.
Keep working, and they’ll happen gradually in bits and pieces and in such subtle, unassuming ways. You never know if or when they’re coming. At the same time, don’t bother trying to figure out what will lead to whooshes because it’s kind of like trying to follow your own stream of piss in a category 5 hurricane.
So slow down and take a good, hard look at what’s happened. Chances are, there are good things that have already happened. Whooshes. You just have to look for them. And also, maybe don’t pee in a hurricane either.
Cover image credit: Karen Hong Photography.
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