Who are you and what do you do? Tell me about how you ended up there.
I am a 22 year-old Chinese woman living in New York City. I just graduated from college last year, and I am doing a teaching fellowship at a public high school in one of the high poverty and crime rate districts in the city. When I was little I thought of life as full of possibilities and I could become anything, but to be honest, I ended up here because it's the only job I got out of college and it fit my situation: I couldn't do many things due to visa restrictions and I wasn't prepared enough for either grad school or a corporate job. Neither did I want to go back home (which is Shanghai, China) right afterwards.
Often we can only understand in retrospect how the dots in our path connected. Looking backward, can you talk about a time you failed or you were struggling? What did you think it meant at the time and what do you think it means now? Was there a silver lining, or did it influence your path forward unexpectedly?
I think my life so far has gone pretty smoothly. The only big struggle I've had was my relationship with my mother. It was quite strained back when I was in high school. She had high standards for me but didn't have enough respect for my privacy or trust in my judgement – let's put it that way. I was blunt, reckless, and self-willed. The outcome was that I came to college slightly unprepared for this big transition in my life: relocation, academic workload, time management, taking care of myself, etc...I was very eager to leave home and put myself in a box for awhile. The biggest struggle was probably my mindset also – there seemed to still be a knot between me and her, so I didn't talk to my family about things and trouble in college that I was facing. I didn't want to confess to them back then. I didn't want to come off as needy and weak – because I was so eager and hopeful when I left – and I didn't have enough trust in the outcomes of such communication. So that only made things worse.
When are you happiest? If happiness is something that can be practiced in our lives, what are the ways in which you create happiness in your life?
I am happy whenever I accomplish something, either for people that I care about or myself. I create happiness through tiny creations here and there in life. For instance, when I was cleaning and packing to move out, there were so many posters I had bought from a poster sale on campus that I couldn't bring them all with me to New York. So I made a collage for my favorite professor using pieces of them. I felt like I was giving them another life, and it had a purpose and a meaning. I was really happy and proud. I think people do altruistic things to make themselves feel good too.
Have you taken any inspiration for happiness or resiliency from another person's story or other cultures?
(Laughs) There's a quote from Leo Tolstoy (he wrote War and Peace! But don't worry, I haven't read that either) that goes: "If you want to be happy, be."
What are your hopes for the future?
I want to keep being happy and creative. I wish all the people who I care about well – you know, there are always some people who we grew apart from or had a very complicated past with – I wish them all well. I hope I get admitted to a good grad program, for the time being! (Laughs) And I promise that I will work hard – I hope I get the opportunity to prove myself.