Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Choices: how to make them in an age of anxiety

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When I made the decision to go to Beijing, after graduating university, it was an instinctive decision. I knew that it was a choice that would have deep and long-lasting effects. And it has. It’s been a blast.

But after three years of Beijing there will come a time when I will want to make another decision. Whether to continue doing the same thing, or to branch out and pick another fig, and experience something completely new.

But how will I know, when I come to make that decision, that the choice I make, will be the right one?

The first couple of months I spent in Beijing were miserable. Lonely. Hard. This was autumn 2012. You won’t find any posts about those months on this blog because I wasn’t blogging back then. But I do remember looking at the ceiling, in my little rented bedroom, at night, feeling quite alone, and wondering whether what I was doing made any sense.

I didn’t know back then whether the decision to go to Beijing would pay off. I had no idea. I couldn’t predict the future.

The second year was better. There was more momentum, more serendipity. By the third year though, things waned. Got a bit stale. Some of that initial motivation had worn off. And I wondered why that was.

The clue was that I finally understood what the phrase “the struggle is the reward” meant.

Those initial months in Beijing were hard, but I was struggling towards something. That struggle gave a firmer narrative to life and a meaning to the misery. The struggle itself made everything rewarding, even the hardship — especially the hardship.

There was purpose in it.

A person I admire is Casey Neistat, a filmmaker. He recalled his first years in New York City, after moving there from small-town New England:

The hardest part was the loneliness, like I didn’t really know anyone in the city when I moved here. I remember going home after work to my tiny apartment and it was like, I had no-one to hang out with, I had no-one to call, I had nothing to do. And that lasted for like, I feel like years, of that kind of loneliness.

I spent a lot of time in my head, dreaming and fantasizing about the life in this city I aspired towards.

Elsewhere, on his YouTube channel, he talks about how he lived in closets, in tiny apartments, in his early years in NYC, sharing with illegal immigrants and ex-convicts. All in the pursuit of his dream, of making it in the city.

He’s now wildly successful, with two million subscribers to his YouTube channel, a tech company he founded, and what he calls a golden age, of his present situation.

But there is a sense I feel, from him, that there is a part of him that maybe misses the young, crazy, suffering, part of his life, when he was starving, and all ahead of him was wild potential and possibility.

I am not successful, not to any degree to how Casey Neistat is successful anyway, in my own field. But I’m no longer that young kid scrapping in Beijing, hungry and desperate for bylines.

So there needs to be a re-framing, a different narrative, as I transition toward a different period in my life.

Is there a conclusion to any of this?

Not really. I’ll let you know in a year or two.

I can’t predict the future.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

February 1, 2016 at 1:46 am

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