It’s 10:15 pm, and I’m sitting at a coffee shop in Montrose in downtown Houston. I just came back from seeing the Turrell Skyspace at Rice University. The campus was pitch black, and I had the whole exhibit to myself.
The Skyspace on UT campus was one of my favorite places to think, and I’m glad that I could check out this Skyspace before I left for my trip.
My calendar says I’m flying to Bangkok on Friday. It’s pretty surreal.
I’ll be backpacking through Southeast Asia for three weeks. I’m going to Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore alone but with a small tour group of other backpackers. The itinerary is a good balance of sleeping in villages, going to the beach, and eating delicious food. I have my backpack (from my Europe trip) all ready to go – sleeping bag, packing containers, the works.
It’s funny that I’m about to embark on this far away journey, when it feels like I’ve already come so far on my personal journey. These past few months leading up to and after graduation have consisted of a lot of growing pains – but growth nonetheless.
I spent June in Austin wrapping up an internship with my former consulting firm. The people were amazing, but it wasn’t the right fit, and I’m glad that I found the courage to say no. I spent July in Houston with my family. Basically, all I did was sleep in, read books, and catch Pokémon with my 13-year-old brother. I think looking back a few years from now, I’ll deeply appreciate the space I had to spend two hours every day at public parks with my favorite person.
I’m so glad that past Nina knew that future Nina would really appreciate this downtime – this stillness. At first it felt like limbo. I looked around me and saw friends starting big boy and big girl jobs and buying furniture and coasters. Me, I moved out of my Austin apartment, sold almost everything I had, and downsized to a single suitcase and a cat carrier. I haven’t even officially applied for a job. I kept putting it off and off during the school year because it hadn’t felt right. I’m glad I didn’t. I had put myself through school through scholarships, freelancing, and internships, so deliberately not working for the first time was a scary experience. I almost had to unlearn the guilt.
Although I’ve felt like I’ve done nothing during this time, I’ve also done a lot. I feel like the character in the movie Yes Man, where I just say yes to all the opportunities that come my way, working on odd-and-end projects and collaborations.
- I was able to support my friend Chris and Lauren on a minor scale with Human Influence – a diverse group of creatives influenced by hip hop and R&B culture.
- I helped my friend Melissa clarify her vision and goals for Songs in the Sitting Room - a monthly concert series that celebrates live music in an intimate setting.
- I helped my friend Sophie move forward with her startup focused on relationships – it's not ready to be announced to the world yet but best believe you’ll hear about it through me.
- I was a voice over narrator for my friend’s children book, Beta Crew: Saving Kodon.
- I’ve been creating again and working on new design skills via Skillshare – mainly photography and videography. I plan to make a video of my trip to Asia. I also made a new linoleum print – the first one in ages. (Here's my first DSLR video.)
- I read DAEMON and Freedom (TM) by Daniel Suarez based on a recommendation from a former coworker – both really great science fiction books.
- The most impactful book I read, though, was Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. My best friend gave it to me as a graduation gift, and it was the perfect bookend to summarize the life lessons I’ve learn so far about people. The gist of it is that people are beautiful, fucked up, contradictory, and always deserving of love. This is my favorite section of the book. Here are some of my favorite excerpts.
- "There are some things you can’t understand yet. Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding... You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness."
- "Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet."
- "You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else."
- "Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room."
- I’ve been journaling again.
- Lastly, one of the most powerful projects I’ve gotten involved with is with NextDayBetter. NextDayBetter is a storytelling platform for diaspora communities. I met Ryan, the CEO, at The Feast conference in New York a few years ago. NDB was looking for writers to capture HONY-esque stories of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, and I’m beyond grateful that I signed up. It’s been a big, unexpected gift in my life. The four people that I interviewed left an impact on me, and their stories came at a perfect time. I’m excited to share the stories when they come out. The people are…
- Kenneth Shinozuka – a 17-year-old inventor who founded SafeWander, a sensor to prevent his grandfather, who had Alzheimer’s, from wandering out of bed. The link is to his TED talk.
- Susan Shinagawa – a breast cancer survivor and advocate whose doctors told her that Asian-Americans don’t get breast cancer.
- Clara Chiu – a social justice advocate who shared her story of caregiving and losing her parents within 6 months of each other.
- Kevin Huynh – an entrepreneur who’s kicking butt at creative confidence. He played a major role in expanding Creative Mornings and is now doing his own thang.
Although this down time has felt “unproductive” at times, I needed this space to recenter myself and breathe. A good friend suggested that I reframe this period from “limbo” to a “sabbatical.” Thanks dude. Words are powerful.
It’s been interesting to see how the space in my heart where one person use to fill is now overflowing with the love of old and new relationships rushing in to fill that gap. These people know who they are, and I’m beyond grateful for their presence in my life. Everything happens for a reason.
Speaking of gratitude, I got a new tattoo. I got the word "gratitude" on my left bicep. Knowing that I was about to enter a season of extreme flux and change in my life, I wanted to remind myself of how I should frame what is to come. I made the decision to get the tattoo in less than 48 hours, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s in my handwriting.
Recently, I met someone whose directness and vulnerability helped me to have hope and to verbalize some important decisions that I made in my life. The most important one was a commitment to being unapologetically myself. I think I was always moving towards that direction, but I’ve never so fully and boldly stepped into the fullness of who I am until now.
After Asia, I plan to move back to Austin and couch surf with friends until I get off my feet. Ideally, I would find a part-time job with a great team and spend the other half getting my freelance business off the ground as a multidisciplinary creative. I hope to become a digital nomad and be able to work and live wherever I’d like.
This season of my life is about experimentation and seeing if I’m scrappy enough and resourceful enough that I won’t need to make trade offs – trade offs like Austin or New York, solo work or team work. I would love to make Austin my home base. I know that, for me, I do need an anchor – a sense of home. It took me almost four years, but I finally found the creative community I’ve been looking for in Austin. I hope to play a hand in shaping how the community evolves.
I recently came up with an analogy to describe the growth I’ve experienced. It’s like my core is still the same (I’m still quintessentially Nina) and my crust (outward appearance) is still the same, but my mantle has formed and reformed so much that I feel like I function as a different person. I joke that I’m a recovering Type A person, but it’s not far from the truth.
This new lens of being present without expectations and embracing the unknown has seeped into so many areas of my life, notably my approach to goal setting. I was talking to a friend, and he shared that his goal was to IPO his first company by age X. But he also said, “This might be a very Type A way of thinking about it.” I think that observation helped me to deeper analyze my goals. I think that human beings are inherently bad at predicting our future states – who we’ll be in a few years, what we’ll want. I think that, at least for me, I can define my goals more broadly in terms of the day-to-day and a few months out. I do think that I’m very blessed, though, to know the direction of my life. I want to work at the intersection of design and social impact. The path in between is blurry and vague, but I know where I’m headed. I know my north star.
I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen next. What was once fear of the unknown, though, is now excitement for a blank canvas to create my life – a blank canvas bolstered by a supportive community.
Although I don’t know much, I do know that people will continue to be my source of hope and love and that words will continue to be my source of strength and resolve.