On September 1, 2018, I set out on a two-year journey of leadership and self-discovery. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was so excited. I had so much adrenaline. I don’t think I was even scared. I had a half-baked plan of what I was going to do. I was focusing on Asian American movement building in my first year and my second year I would travel to countries in Asia to learn how communities were organizing there. I did a pretty good job in following my plan but so much also changed along the way as well. I realized though, as cheesy as it sounds, it was much less about the plan and much more about the journey. The plan provided me the frame, but the experiences are what made this journey deeply personal and transformational.
When I set out on this journey I had this romanticized view of how I would turn out at the end of this. I knew I was about to depart on a journey of a lifetime. And I guess I expected at the end that I would feel like a completely new and different person? I know it’s totally unrealistic and kind of silly to think that, but it was definitely on my mind. What does transformation actually look and feel like? The reality is that I feel like the same exact person but I also feel like I have all of these experiences that have changed and shaped my perspectives on the world, on politics, on relationships, and on myself. I guess I just feel… more wise? I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. I feel like my worldview has expanded and at the same time is more nuanced. I see connections that I didn’t see before. I’m able to think differently, see beyond what we’ve always known, and dream bigger for what’s possible. I have a deeper appreciation for everything around me, especially the little things. And I feel like I have a better understanding of who I am, what holds me back, and what I believe.
What surprised me the most though, was something that I’ve written about before. I am surprised about how deeply personal my learning and growth would be. I expected to gain new skills and connections -- which I did -- but the larger growth was all personal. Throughout this solo journey, I have developed a much deeper relationship with myself. And it was not easy. There were many moments of struggle. Many lonely days. There were days where I knew I had to push myself past my anxiety, my fear, or my complacency because I knew there was no one else that would be there to help me. I never realized how anxious of a person I am. I never realized how much I personalized what others think about me. I never realized how much I hold myself back. And so, I’m continuing to learn how to take better care of myself. To learn what it takes to heal. To intentionally listen to what my mind is telling me, to recognize what that feeling in my body means to me. And I’m learning that, like everything else in life, this relationship with myself is hard work. It takes practice. It takes commitment. It takes courage. But it’s all worth it.
These past two years have been an incredible journey. There have been so many lasting memories that now have a special place in my heart. For example, sitting on a folding chair at Deer Park Monastery, looking into the mountains in the morning and feeling that very brief moment of spiritual freedom and the deep connection to life. Walking out of my hotel room on my first night in Vitoria, Brasil and feeling that immediate sense of wonder and excitement. The feeling of intellectual struggle and enlightenment after the POC Momentum Training. Laying in bed in my hostel in Tijuana and feeling the complete anguish and exhaustion after just one day at the border. The inspiration of listening to speaker after speaker, give hopeful and powerful visions of the world at the Othering and Belonging Conference. The confidence and determination I felt after the New American Leaders Training. The joy and pride I felt marching at World Pride in NYC to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. The deep connection to culture, people, and land, I felt throughout mainland China. The sense of desperation, hopelessness, and fear I felt participating in a protest for democracy in Hong Kong. The satisfaction and content of just drinking coffee in Vietnam and watching life go by. And there’s so much more. These memories are just scratching the surface. I feel so grateful for all that I’ve been able to see, feel, smell, touch, and listen to, these past two years.
The transition home was a bit rough. I didn’t expect it. Maybe part of it was COVID and ending my journey early. Or maybe it would have been rough regardless. I remember being home and feeling trapped, depressed, sad… deeply yearning to be back out there. There’s one thing travelers don’t tell you that I’m realizing now. Traveling is like a drug. The constant feelings of experiencing new places, seeing beautiful landscapes, trying new foods, meeting different people, soaking yourself in new cultures - it’s a high that doesn’t go away. And I understand why. There’s so much out there. We live in such a magnificent world, full of beautiful places and generous people. People who don’t have much, but still welcome you into their homes, treat you to meals, drive you around town. People who go out of their way to help you make a connection.
And yet, I’ve also seen so many deep injustices that people are experiencing daily all around the world, including here at home. Extreme poverty. Disinvestment in communities. Political silencing. Unresponsive governments. Gentrification and displacement. Militarized violence. Hopelessness, fear, and scarcity. Global problems that demand global solutions.
What’s been clear for a while now is that our world is breaking. I’ve always wondered what it felt like to live in a time of enormous cultural shift in our world. And then I realized that we’re living in that moment right now. I had to let that soak in a bit. I looked around to see and feel the messiness all around us. This is what it feels like to be in the middle of a shifting world. And now, it’s up to us to decide whether we let this shift run its course or whether drive it and push for something new, better, and beyond our current moment. This fellowship has taught me that leadership is a choice. So I’m choosing to fight. I’m choosing to build a world that is, at its core, about deep care for ourselves, for our community, and for our planet. It’s interesting, at the start of this year, I wrote an Instagram post that said, “Let’s let 2020 be the year we start going after everything we’ve always wanted.” This definitely isn’t the 2020 that I expected, but the moment is more clear now than it was before: if we don’t start going after it, we will lose it all.
The sadness, fear, and anxiety of living in this moment are absolutely real. I feel it every day. But I’m reminded that we have the power to shape our own destiny. And I’m reminded that this moment requires us to dig in to that power and dream big for the type of world we want to live in. So, I’m also hopeful, because I believe we are absolutely capable of building that world. All we need to do is look around us, and within us, and ask ourselves, “what else?” As I’ve learned these past two years, our world is vast and full of answers. Our minds are boundless and full of creative energy. The impossible, is actually possible. Let’s go fight for it.