What are you doing in Singapore?

That question arose in yesterday’s comments and I’d like to answer it as a post, maybe more for myself than anyone else.

If you look at the little legend to the side of the page — “A peculiar hybrid…” — you’ll see that I describe my journeys to/from Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore as occurring “for reasons that are still not entirely clear” to me. And those are the truest words I ever wrote.

How did I end up here? As in nearly all of the phases of my life, it just sort of happened. An act of happenstance. Not just Singapore but practically everything I’ve ever done. This struck me as something of an epiphany. I’ve let myself be taken from one place to another to another, very rarely plotting the course or steering the ship.

My first three jobs all came to me when various friends recommended me to their bosses. In fact, that seems to be how I’ve got nearly all my jobs. I’m not saying this is bad. But it was something of a scary revelation to see that my life has not been so much about choice as it has been about quirks of fate, an unexpected recommendation, a phone call in the middle of dinner, an invitation…someone else’s initiative.

My being an executive in my field sometimes seems so absurd I can laugh out loud. A background in classical music and German, and here I am doing high-tech marketing in Asia! It’s simply too outlandish to even consider. But that’s my life. Ever since I let go of my initial dreams, I’ve basically let life lead me around.

I just went back in my archives because this conversation reminded me of somthing I wrote back in January. (Sorry, can’t link to it.) Sure enough, I had written:

Experienced, well read, a couple of degrees and good marks, a labrynthine knowledge of Wagner and the World Wars and a few other topics, I still feel that I am adrift, anchorless and rudderless in a world that I have allowed to pass me by. When I was young, things seemed to just come to me, and I always thought that would continue. Surprise. Not that there haven’t been successes and extraordinary experiences, including my living and working right now in China. But I made the mistake of which Joseph Campbell warns us so eloquently — I never followed my bliss. I allowed myself to be talked out of pursuing a career in classical music, my life and my passion and my joy; I took the path of least resistance and dropped out of my advanced music theory course because the professor, Louise Thalmadge, terrified me. I allowed my close friend, who meant no harm, to talk me out of my dream, and in giving up that dream I gave up a very big part of myself. I can hardly look back to that moment without a flood of poignancy that goes straight to the heart, and my eyes fight back tears as I wonder how I could have been so stupid. There’s a passage in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, toward the end, where the hero looks back on how he had “simply given up the best years of his life,” to paraphrase. That heartache, that realization that our love and our dream and our passion have gone to waste, it hurts and haunts as does nothing else.

Sorry to bring such a whiny, mawkish post up again, but it is key to figuring out my existence — and, if you are still young enough, maybe it will help provide an important learning. Do what you love. Don’t waste time. Choose your life and your course and don’t get blown around like a feather.

So anyway, getting back to what led me to Singapore before I went off on that endless sidetrack. The short answer is that I was quite desperate to escape from Beijing. I was physically cold and emotionally battered, and when the opportunity arose, again by happenstance, I seized it. It hasn’t been bad, I enjoy my co-workers and most aspects of my job, and it’s certainly warm enough. But again, it isn’t who I am. It’s not what I was meant to do. As always, I’ll stick to it and do it well enough, but I have made a promise to myself that when I return to America I’ll take a new course, one where I can feel wholly alive and thrilled about what I am doing.

So you see, Singapore is one more stop along the way, something of a lifesaver tossed to me by the Lifeguards On High. I’ve certainly had worse experiences, but I have never before, ever, ever, ever felt so adamantly that is time for me to get into the boat and chart the course instead of being dragged along, grasping a lifesaver.

And now that I have totally overused and abused that metaphor, I’ll call it a day.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

Dare I say it, Richard, but you sound more and more like you want to be back in the good old P. R. of C.

I mean, I know you hated it but it seems to have been a defining period in your life. It’s almost like in a lot of your posts I can see the desire to be back in China so that you could have more to talk about on your blog, for example.

I don’t know, that’s just the impression I get anyway.

August 6, 2003 @ 10:43 am | Comment

Thanks for sharing. Currently living in Beijing amorphous dreams, it’s nice to hear someone say “hold on”. ๐Ÿ™‚

August 6, 2003 @ 1:01 pm | Comment

Ummm.. that would be “with” amorphous dreams.

August 6, 2003 @ 1:02 pm | Comment

Well, hang in there John. Despite the struggle, you’ll definitely come away a more complete person.

Adam, it’s not so much a longing for Beijing, but rather for taking control of my situation, wherever I am. It’s not always as easy as it sounds….

August 7, 2003 @ 12:46 am | Comment

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