Personal Legends: A Long-Winded, Overdue Update

I have a love/hate relationship with the show Girls. Half the time I’m visibly cringing at the situations the show’s lovely ladies seem to find themselves in, and the other half I’m shaking my head, wishing I couldn’t relate.

One episode, in particular makes me especially uncomfortable. Hannah has been working a new job writing advertorial pieces for GQ. In true Hannah fashion, she has a complete meltdown questioning her authenticity while insulting her entire team then pulls a classic, you-can’t-fire-me-cuz-I-quit move before storming off.

I’m not sure why I was thinking about this scene recently, but as I did the voice in my head, which sounds an awful lot like my parents, sighed exasperatedly and muttered, what a stupid thing to do. For a second I listened feeling really uncomfortable at Hannah’s sense of entitlement and how she was able to just walk away from a well-paying job because it didn’t align with her expectations.

Then I had to take a step back. The blood drained from my face as I realized I did exactly the same thing, albeit in a far less offensive manner (I hope…).

Before she started calling her fellow writers failures, her words rang true:

“I just expect more from life. Seriously, it’s like I want everyday to be exciting and scary and a rollercoaster of creative experiences as if I’m making a new life for myself in France.”

Except I chose to make a new life for myself in Cambodia.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had been working a marketing and communications job for a hospital before moving to Cambodia. My contract was almost up so I was interviewing for other jobs within the same hospital system while also looking for opportunities abroad.

I made it to the final round of interviews for a project manager position at the corporate office. Since my dad also works for the company and had been discussing the possibility that his daughter might be offered a job in Cambodia, it came up during the questioning.

“So, I know you’ve also been interviewing for a job overseas,” my interviewer began. “If you were offered both positions, which would you take?”

“Cambodia.” I stated without hesitation.

I mean, she did ask…

I totally understand why our generation comes across as selfish and impulsive. We were raised in a time of creative-plenty and advances in technology opened our eyes to possibilities previously unavailable. We’re more open to taking risks and throw away careers with 401ks and benefits for opportunities more rewarding in an intellectual and/or creative way.

We’ve seen what traditional 9-to-5s have done to our parents and while many find satisfaction in them we want something more. We’re getting married (if at all) and having babies later in life, freeing us from the sense of familial obligation. Chances we will actually be able to collect social security are slim to none, so with the golden years of retirement off the table we need to make the most of our lives now.

Let me set the record straight, I am in no way advocating tossing a dissatisfying job to sit on your ass in your parents’ basement.

When I came back to Cambodia after spending the holidays at home I was returning with no job, an expiring visa, and around $300 in my bank account. Trust me, explaining to friends and family why I was going back was not an easy task and I definitely downplayed my anxiety, though probably not as well as I think, considering I spent a lot of time holed up under the duvet crying about what I was doing to myself or marathoning mind-numbing TV series on Netflix.

To say the first few months back in the Reap were difficult is an understatement. Every morning I had a few moments of solace until I remembered how much I had to do and the dwindling number of bills in my wallet. I avoided calling my family out of fear of the unanswerable questions they might ask. My diet consisted of the remaining granola bars I had packed for my journey and 35-cent noodles (a step up from the 20-cent ones, to be fair…) and I may or may not have gone on a couple Tinder dates for a free meal…

#notproud

I’m not one for handouts and I hate pity, I chose this life and all of the good and bad situations that come with it. I’m writing about this because the struggle was the catalyst I needed to buckle down and make some serious decisions. In the back of my mind I wondered if I should just throw in the towel and go home and asked myself more than once if it was all worth it. Is this what I really want?

Yes, it is.

I withdrew some savings, sorted out my visa, cracked down on my remaining freelance work, started a bartending job and landed a part-time position writing for a local coworking space.

Around this time a friend lent me his copy of The Alchemist and I couldn’t put it down. Every word written seemed to speak directly to me. If you haven’t read it (and I highly recommend that you do), the story follows the journey of a young man, Santiago, on a journey to find his “personal legend”.

A personal legend is like our calling, not necessarily what you end up doing as a career, but that initial inkling you had as a child spurring you toward your dream, no matter how obscure. As we get older and society shapes our ideas about what is and isn’t “possible” we tend to loose sight of our personal legend settling for lives that may make us happy, but aren’t necessarily what we were originally created for.

In the book Santiago is told that as long as he is moving towards discovering his personal legend the entire universe will conspire to help him, and as the story progresses you see how seemingly chance meetings and coincidental events all add up (the good AND the bad).

I like the idea of the universe conspiring for you, rather than against, especially during that first month back. Creating your own life from scratch isn’t easy and while everything is starting to sort out it’s definitely an uphill battle. Even after I acquired work I was essentially living from shift to shift, tucking away money for rent while subsisting on one meal a day (and I LOVE food).

But the pieces are slowly falling into place and despite not knowing exactly what I want out of life, I feel like I’m at least moving in the right direction. I recently led a trip across Cambodia for a few weeks, which was a substantial boost to my income, allowing me to splash out a bit (yay new haircut and sheets that haven’t been previously used) and replenish some of my savings. In other words, don’t worry, Mom, I can afford three solid meals a day again (whether I have time to eat them is another story…).

One of the reasons I haven’t written an update sooner is my typical daily schedule, which looks something like this:

9:30/10 a.m. – Wake up, go to the 1961 Coworking Space, write.

3/4 p.m. – Go home and take a nap.

6 p.m. – Get dinner at Belmiro’s to catch up with the bestie if she’s working that night.

7 p.m. – Go to my bartending job at Picasso’s.

Anytime between 1 and 5 a.m. depending on how busy we are – Go home and sleep.

Repeat.

Like I said, branching off the beaten path is hard work and I only recommend it if you are willing to put in the time and effort, you can’t just half-commit. While exhausting, I’ve pieced together a great community through my bartending job and am slowly getting my name out there as someone to go to for writing projects. I still don’t know what exactly I’m trying to do, but I’m definitely happy.

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