What Did I Learn in 2018?

Not that I have a huge readership or anything, but remember when I used to write regularly? When I was living in France, I felt like every new experience was an opportunity for me to reflect and share my thoughts and perspectives. 2018 proved to be a particularly low-yield creative year for me. Not just in blogging, but in almost every aspect of my life. I basically dropped writing. I stopped making music. I didn’t do much in the way of photography. I have a lot of excuses for why this happened, but to be completely honest it probably had a lot to do with my struggles with anxiety provoked by what I think of as some of life’s biggest questions: Who am I? Why do I do what I do? What brings me fulfillment? What do I actually want from my life?

I’m not sure if it’s because being in your 20’s is an inherently tumultuous and existential time of your life or if I’m just being dramatic (I am totally willing to concede this point), but I do feel like in the span of the last two and a half years, I’ve seen my life shift rapidly before my eyes. I graduated from college. Moved abroad. Moved back to my hometown of Salt Lake City. Started a full-time job in a career field that I love (arts non-profits). Struggled to find my place in the professional world as a young woman of color. Grappled with changes within my family structure. Had some big realizations about where I hope to go next in life. In the midst of all this, I’ve found myself wondering, will things ever calm down or will I eventually just get used to this pace?

While I might not have been regularly documenting it, I was struggling to wade through the questions posed at the beginning of this entry. If living in France was a mountain to summit as part of this journey, returning to Salt Lake City felt like a climb as high as the Wasatch themselves. While I still might not have it all figured out, I am now at least in a place where I feel comfortable reflecting upon some of the challenges I faced in the last year. I can look back and see that I was growing. I was stretching. I was pulled in ways that I never could have predicted. Contrary to what my radio silence on this blog might have implied, 2018 was a big year.

In January 2018, I published a post about not deferring to fear. At the time I was feeling restless, anxious and I couldn’t put my finger on why. All that I knew was that I was not happy and that I needed to take action. I decided to set up a meeting with a former professor to chat about the possibility of going to graduate school. That blog post was a direct product of our conversation. At the time, I didn’t think the encounter was out of the ordinary. I didn’t think that taking a meeting could lead to a change of direction in my life, but looking back at it now, I can see how that day in January 2018 was exactly the nudge I needed to go after a goal that I had buried inside myself. Unbeknownst to me, but evidently clear to those around me, I wanted to go back to graduate school.

In trying to dissect my blindness and hesitation to accept my own desires, I have had to come to terms with some factors that fundamentally influence the way I see the world.

I am a daughter of immigrants to the United States.

I am pursuing academic and professional goals typically associated with white, upper-middle class people.

I see myself as a passionate, driven, and pragmatic leader, yet I struggle with allowing myself to embody these traits because I worry that this is not what is “expected” of me.

I am from a relatively geographically isolated part of the United States.

These factors are important because they have tremendously shaped the way I see the world and my role in it. Let’s be honest. When you think of someone who wants to make waves in the arts, public policy, non-profit management, fundraising, and community development, you probably don’t think of a 25 year-old Asian American woman from Salt Lake City, Utah. I know for a long time I didn’t.

I spent most of college, post-college, and the last two years, working on breaking down my own preconceived notions of myself. I am more than the stereotypes that people have told me I am for the last 25 years. To get beyond these stereotypes, I’ve had to push myself not only to face the things that scare me, but to do them over and over again until they no longer have power over me. In doing this, I have worked and continue to work on convincing myself that my perspectives matter, my creative voice matters, my dreams matters. Perhaps there are people in this world who are privileged enough to never have to struggle with this, but I am not one of them. (However, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my own privileges. I am forever grateful to be in a position where I have the luxury to think about things like hopes and dreams rather than physical safety.)

I know this might seem a little abstract and philosophical, but one of my greatest fears has always been verbalizing my goals. I grew up holding the things I deeply wanted to accomplish like cards that should never be revealed. I think this repression is linked to my fear of doing something out of the “norm.” I did not want to tell people what I wanted to do with my life because I did not want to risk hearing people say things like, “You’re not cut out for it,” “You’re too idealistic,” You’re not a leader,” “That’s not something people like you do.”

Eventually I decided that enough was enough. If I continue to hold myself back, I will continue to be unhappy. So in 2018, I embarked on a personal journey to get over this fear. I spent countless hours talking, writing, and sometimes crying to generous mentors, friends, and even strangers about my goals, my hopes, my dreams. I’m sure some people probably thought I was a basket case as I pushed through tears of frustration in order to clearly define and articulate my thoughts. But the people who truly understood took the time to remind me that I was crying because I care. I was crying because it’s a vulnerable thing to reveal your cards–whatever they may be–to the world. I wasn’t always eloquent. I wasn’t always succinct. But what matters is that I said the words over and over again until I believed them.

And I guess to end this entry, I will share with the internet what these “life goals” actually are. While I’m still working on the specifics of how exactly I plan to achieve these things, I feel like figuring out the what I want to achieve is already a big part of the equation. In the last few years, I’ve learned that what I want to achieve is not to be an artist, but to be the person who makes the arts more accessible to the public by improving organizational systems within the arts and cultural sector. This includes examining funding mechanisms, granting structures, education policy, and economic development. I want our communities and arts organizations to think critically about who is producing the art we consume, why representation of different cultures in the arts is important, and how equity, diversity, and inclusion can move beyond zeitgeist and become the standard.

I realize that there are still a million possible ways to dissect and manifest this goal and that there a million more technical details to consider, but I know now that fleshing those things out are all part of “the process” and I’m ready to dive in head first. So here’s to this past year, to the possibilities that come with another revolution of the Earth around the Sun, and most importantly to the next steps I’ll be taking in 2019.

One comment

  1. Cindy, I really enjoyed reading this. I’m not a person of color, but I am a woman. And navigating the professional world has been very challenging for me. It has caused a lot of deeply introspective moments and a whole lot of terribly exitential crisis…so I feel you there.

    It’s been amazing to watch you do what you have done over the last year via social media and I truly believe this is only the beginning for you. Keep your head up.


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