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where you live can change who you are
my love letter to Austin :
These days, most days are good to me. That is not something that I’m used to as I have always found comfort from disorder and unpredictability. Borrowing the words of my favorite song writer and artist Lennon Stella:
You just been so consistent
It’s so healthy
It’s confusing me
My life, from chaos, confusion, swinging from highs of highs to lows of lows, has finally stabilized for once. I owe it first to living in Austin and second to myself for beginning to write again.
This city - its energy, people and nature have more than once, salvaged my mental health.
I struggled with anxiety and FOMO (fear of missing out) during high school and early college. I would not stop comparing myself to my peers, single-minded about ensuring that I’m mirroring to a T what my classmates were doing. If they were becoming students’ groups presidents, I must become one too. If they were founding non-profits, I must found one too. If they were getting scholarships to international high schools in Europe or the Americas, I must find something similar. The reality was, I did not care for acquiring those achievements, so I never actually made the efforts to actualize them. Nevertheless, I was constantly on the edge of my seat, observing what my classmates were doing one day, and beating myself up the next for not following the same path.
The same routine unfolded all over again in college, where I was plugged into business school, surrounded by classmates who were groomed to become business professionals. Once again, I was wrapped up in the cycle of keeping up with the best and brightest, fighting to get an internship in my second year, getting a proper big girl paid internship in my third and a solid full time offer right before graduation - as an international candidate, no less. Supposedly, I was on the right track but I was never happy. There were missing elements of my journey that prevented me from feeling fulfilled, but I wasn’t able to put a finger on it.
Until recently, I finished Atomic Habits by James Clear. It was one of the best books I have ever read in my lifetime. In one of the later chapters titled The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t), Clear harped on this very specific idea of finding the work that you are naturally good at, or that “the odds are in your favor.” The core meaning of this idea is that most people has a slight (or strong) advantage in some areas and if you were able to find this area, you could capitalize on it and make yourself stand out to succeed.
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For example, Michael Phelps was born with a strong talent for swimming while Martin Luther King was born with a natural ability to empathize and mobilize people for change. The four questions Clear suggested us ask ourselves to find that special ability are:
What feels like fun to me, but work to others?
What makes me lose track of time?
Where do I get greater returns than the average person?
What comes naturally to me?
Reading this section jolted me immediately. For the entirety of my college years, I did not feel like I was doing activities that were naturally pleasant or fun. In fact, I felt like swimming against the currents all four and a half years of my undergraduate education, trying to win the game I was not good at. Fierce competition, aspiring for the highest paying jobs, getting big fancy titles, none of that was inherently good motivators for me.
It wasn’t until I moved to Austin and started writing that everything seemed to fall into its place.
First, I am a naturally active and nature-oriented person. Living in Austin provides me with ample of running trails and greenery for daily walks and running needs. The abundance of sunlight also means I can be outside most of the year without worrying about the snow or rain.
Second, I love to write and be imaginative. Austin is one of those few ideal cities that acts as a sanctuary to focus on writing. Austin is big enough that it has everything - my favorite Asian bakery, decent coffee shops to work out of, bouldering gyms, HEB (the best grocery chain in America), an awesome local library, etc. but not too big that I am overwhelmed with the options. The city has a cyclical feeling, possessing a predictable cadence that easily captures my heart: live music at Mozart’s Coffee in the summer, SXSW Conference every Spring, Austin City Limits in October. People flow in an out when those events happen but not on a short term basis like New York City or Los Angeles. If you live here, you live here. Most days, I can focus on writing without any major distractions.
Third, I love to learn and grow but I refuse to be unnecessarily competitive. I have never lived anywhere that has smart and interesting people but at the same time grounded and know how to enjoy living like the people in Austin. Austin is the home of one of the best public universities in America. Graduates out of UT Austin are great but they don’t create an atmosphere of elitism or intense competition, the students and lifestyle fit in well with the city slow living way.
And it would be amiss, if I gloss over my introversion in this conversation. I can be reserved yes, but I also love connecting with people. Austinites are friendly but not overbearing. They won’t go out of their way to befriend strangers or help you if don’t look like genuinely needing it. A common thread I have observed is that Austinites (or long time transplants) are open-minded, kind and genuine. Truth is, the city of Austin has always been a city of transplants. Most people think it is only post-pandemic that the city receives an influx of people from other states.
For a long time, Austin has always been a place where people from all over move to. There is something in the water though that keep long-timers here chill and wonderful to be around. My roommate (who is my new favorite person but she doesn’t know it yet) went to UT and have lived in Austin for more than five years. She was everything that I described of Austin people and have made my living experiences here at least two times better.
When everything began to fall into place, the barriers and walls I put up since high school started melting away.
Most importantly, I began writing regularly again, which is the best sign that I have found myself. So, thank you Austin : )