Saturday marked two months that I've been back in Boston already, following this summer's epic Southeast Asia trip. Or, through another measure, I've been in Boston as long as I was part of the teaching fellowship. Two months is relatively short in the big picture of life - but two months feels like such a long distance away from the lessons, experiences, and people of this summer.
When I first returned, my thoughts were consumed with how out of place I felt in this country. The cultures of Southeast Asia and the United States are completely distinct and separate, and I was surprised at how I fairly easily had assimilated into taking in everything new with open arms, trying to best understand and appreciate the life that I lived for 90 days in 10 different countries. Returning home, I felt how brash and loud our culture is, often erring on entitlement, and felt totally uncomfortable yet also amused at this understanding, a perspective gained only from the total separation.
Through the physically jarring experiences I lived upon returning to my "normal" home, I also felt a stark mental change happening within when thinking through where these experiences had left me. What was the purpose of that trip? At this point in life? What resonated with me? What will I incorporate into my actions now and into the future, and what will be left behind? I hadn't truly answered these questions - I think that's a lifelong pursuit! - but it was something that consumed my spare moments daily.
Yet on Saturday, after retelling the trip to two close friends the day prior, I realized I hadn't thought about the trip in nearly a week. The impact of that realization shocked me. While I was determined to live the change that I believe in and continue to distill and understand the work from this summer, I realized how easy it is to slip into old habits and actions - especially when returning to something (namely, my current job) that is six+ years of a similar routine. I don't have the constant stimulation of thinking from a new perspective each and every day, as I did with the fellows and constantly changing students throughout this summer. The prompt of personal development now falls on solely on my shoulders. I will happily carry this - but with the lived understanding that the dedication to growth and pursuit of new knowledge has to come squarely from within. I know I've had this internal motivation in my past, but this experience has redefined my understand (and self-expectations) of what this really means. Especially in returning to a similar environment, the same people see the same external figure and mostly expect the same output, regardless of my own mental shifts.
In comprehending this, my thoughts spiraled to what time really means, and how I value my own time. Part of this thinking comes from the Coursera MOOC course that I just finished, where University of Michigan’s Prof Gautam Kaul taught finance 101 through the lens of understanding the time value of money - or how one understand the monetary decisions and implications that time yields on financial understanding. Yet the other part of this thinking comes from realizing my own understanding of how time passes. Two months have so quickly passed, and the three months away also flew by. The past two years have been intense with balancing school and work, so a bit of down-time is absolutely welcome. Yet I'm realizing one way to keep living the change I believe in is to continually question - how I am spending my time? Do I feel like I'm saying yes to everything? Or just to the things that add meaning in ways that I believe in? How do I budget my free time? How can I be more productive during my work time? How to I make time for the "must-do's" of daily life? How do I engage myself with my work, yet find a way to leave it mostly at the door step, freeing my mind for other work/thoughts that are important and inspire me?
After this two-month reflection of my own actions and reflection of time, it was a welcome coincidence to have dinner last night with some of the Teaching Fellows and the host delegation from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who are in town. It brought me back not just to the friendly smiles and life-long relationships we built with one another, but it also reminded me of the value thinking totally outside the “typical” box. I signed up on the summer trip to take myself out of my comfort zone and experience life in a new way. The trip provided this, hands down. Last night also reminded me that stepping outside of my comfort zone is right at my toes, waiting for the step to be taken. Taking the step only requires some type of inspiration (internal or external), vulnerability and willingness to learn something new, and being completely honest with one’s own motivations and goals.
For my own inspiration to think through how I value time, I’ve found these perspectives to consider. I hope you might find them inspirational (or at least thought-provoking), too.