Two days ago, one of my COLE teams reflected back on their fall terms. They have all changed, some in more pervasive ways than others, but mostly they have grown closer to one another. And despite the stress, the grades and the recruiting, the perpetual demands on their time, they always have one hand out to each other and the words, "I am here for you."
Rex and I have lunch yesterday. He pays, saying "I should thank you for doing your summer project for my country." And all I could think was how much I'd gotten from my time there, and that I should be treating him. I am much more a whole person now than I was in May. I used to fear the cultural stereotypes that came with being "too Chinese." People still come up to me and say, "ni hao" as if it's the only language I speak. They still ask me when I moved here. It was these things that used to make me shy away from associating too closely with native Chinese. If I somehow became more American on the inside, maybe I could stop the stereotypes.
Now, I've come to see how much beauty there is in being full Chinese. I've begun to reach out to them, to feel belonging with them as much as I can. Rex asks me, "if you went back to China to live for longer, do you think you'd ever belong?" He sounds doubtful. No, I say in agreement, But that would be okay. What matters, I see now, is how we help each other.
I've been thinking about where my annual end-of-the-year 10% should go. There is so much need this year, abroad yes but also at home. It seems I should split it between my California home, my Durham home, and one of my favorite causes - literacy for girls. Goodreads informs me that the last time I finished a book was August 27; not much of a track record considering I read 17 books over the summer.
As I begin to flesh out my business idea, I think about something that Antony Bugg-Levine told us in his acceptance speech for the Duke 2011 Social Impact award. He is an impact investor, and described the phenomenon that occurs when people such as him want to connect intellectual capital to human capital. He said, "there is both the practical work, as well as a deep mandate for our work to be much more than what we do." We all have some metanarrative to describe the larger movement we want to create. I am finding a vision for myself, of what my business could be in the very long term. Last night at the holiday party Jack said, "in a career of being a serial entrepreneur, you spend 10-15 years on your first business idea, so it better be something you're passionate about."
This process has allowed me to become a part of such a rich group of people. Giving me an excuse to reach out to some of my classmates whom I've always wanted to talk to at Fuqua, to former classmates at the Nicholas school, to people from Google.
Jonathan Franzen, in his now-famous Harper's essay, says, "the first lesson reading teaches is how to be alone" and later, "Readers and writers are united in their need for solitude...in their reach inward, via print, for a way out of loneliness." When I first read that essay many years ago, I felt an incredible affinity for Franzen. That's me, I said then. But for me, today, books are not a way out of loneliness. I love them for the intellectual experience of their story, I love them because brilliant, creative and unexpected writing still thrills me. But they are not my way out anymore.
Eight years ago I was an intern at Sunest magazine. The copy chief, whom I was working for, told the managing editor that one day I'd might want to get my MBA. He shook his head and said, "If she gets her MBA, she'll never write again." I scoffed then. But he was right. I turned a corner when I came here, and only now do I recognize that my personality has changed. I have put aside, finally and fully, whatever calling I had to be a writer. I will not be the next Annie Dillard, as I once wanted to be, nor the next Rachel Carson. I have become a lover of people, of community, of beating back loneliness through outwardness rather than inwardness. This is my new life.
Embracing connection with those who are most like and most unlike me.