I just finally read the Untemplater Manifesto (PDF download), which got me thinking about my own story and whether I fit the mold.Â Some would say by virtue of the fact that I live in China (and moved there by choice) that of course not; however, I think it’s more complicated than that.
Through the end of college, I was on the templater path.Â Through then everything was decided for me on the basis of the standard middle-class American lifestyle.Â Played sports: check. Participated in Girl Scouts: check. Attempted to learn a foreign language: check.Â Went to a good high school: check. Went to prom: check. Went to a top university: check.Â Did I make any of these decisions? Really?Â No, not really.Â Although I did get to choose which university I went to, and I have to say, I made the right choice.
Then came college graduation and the first real decision of my life.Â I’d been told, follow your passion. You have the world at your feet.Â You can do anything you want.Â Well they may say that and it may be true, but no one actually believes it.Â And no one will actually give you the unconditional love and support to really do that.Â Besides that, I had no idea what ‘my passion’ was.Â I did, however, know that I had absolutely no interest in continuing down the template path and becoming a corporate slave and living a boring life.Â I didn’t want to be average and I certainly didn’t want the average life of a just graduated young professional.Â The idea of working for someone else my whole life, 2 weeks of vacation max per year, dating, marriage, kids repelled me.Â I knew I would need out, sooner or later.
I chose sooner.
Within 3 months of graduation, I was on a one way plane to Shanghai, China with no further plan than 5 weeks of studying Chinese (on top of my 4 college semesters).Â I came out to China hoping, like so many, to strike it rich, but mostly I came to just not live a template N. American life.
For the first 2 years or so in China, I studied Chinese, taught English, worked in a hotel, started a business, worked as a tour leader, traveled a lot, and networked a ton.Â I was essentially the epitome of a young China-based job-hopping expat.Â It’s not necessarily something I’m proud of, but it was a path, albeit a curvy one, I needed to take.
You may look at this and think holy cow, talk about a road less traveled; however, I’m increasingly doubting that.Â Going out to China as a freshly minted college graduate, might seem unconventional, but even now it feels common.Â Every week I get emails from people, ‘I want to come out to China and do _____’ (fill in the blank, usually English teaching) or I meet people like me 3 years ago, ‘I’m in China writing a blog, studying Chinese, I’m not sure what I’ll do next. ‘ The more I look around, the more I think, I’m on the same path as everyone else, or maybe I was one of the leaders on that path and now more people are following this ‘unusual’ path making it seem more common and mundane.
Then about 2 years ago I decided it was time to get some startup experience to build my knowledge base and learn that arena, so I joined a small internet company.Â As time goes on, sometimes I look at my life and think, am I doing anything different than if I were in the States?Â Company job. Commuting. Friends evenings or weekends. Looks the same. Seems the same. But certainly doesn’t smell the same. 😉
What is different? I speak Chinese 70% of my day. I’ve done random jobs including modeling (something I always wanted to do), English conversation courses, writing bar reviews, etc. I went to the Beijing Olympics. I’ve been to almost every country in East Asia. I’ve met people from all over the world. I’ve organized tech events. I’ve seen the inside of China and its not always pretty. But perhaps most importantly, I’ve explored my passions and interests.
Moving to China may be the new in thing to do, and certainly takes guts, stamina, and patience, and with more and more people (trying to) doing it, it’s becoming more conventional.Â However, the mere fact of getting away from the expectations of template American life, has allowed me to explore options, interests, passions, and what truly matters to me far beyond anything I would have been able to do in the US.Â While I may not have ‘struck it rich’ in China (yet), this experience to me is far more valuable.Â Whether or not my life to this point has been a cookie cutter, having had the space to grow and develop means that into the future it definitely doesn’t need to be and I have the power and the wherewithal to manage that.
Now the challenge for me is to put that into an actionable plan.Â But I know I’ll have the Untemplaters for inspiration along the way and I’ll keep in mind these lines from the Untemplater Manifesto:
You have to live one day at the time. You have to trust that as long as you bust your ass going after what you believe in, things will fall in place. The moment you start getting worried because you canâ€™t see your future clearly is the moment where the claws of fear and boredom will get a hold of you again. In reality, no one can see the future clearly, but some think they can. Nobody knows what will happen, but the only difference is that untemplaters realize it, accept it, and make the best out of their time while believing in themselves and their vision.
Power to that! The Untemplater life awaits!