The Future of Work series is a set of stories & interviews with real people who took a BIG leap and designed the job of their dreams (in the face of fear, doubt, uncertainty, and naysayers!)
Jane* (* a pseudonym) went through a traumatic divorce and a period of depression that seemed unending. On her happiness scale of 1-10, she was a 1. Finally, after over a year of severe depression, Jane discovered a light of passion that she knew she had to follow and was able to restore balance to her life. For the first time since her divorce, she was clear on one thing she truly wanted to do for herself: learn Chinese. Here’s her true story:
Take us back to the start. Where does your story begin?
Jane: It started with a divorce I never saw coming; it literally came out of nowhere. I found out that he was cheating on me… and the next day he left. But I had to pull it together because I had just received a promotion at work and we were scheduled to move to a new state in the next couple of months.
At first, I let myself be distracted by the move. Then once I had actually moved, I faced it. I was in shock for a long time because I had been so happy in the relationship. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. I lost 20 lbs and I looked sick. I had cry breaks like people had smoke breaks. It was “normal” for me to just cry all the time. I couldn’t control it! I don’t know how I functioned and how I got through it. I felt very hollow and was a shell of a person for a long time.
What started to bring you back into the light?
Jane: I honestly had no goals or motivation after the divorce. My whole life had been planning for us and and for our future. I had had big goals about getting promotions, buying our house, supporting my husband through school. None of those goals mattered anymore so I felt incredibly lost, like I had no direction, and that left me with no drive or motivation.
I decided that I didn’t want to focus on my depression anymore. I didn’t want to cry myself to sleep anymore. I wanted to focus on something else. And then just setting that goal of going to China to learn Chinese… I saw a huge improvement. I spent the next year looking towards that goal and it’s what helped bring me back to the light. I had meaning back to my life again and something to aim towards and to focus on. I also looked forward to this goal because it was for ME and only for me. That made me more motivated because it was a personal goal. I had given a lot to us and my marriage. I did everything for him and us but never for me.
I also re-found a passion for tennis again. I was recruited to a team and started to realize that, that mental strength that you need to compete – I needed it back for life. We won the state tournament and that really brought back some of that “fighter” mental strength I’d had prior to the depression.
So why Chinese? Why China?
Jane: Why Chinese? My mom speaks Chinese but never taught it to us because she re-married my American step-dad when I was young so we only spoke English in the house. I would always get so frustrated when she would be talking to my relatives in Chinese and I couldn’t understand any of it. It’s really been a lifelong goal of mine to learn Chinese. I’d actually hired a tutor for a while in the U.S. but didn’t feel like I was really learning anything.
Why China? My uncle lives in Hong Kong and he had told me multiple times that I should just come out to China to learn the language. I had been so focused on my career that it never happened but the idea was always stuck in the back of my mind.
I finally decided this was the time to leave because I was at a crossroads not just with my journey out of depression but also with my job. The job I was holding was part of a rotation program and I knew that next promotion would bring me back to my last home city where everything fell apart. I knew I couldn’t go back there and sink back into depression.
I saw only 3 choices: Go back to the city I left. Stay where I am (where I was tired of the current job). Go to China!
I felt like China was my chance to keep moving forward and if I let my company control my future, I would be, in essence, taking steps backward.
I thought: I don’t like the way my life looks when I’m leaving it in the company’s hands to make the decision for me. I felt like China was my chance to keep moving forward and if I let my company control my future, I would be, in essence, taking steps backward. I was being very bold and I decided, no, I’m not going to let the company tell me where to go, I’m going to tell them where I’m choosing to go. So I called my uncle one day and asked him: If I came to China, would you help me? He said yes, of course, and that was it. I am the type of person that if I say it out loud, then I’m going to really do it. So I said it out loud to hold myself accountable and to really take the plunge!
Was this a big risk for you?
Jane: This was an impulsive leap of faith! I was taking a HUGE chance and doing something that I never thought I had the guts to do. I knew this journey was so much more about holistically getting better and that I needed some experience that would teach me about faith and trust again. Faith and trust in both myself and others again.
China was the ultimate test because I needed to know – can I live this life with just me, myself, and I? Can I dig deep and find that strong girl who is going to be able to handle this challenge?
I had been with my husband since we were very young and my whole adult life was spent with him; I’d never been on my own. This was the first time I’ve ever been 100% alone. China was the ultimate test because I needed to know – can I live this life with just me, myself, and I? Can I dig deep and find that strong girl who is going to be able to handle this challenge?
I also had to rebuild trust in others. In China I would have to heavily rely on and trust other people. I was living with a host family whom I didn’t know at all and who only spoke Chinese! I had to trust that they would feed me and tell me the right bus to get on for school and so on. I had to trust people who gave me directions as I got lost while I was traveling alone. I had to rely on and trust others – there was simply no other option.
Were you scared to go?
These are the life experiences you don’t know are possible until you take the steps to be BOLD and try to see the life you could have.
Jane: Buying a one-way ticket is SCARY. My mom asked me if I was scared and I just told her that I couldn’t even think about that. I couldn’t think about the fear or I wouldn’t do it. I had to focus on the fact that I was doing something I’ve said I wanted to do my whole life. These are the life experiences you don’t know are possible until you take the steps to be BOLD and try to see the life you could have.
I wanted to take a chance again – I wanted my life back. I decided I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I’m doing it!!! You feel bad for being selfish and I know women struggle with this because it has such a negative connotation to be “selfish.” But this was about taking care of myself. This was about regaining myself and treating Jane how she should be treated. Women struggle with that. We need a new word. Not selfish. Self-love. Loving yourself. I see now how much it can really benefit you to take the time to take care of yourself.
When and how did you tell your boss you were leaving?
Jane: I didn’t tell my boss that I was quitting until about a month before I was leaving. I had no idea how he was going to react but I told him the full truth with no sugar-coating or hiding anything. I literally just said, I bought a one-way ticket and I’m moving to Beijing to learn Chinese for a year.
The first thing my boss did was give me a hug and tell me how happy he was for me, which was obviously not the reaction I had expected! Then he asked me what he could do to help and asked me not to quit the company but instead to take a Leave of Absence. I feel so lucky that I had such a supportive boss. I had initially just planned on quitting and figuring out my job when I got back but this worked out so much more to my advantage.
How did you stay connected to the working world during your career pause?
Jane: I didn’t have to do much to stay connected while I was gone because they knew how long I was going to be on my Leave of Absence. I really wanted to do the best that I could and stay focused on learning the Chinese while I was there so I didn’t focus too much on my job search for back home. I pushed it out of my mind and decided what happens will happen and things are going to be okay. I thought, worst case scenario, I could always go live with my parents or sister or stay with my uncle in Hong Kong.
What lessons did you learn from following your dream?
Jane: That if I really want something, I can make it happen! I figured that if my divorce didn’t kill me and I didn’t die in China, then I was ready to take on life. I didn’t feel like a failure when I came back from China like I had after my divorce. I came back… I was alive, that’s the best way to describe it. I am finally ALIVE. I could laugh and feel it in my soul. I had to go through the bad to appreciate the good – to really appreciate it.
I also realized you can’t control what other people do; you can only control how you react to the situation. You make the best decision you can in the moment. You have to jump with a leap into the unknown and you can’t control everything. This coming from Type A control freak but I had to learn to let that go. Let the planning and control go. Some things have worked out marvelously and some are really bad but you remember the good ones instead of the bad so it’s all worth it.
And this trip gave me a different perspective and a deeper connection and understanding of people. Everyone has their story and why they are who they are for a lot of different reasons. You may not know what has happened but you have to accept them. I can’t judge people anymore. You have to have compassion. I became a better, more compassionate person. And I am definitely more compassionate for people who don’t speak English!
Do you have any advice for our readers?
If you’re going to do something with your full heart, you don’t have to worry about if it’s going to happen, you’ll make it happen. You’ll get there in some way if you’re really motivated.
Jane: You are stronger than you think you are. You have to remind yourself of that. If you don’t, you’ll waiver in your confidence and doubt your decisions. If you’re going to do something with your full heart, you don’t have to worry about if it’s going to happen, you’ll make it happen. You’ll get there in some way if you’re really motivated. Of course it might not look like what you thought it would but you will get there anyway!
Also, try not to over-think things. Keep the big goal in mind, fill in the details later. This is the information in front of me, make an educated guess. Can’t worry about if this doesn’t happen or this doesn’t come through. You make the decision you can and pray for the best and there’s nothing else you can do.
We have to ask… can you speak Chinese!?
Yes! I am conversationally fluent.
Editor’s Note: Many of these very personal insights into “Jane’s” history have never been shared before, even with her closest of her friends and family. Jane wasn’t sure if she wanted to do this interview but decided it’s just one more way for her to take back her story and her life. Kudos, Jane, for being so brave!
Share this Post