2014 and 2015 were intense years. I wrapped up two master’s degrees, muddled through friendships and intense relationships. I filled my time with with design, fundraising, and construction of a real tinyhouse that now is a full time residence in California. I finished a thesis on urban planning in Taiyuan, China, then defended it. I began a construction company intending to build a mobile sit-down coffeeshop. I spent 6 months in the Netherlands, working on NeumoGo…an all-electric carpool service meant to replace local bus routes and support long-distance transit while eliminating the need for personal vehicles. In short, I have a tendency to tenaciously torpedo towards things. It’s a blessing and curse.
The experience designing Neumo sent me on a chase for a company that could bring it to life sooner, and through some light stalking of company executives I found Transdev. That led to a meeting which led to Split. For 13 months I worked at the transportation rideshare startup in Washington D.C., managing everything from expansion studies to driver communications to intra-office donut choices. There were some 12-hour work days and 3am phone calls, but also some of the best conversations with people I never would have otherwise met. It opened my eyes to the diversity and struggle in D.C. and America that my comparatively white bread Ivory tower experiences were keeping me from. I’ve seen diversity and struggle abroad, and been enthralled by it- China is where I understood and came to love cities and sustainability, after all. But D.C., and my time at Split, brought me new understanding of the beautiful and deep flaws, like etchings in stone, that run through America.
Then Friday, July 1st, was my last official day at Split.
I remember being 26 once, and really marveling at the ability of people who were 30 or 31 to exude a kind of confidence and zen, with themselves and their life choices. In your twenties, everything feels a bit frantic. The pressure is there, after all. You’re told all throughout your childhood (well, caveat- you’re told if you’re Asian) that you have so much potential and promise and you damn well better live up to it, but as long as you stay in the realm of academia, there’s always a clear route to the next achievement. You think you know so much in those two decades, and that it’s more than enough to tackle everything next. But success outside of academia is messy, and by the time you’re in your twenties, the panic can set in. Will I really live up to my potential? Will I live up to the expectations of the people who invested in me? And if you have any room for worry left over, you’ll wonder, will I live up to what I’ve set out to do for myself?
I think, when people are 30, it’s not that they’ve really figured it out. It’s that you’ve experienced enough to learn to be comfortable with what you can’t do, and spend more time focusing on what is important, what can be done, what can be changed. There’s no easy way to find out though. Existence and time will teach you what matters- what you’re good at, what you care about.
I’m lucky to have hit this mark. It came through a lot of sweat and tears, through the patience of all kinds of people: co-workers that get my twisted humor, professional rivals that became friends, neighbors that became people I admire. Cousins, aunts and uncles that I never understood in my teenage years that are now easier to relate to. The steady current of friends that just always “got it” throughout all the years, that raised me when I was 16, that I know I can trust and love.
When I came back from China to Arizona in 2011, feisty and furious, I was 26 and determined to become an Asian urban sustainability expert, but now my career is routed towards transportation and public transit. And strangely, I’m just as happy and excited by that. I didn’t think so five years ago…but maybe that’s the power of being 30.
Part of me is disappointed I am not staying longer at Split. I believe in its mission, wholeheartedly. But what I’ve got next on the horizon might let me get my hands on some EU-funded projects in Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK (well, is that still the EU anymore?) and Finland. More to come on that later, but today is Independence Day, and it all feels like it’s coming together. I’m more independent now than a year ago, and more is coming still.
On the horizon, and on the road again. Soon!