Life’s Bitter Lemons- What To Do When Goals Don’t Turn Out


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When I get into a taxi, the driver usually asks, “Where to?”

I say, “Rhode and 15th.” Or some other random address.

Let’s imagine this time you are getting into the taxi of life. The driver asks, “Where to?”

You say your own destination. “Earn $3,000 a month. Lose 10 pounds. Have a successful online business so that I can quit my job.”

What happens to you when after driving for a while the cab driver tells you, “I’m sorry but we can’t go there.”

You feel crushed. Frustrated. Disappointed. A lot of time had been spent. You had already taken off. Why now? Cue cower under the bed in depression and eat a whole load of cookies and ice cream.

This is what happens when the goals we have been working so hard do not work out. This is what happens when things do not go our way.  You invest a lot of time and money and for what? For things to burst in front of your eyes. For a lot of regret to accumulate, “I wish I hadn’t spent so much. If only I spent the time instead on something more substantial.”

This is what happened to me.

No matter how hard I shape my future, it doesn’t often often turn out the way I wanted.

My last post talked about goals and how we should not start the year with a bang and rush to achieve them. This time I want to talk about how your goals and plans not happening or end up not being what you wanted in the first place. Let me share with your some experiences.

  1. After I graduated college, I had a plan. Finish my degree in Special Education and apply for a job as a Special Education teacher in the USA. Live in USA.  Instead I ended up as an English lecturer in China.
  1. Australia. Finding myself stuck in China and in ESL teaching, I wanted to break out of it and try different industries (not actually knowing yet what industry but it was anything! anything but teaching). I applied for 6 months leave and took all my savings to Australia. The plan was to look for a job there while I was on a tourist visa. I had hoped to follow my friend Jay’s path in which he secured a job in New Zealand and then applied for permanent residency. Some Filipinos have also done it before. I didn’t know that the Australian dollar would rise so high in value when I arrived making my RMB savings depreciate (there goes my budget). And that most companies wouldn’t hire if you don’t have a migrant visa. But in order to get a migrant visa you need a job offer. A total catch 22. I went home to China, broke and disappointed.  I went back to teaching English.
  1. Chile. But I still had not given up. I was so fed up with teaching English at this point. Since Australia was very daunting to migrate to, I decided on the easiest place to migrate – New Zealand and daydreamed living a free healthcare utopian socialist life. I started the paperwork process. While I knew it would take a while, I made plans to get out of China again and hurl myself to jump starting my freelance writing business. I had dreams of myself working wherever I wanted. The trick was to find a safe place where I can study there and make contacts which would lead me to a job. I picked Chile, South America because I fell in love with a picture of its beautiful port Vina del Mar. So I quit my job and moved to South America. Only to realize Chile was way more expensive than I thought (more expensive than China- again there goes my budget), its food was crap, the people seemed cold and snobby and I suffered from depression. I went from hanging out with my tight knit group of expats in China everyday to hanging out with nobody in Chile. I had withdrawals and was homesick for Asia. I did manage to finally do some freelance writing only to find I didn’t like its solitary aspect, the type of work I was doing and to be constantly hustling. So after 4 months and again most of my savings, I said “ciao!” to South America and moved back to the Philippines to contemplate my next step. I was bruised and battered from my recent big spendings in Australia and Chile that came to no avail.  I vow to check out a country first and not to move to another until I was guaranteed a job there.
  1. New Zealand. Keeping up with my own promises, I used the last of my savings to book a trip to New Zealand to check the country out. I had but one more step (the job offer) before I can complete my migration to Kiwi Land. I was so glad that I visited because I found my heart just wasn’t in settling in New Zealand. Beautiful and picturesque it was, it felt too quiet for me and far from anything else. I also found that they were not in need of teachers. So with some measure of bittersweetness and sadness, I hang up the towel of NZ migration. My application expired last October 2013.
  1. Vietnam was probably the least painful in terms of the pocket. In 2013, I was guaranteed a job but typical Vietnamese fashion, they do not promise you the terms that you agreed on. I had envisioned of putting up with the teaching for a year while trying to apply to grad school. Instead of teaching high school business like we agreed on, they had me teaching ESL (a total step back for me) and middle school. I HATED kids. I hated the whole experience and dreaded waking up in the morning to teach the brats. From the get-go, I should have said no. To go back to teaching ESL was a warning – a clear sign of stepping back. I had sacrificed that for the sake of security. I had wanted to quit the very first week but I needed the money. In retrospect, it was a good thing I held on for an entire month (though it almost cost me my sanity) because I was able to use the money to go to Japan and the USA.

What I learned is that I should not invest on a single goal and envision my future shaped around it because the future I dreamed of will not match the present that will hit me in the face. That I should test the waters first before pushing all the chips into one big gambling move and risking them all. That these goals will not turn into the roadmap of success that I want.

I often see people who have “made” it and have settled. Start from the bottom – PhD student, instructor, assistant instructor and then professor. Or intern in a bank then become a teller and work their way up to be a bank manager and then Vice President. I envy these people and strive to emulate them –looking for a way to get a secure career that I like and work my way up from there. I strive to follow their roadmaps not realizing I was free to create my own. Their lives are far different and more stable than mine is. For me to follow them would be like to mix oil and water together. I am me. I am unique and I will never be one of the “settled” ones. I have to go carve a path that is mine alone.

I have learned my lesson. I am through with “this is it.” but will instead go through life with well, I guess this is it. Because no matter how hard I imagine what my future will look like 10 years from now it will never look like what I imagine.

But that’s the best part isn’t it? The surprises. Because if life happened as planned how boring will that be? 5 years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d have moved to 3 countries in a span of a year or I’d work in marketing. When I was studying Special Education, who would’ve thought I would be working in China? How happy would I be if my past self knew I would become a freelance writer or I’d survive a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

No matter how hard I steer the wheel, it seems life is taking me along for the ride. Who am I fooling? I’m a passenger. I give the destination but the driver decides where to go. Whether or not I like the route is up to me to decide. So I’m done fighting against the current. It is time to let the current take me. I can only trust it will take me to the path where I will be happy.

This year I’ve decided to hell with it. What have I lose? I will take things step by step, a month at a time. Against all sensibilities and practicalities, I’ve also decided on a simple goal of doing what makes me happy- write what I love. For that seemed to be the only constant destination that I have.

So when I get into the taxi of life and the driver asks, “Where to?”

I shall say, “To happiness.”

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7 thoughts on “Life’s Bitter Lemons- What To Do When Goals Don’t Turn Out

  1. AP says:

    What a story Kate. Thank you for sharing and not giving up. Your goals are a work in progress. What an articulate writer you are. Only a great mind can be behind your words. I will enjoy following you and I think 2014 will be your year. Love, A:)ex

    • Kate says:

      Thanks A:)ex. I have stopped by your blog and found your own words encouraging. Keep encouraging people. I am not sure 2014 will be my year (I have learned the hard way the future is uncertain) but I will try my best to continue working on my goals. Many times I have fallen, many a times I made some stupid decisions but I will keep trying 🙂

      • AP says:

        I am certain your life is amazing and the experiences you now carry within are making you richer. Work on yourself, and goals will follow. The world wants to hear your story, because the most individual is most universal. We can all identify with “bitter lemons” and living out of the box. Sometimes it feels as if we’re cramped inside one. You go and continue to be unafraid to try and make decisions. I will be reading you…

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