I talk a big game. I portray myself as decisive, spontaneous, and true to my desires. But this past week, I made a decision that was anything but, and I hope it won’t haunt me in the future. Relax, this title is pure melodrama unless you get the basketball reference, in which case it’s ironic, because I turned down an opportunity and am keeping my talents in Toronto. Still, it has occupied its share of headspace over the last few days, and one of my friends recommended that I write about it to help me make up my mind; I’ve made my decision already, but perhaps writing about it will help ease my conscience.
In the past, I’ve written about how repetitive life as an adult is, and how much I need a change of pace, something to shake up my routine that’s marching lockstep with yesterday. I’ve also written about how much of a formative experience that summer in Shanghai was, and how much my younger self would have loved to have the opportunity to live there full-time. Not only did I dream of living abroad, but I openly desired it, telling my friends that I would do anything to take a job in a city vastly different from Toronto, be it a pay cut or a decreased cost of living. Earlier this week, the opportunity presented itself, and I turned it down.
For the last two months, I’ve been interviewing with an international company who has their Asia-Pacific headquarters in Shanghai. I’ve put in no less than eight hours of interviews, not including all the preparatory work and document gathering, and the preliminary chats with the headhunting agency who reached out to me. Though the absence of a take-home assessment made it a less arduous process than most other job interviews these days, the difference in time zones was not helpful. A few long job interviews ago, I had promised myself that I wouldn’t be interviewing for jobs that I wasn’t committed to anymore because of the time required, and this was no exception to the rule.
On paper, this was everything I had asked for when I ran my mouth prior to the pandemic. A job in an exciting city abroad. The offer was great: it was a well-established company, which took care of the visa process and provided a relocation bonus that bridged the pay cut. The company structure was also more attractive than my current one: upward mobility was baked into the design of the roles, and promotions were scheduled rather than based on vacancies presenting themselves. The only downside was that I’d have to take a step down in terms of position, going from a people manager to an individual contributor, which is nontrivial for a business undergraduate without hard skills to speak of.
In fairness, when I did make outlandish claims about moving abroad at any cost, I wasn’t a people manager yet, and I didn’t like my job so much as I do now. The satisfaction from being recognized by the company certainly had something to do with it, but the real kicker was the added responsibility; ownership is gratifying, and being competent is the cherry on top. So, I do have something to lose now, more than I did before. Despite this, I did tell the headhunter as well as the executives I chatted with that if they hired me for a people manager position I’d likely take it. Even then that decision would have been primarily career-driven: I saw a more efficient route to director at that company versus where I currently am.
Despite that, this isn’t what I promised myself. I scoffed at my friends who wouldn’t consider moving from America to Europe because they would have to take a pay cut, or it’d be bad for their career. Perhaps I just didn’t have enough to lose at that point. And what I’d have to give up: not only a stable role with an organization that values me and a network of colleagues who respect me within that organization, but also proximity to friends and family, all of which are slowly starting to move back to Toronto. When considering this offer, one of the first things that I thought of was an upcoming family vacation, and my friends’ potential weddings, all of which I’d have to miss if I were to take this offer. In the same vein, this will only get harder as I develop more commitments to Toronto: easy examples that come to mind are a life partner and financial responsibilities denoted in Canadian dollars.
But my motivation for moving abroad isn’t career-driven. The driving factor has always been to leave Canada, to shake up my monotonous life that has been the same since graduating from college. Sure, I’ve met a few new people, learned to cook, lived as an adult in Toronto, and survived a global pandemic, but life has been static for the last four years. Friends that I’ve spoken to say that I can find this change elsewhere, that I can be an agent instead of merely subject to the forces of my environment, but that’s too hard in practice. Finding the willpower to mindfully live my life every day is much more challenging than forcibly placing myself in an uncomfortable situation and needing to adapt. What I want to do is to experience the renewal and inspiration that I’ve had when living abroad in the past. I seek to recapture the springtime of my youth.
When I discussed my dilemma with friends and family, their major concern aside from the career detour was the China factor. Though I fully believe Western claims of the Chinese pandemic mishandling are overblown, the point remains that COVID-19 is still very much a concern in China. If people aren’t going out, how am I going to make friends? Will I be able to survive a two-week lockdown in a shoebox condo in China? This is in addition to the pollution, the dating scene, the currency instability, and the quality of living. Not to mention that China policy is also the only persistent bipartisan issue in the west, perhaps restarting a career in Shanghai right now isn’t the wisest decision.
And so, I became convinced that they were right, that relocating to China would be terrible right now, despite the development that the role and move would bring. Perhaps this will motivate me to look for other jobs abroad, they insisted, there was no need to be rash with this one. Perhaps they’re right. But it’s also a possibility that I’ve simply grown too old and tied down to Toronto to consider a move like this anymore. Perhaps I’ve become scared and unwilling to leave what’s comfortable, to follow my dreams. When I was young, I remember eating scorpions and crickets at a street market in China, and riding on those rickety roundabout swings in fairs. Now, all these things are past any sort of consideration. When I was a young adult, I dreamt of living amidst the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, and taking on a new city. Now, all I can hope is that my decision is the right decision, and that if a better opportunity comes along, I won’t be too scared to recognize it.