who we are (and where we’re going)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always known how my life would turn out.


Sanjhih, Taiwan

I knew what I wanted to be, and where I’d go to school, and who I’d marry (someday), and where I’d grow old. I knew who my friends would be, and how many kids I’d have, and that my parents would divorce, and that I’d move to Taiwan . . . I knew I’d have a serious rock-climbing accident, and that I’d survive. I knew I’d be “different,” and that that’d be okay.

I knew it all . . .

And I’ll bet you did, too. I’ll bet you’re an expert on everything that’s ever happened to you (or will) in your entire life.


Truth is, I’ve been struggling a lot lately. Nothing seems clear. I know what I want (to teach and write abroad), and yet I haven’t the foggiest how to get there. It seems there are obstacles at every step (including myself), and sacrifices that must be made, and that baby steps are all I’m currently capable of.

It’s frustrating.

And yet . . . If there’s one thing I do know, it’s that I wouldn’t — no, couldn’t — change who I am or the decisions I’ve made for anything — even if I were to repeat my life a hundred times. After all . . .

Taiwan chose me. Writing is who I am. Independent is my nature. Dreamer is my core.

Below is a poem I wrote this past Valentine’s Day. Somehow it seems appropriate now. This time I’ve included audio. (Yikes! . . . It’s not the best, though I tried like a million times . . .)

Sunset in Sanjhih, Taiwan

Sanjhih Sunset

Let Her

Dresses in white,
Flowers, the like.
Parties and favors,
Tokens to savor.

Girls and dreams,
Valentine’s scenes.
Weddings and wishes,
Tickles and kisses.

Strange girl, strange dream,
Off on her own, alone in her stream.
She doesn’t want much,
No flowers and such.
Give her the land,
Give her her hand.

Let her write,
Let her fight.
Let her be,
Oh, memory.
Let her look,
Let her wait.
Let her, seeking, find her fate.


Could you change who you are? If so, how much?


Images: Mine

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82 thoughts

  1. I am jealous that you know so much of who you’ve wanted to be for so long. One of my closest friends is the same way. She’s wanted to be a nurse since she was a little girl. Unfortunately, it took her forty years to realize that dream. Life has a tendency to get in your way from time to time whether it be from having children, being in a long-term relationship, or whatever life can think of.

    From what little I know of your past, it seems to me that you’ve already managed to teach abroad and you are a writer. You managed it once, you’ll do it again. And yes, sacrifices are a part of life. But some goals are worth sacrificing a lot to achieve.

    While I’ve never known what I want to do with my life, I wouldn’t change a thing. For me, working isn’t who I am, it’s just how I pay the bills. I don’t know what my life would be like now if I hadn’t tried writing poetry and the short prose I enjoy so much. That right there has been worth all of the wandering I’ve been doing over the last forty-one years.

    • So glad to hear it, Dan. And thanks so much for sharing…

      Yes, I’ve taught abroad before, and I’ll find a way to do it again. I’m just currently in a waiting period (and totally broke), and it’s getting old… You’re right that obstacles will come up — relationships or what have you. As life changes, perspective shifts, and priorities change. But who we are at core stays the same — and I think that that’s what I meant when I said, “Writing is who I am…”

      I’m so glad you decided to write, too. Whether people write for a career or as an outlet or simply as an expression of who they are, writing is so important — and beautiful. I really do enjoy your work. :)

      • Thank you so much. You are the kind of person I am glad that I’ve met through wordpress; genuine is the best way to describe it I guess. You’ll find a way to get back to living your dreams. Just don’t forget to share the experiences with the rest of us. ;)

  2. Just absolutely beautiful! i love reading your blog every day and I love this post in particular. The poem is exquisite and the way you define your feelings is relatable to a lot of people. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts :-)

  3. Jessica I can relate completely and I think you’ve touched on something that’s highly
    Universal. It’s a rare day that you fun someone who has lead a story book life where every step
    was the one they chose. I’ve given the question much thought in my time on this rock,
    and I wouldn’t change a thing. Regardless of all the things I’ve seen and done in my years
    they’re have made me who I am today. For better or worse I’m me, and I’m okay with that.
    I wish you the very best in your life, but I have a feeling you’re living a huge part of you dream
    as I write these words.
    PS. The audio was great, nice to out a sound to the face.

    • I’m so glad to hear that, Benjamin. I guess it’s nice to know we’re all in the same boat… Yes, no one can predict how life is going to go, and I know what you mean about the things you’ve experienced making you the person you are today. I feel the same way, and have felt that even the bad things have been beneficial because they’ve made me a deeper, more empathetic individual…

      Thank you for the well wishes. I *am* living my dream, one slow step at a time. And I know you are, too, through your artwork. I am always truly impressed. :)

    • Haha, Sunil! Well… I know *certain* things about who I am, and I *think* I know what I want, but life is a journey, full of unexpected twists and turns… What I want now is different than what I thought I wanted five years ago. Who knows what I’ll want five years from now! All I can do is my best every day, and hope that, eventually, my path will lead to something good and beneficial to others.

      Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. It is always wonderful to hear from you! :)

  4. “Know thyself.” I have to say that this was a really interesting read. Very thought provoking as some people do not know these things and some do. It is my thought that an individual must know themselves completely before they can be happy or truly experience life. Knowing who you are, what you stand for and what you would fight for is essential in knowing where you will go and how your life will turn out.

    • That is a very good point. I think the world would be a lot better off if more people would be more introspective more of the time…

      Those words “know thyself” remind me of a lecture from one of my favorite college professors. His theory was that no one could ever fully know themselves. (And maybe especially not women! Haha. How many women have cried without fully understanding why?) Rather, he believed life was an unending process towards knowing oneself . . . and I kind of agree with that, simply because as life progresses, perspective shifts. Who I am and the way I see life now is a little different than it was, say, five years ago, before I went to Asia, and who I am five years from now will again be a little different from who I am today. To me the key is staying true to that “still small voice” in our heads, no matter where we are in life.

      Thanks so much for your thought-provoking comment…!

  5. An honest post Jessica. I really appreciate it!

    Looking back over my last 25-30 years I’ve asked this/these question(s), and what I’ve found to be most true are these two things: (1) I’m still the same at the core with a few tweaks, and (2) I’ve learned the tricks and methods of discovering truth WITHIN by what and how nature and people express it…and then finding the ‘flow’ of the current.
    Example to #1 — yesterday I retook the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Test which I took back in 1991, and all four letters were the same except for one: Feeling. I feel much more now. I found that a bit peculiar, yet very satisfying. My empathy has grown/matured! LOL

    • Haha. Growth in empathy can only be a good thing!

      I too feel who I am at core hasn’t changed much a very long time — or ever. What *has* changed is my perspective, a difference that has been brought on by life experience… So I think I get what you mean by discovering truth within while finding the flow of the current… Who I am now is different than who I was five years ago, and who I will be five years from now will be different than who I am today…

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Professor. It’s always interesting to hear your perspective and what you have to say!

    • Thank you, Julia! You’re so sweet. Yes, baby steps are better than no steps, and sometimes even backward steps can be signs of progress. I’m glad you liked the poem. That means a lot!

      I hope you’re having a wonderful day. :)

  6. :) I also had a vision that turned out nothing like reality. And even though it’s a struggle from day to day, I’m happy for the life that unfolded before me and that it’s nothing like the one I grew up with, which is anyways almost a societal dream, wife, house, kids, ended up being no to all 3 but there are enough people to follow societies norms. We’re flowing with the river and seeing things we never dreamed of.

    • “We’re flowing with the river and seeing things we never dreamed of.”

      I love that, Sreejit. I feel the same way. My life is nothing like the societal norms around me, and sometimes I struggle with that — but I’ve realized I struggle not because that’s what my heart wants or feels, but rather because of worrying what other people think (which is something I shouldn’t do, of course) . . . I wouldn’t jump ships for anything. It was never the people who followed the “norm” who made a big impact on the world, anyway. ;)

  7. Reminded me of this line from Everyone’s Free:

    “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t know.”

    Of course, that sort of goes counter to what you were saying, but hey…. :)

    • No, no, actually. It goes perfectly. Who I am at *core* hasn’t changed — maybe ever — but who I am in perspective? I’ve changed A LOT in the last 15 years! That’s part of the magic of life, honestly. Things change, and we must shift along with them… The key is being open and flexible while staying true to our hearts.

      Thanks, John!

    • You’re so sweet! I love sharing because I love it when others can relate. It makes me feel a little less alone. ;)

      I hope you’re having a wonderful day!

  8. From reading the comments, it seems a lot of us go through this.

    The last few years have seen a few bright spots for me with “few” being the keyword. Like you, there seems to be no clear and easy paths for me to reach my goals but I know I just have to inch forward. So that is what I do.

    I am just relying on the fact that nothing in life stays the same. We age, we change, our lives change, people come in and people go. If things can change for the worse they can change for the better.

    • Amen, Steve. I wouldn’t even know how to separate the bright from the dark spots in my life, honestly. Somehow they’ve always been jumbled up all together…

      I love what you say about nothing in life staying the same. That is exactly why I called my blog “shift.” You’re right that if things can get worse, they can also get better… And it’s important to remember that during the dark times. Baby steps are better than no steps…

      What matters most is staying true to our hearts while remaining open and flexible, so that life can’t break us when the goings get tough.

  9. As they say in Bolivia, “Everything is possible, nothing is certain.” Embracing life’s uncertainties is as important and dreaming of its possibilities, but you’re already an old hand at that!

    • You’re right about that! And I love that saying. Those Bolivians sure do know what they’re talking about. ;)

      Wonderful to hear from you, as always. Thanks!

  10. Wonderful poem (and again your vocals add so much to it). It is funny, nothing in life surprises, even at the times I have felt lost. I am stunned at the path I’ve taken, but not surprised, if that makes sense. Even when I take a look back 20 years ago at what I thought I’d be doing (perfect American dream…), versus today and how far I have wandered from that path (quite different).

    You have such a great path ahead, and being a little lost in wondering how & where to take that next step is (and has been) part of the excitement & successes in your life. You should feel so encourage and embolden to make decision as you have such a great foundation (intelligence, youth and perhaps most important, family). A slip or stumble along the way will not hinder you at all, in fact probably just make you stronger. Look forward to hearing more on your journey :-)

    • You’re so kind. And I have to admit I’m quite curious about more of the details of your journey. What *do* you do in Hong Kong (and China, etc.)?

      I can understand being stunned and yet not surprised at the path you’ve taken. But I’ll bet you’d have been surprised if you’d known the future twenty years ago…!

      I wouldn’t trade the experiences that have surprised me for anything. And no I’m not afraid of the future or of any slips I might encounter as I continue along my way. I guess right now I’m simply impatient for the “next step” and am incredibly tired of being financially unstable. A steady paycheck would go a long way…

      Anyway, thanks so much for your continued encouragement. I really do expect we’ll meet up in Hong Kong (or wherever) someday. :)

      Hope you’re having a great day!

      • Meeting up in HK would be great…a perfect place to share our China/Taiwan stories. It would be interesting to understand how I would have felt 20 years ago about the path I’ve chosen. I think I would, like almost everyone in this comment section, be amazed by the decisions we’ve made, yet unable to grasp the reasons why.

      • You think you’ll be in HK long term? (Sorry for so many questions. Maybe I should just email you, lol.) You’ve also lived on the Mainland, though, right?

      • I will always need to have the Pacific Northwest as a home, but definitely not ready to leave HK ~ so I suppose I will try to keep a balance between the two places. Of course, life being life, at some point something will dictate a full commitment somewhere I suppose :-)

  11. Whoever you are deep down inside your heart, know that you are perfect….You won’t have to change yourself and never have to do that…why would you sacrifice yourself for someone? You have had enough through out this life you led…Let someone change herself/himself for you this time….Know- and believe – you are PERFECT and I sensed a pure heart inside you….!!Go on … don’t stop…I know you’ll find what you desire and dream for… because you are persuading a noble cause dear….Everyone’s thinking about themselves only where you are thinking about your surroundings…others…!! Its truly a great thing and makes you a great person in my eyes…you never know…I have seen you Jess….through these words….!!

    P.S. The poem is beautiful…!!

    • You are too sweet. But I am not doing enough right now for others. Why am I not “in the field” working like Mother Teresa, or whomever? (Well, you know part of why…) I am FAR from perfect. It’s true that my heart is pure, though — you are right.

      I’m glad you like the poem…

  12. Very nice post, poem and photo. It’s frustrating isn’t it, when we know what we want to do (it’s our passion) but it’s so hard to get there because there’s so much uncertainty. Sometimes, I think there’s a tiny, tiny, tiny inner fear within us – perhaps the things we love doing and want to do (e.g music, writing) now may not be what we want to do in the future.

    For the longest time, I was very confused about what I wanted to do. First I liked writing (when I was a kid), then maths, then media and now writing. Had/have no idea where I’m going with writing (I’m quite rigid at writing), but I am finding a sense of purpose through it and I believe that I came back full circle for a reason. I think self-believe will help us get through cloudy times like these. Just my two cents worth of thoughts :)

    • Your thoughts are worth a lot more than two cents, Mabel!

      I know what you mean about not being sure about your “life path.” I’ve always known I loved to write but have never been sure about making a career out of it. (Blogging is much more fun than reporting.) And now I’ve decided I want to live abroad again, but I’ve also thought I want a family, too — someday? perhaps? All of life is about trying to find a balance.

      I’m glad you keep coming back to writing. Since I’ve started following your blog, I’ve seen you come more and more alive in your writing. The things you write about are interesting, and you do it so well! So no matter where your life takes you, I hope you always continue to write. Just listen to that still small voice inside you… and then share it with the rest of us! :)

      • Jess, I like what you’ve written in this reply to Mabel, and what she wrote to you. Our minds indulge an illusion of control when they plan. Our emotions indulge an illusion of no-control when we doubt. Our hearts (spirits) take wise measure of our purpose here, and related priorities, then make things happen in accord. The spirit trumps the control of both mind and emotion, leading them instead to good actions.

  13. Taiwan (tw) is the prefix of my pseudonym. If you don’t read it carefully, it looks like trademark ™. I was born there and grew up there. Every time someone says Taiwan is interesting, I want to the exact details that make the call. Taiwan is calling again, but which parts of her? Trust me, I know Taiwan inside out, so I will understand what you mean.

    Your poem is quite fluent and fluid, filled with rhyme and rhythm naturally. It looks like a piece of work from an inspiration. I guess it doesn’t happen too often, which explains why you suddenly felt so strongly about Taiwan. I moved to Canada with my parents at 15. Looking back, I don’t really miss Taiwan that much. Perhaps, I didn’t pay that much attention. You let me know.

    Inspiration comes at random, while writer’s block is the worst nightmare. I hope you are not chasing the wind and gone with the wind: I always have a different interpretation with every English expression. ;-) It’s called lost in translation, which gets me every time. Have fun and think twice about every major life-changing decision. The aching void that makes the call may be temporary, but a lost decade stays forever with you.

      • You probably check your blog every 12-24 hours, whether you get blog emails forwarded to your cell phones or not. Taiwan is pretty good in the sense that you can always find a job teaching English as a second language and that the local criminals don’t like to target at foreigners. There are very few reported cases, as far as I know. The problem lies in the more active social life that fuels forward a drifter like you without you noticing how fast time flies. One day you wake up at 40, and you know it’s too late to lead a normal life. However, if you don’t mind dating divorced men eventually, I say it’s fine. Teaching English as a second language for an extended period of time may affect your poetic writing. If you want to improve, you have to work with those who do better than you. I’m not a poet in any way. I like to see immediate results, which explains why I went into the software industry. Besides, English is not my mother tongue. I don’t want you to laugh at my writing. ;-) Best wishes!

      • Your comment about a foreigner’s social life in Taiwan I totally understand. That’s one reason I *thought* I wanted to return to the States. You’re right that it’s hard to find people to date abroad — and yet… Though it may be hard, it’s not impossible. I’ve decided not to base my life decisions around trying to place myself in the right place at the right time. You never know what’s around the corner, or who you’re going to meet, no matter where you are. And I like surprises!

        And about my writing? That’s a good point, too. I was just remembering back to when I had to use hand motions for almost everything I said. You end up feeling very isolated when you can’t understand or communicate in the language being spoken around you. That said, I don’t honestly feel most of my technical skill is affected by my day-to-day interactions with people. So long as I don’t forget how to read, I think I’ll be okay. :)

        Oh, and I would *never* laugh at your writing. It is great!!!

    • “…think twice about every major life-changing decision. The aching void that makes the call may be temporary, but a lost decade stays forever with you.”

      Those are wise words. And I do tend to be one who thinks a lot about major life decisions. I do very few things rashly.

      I think Taiwan was so influential for me because it was so different from anything I’d ever known. It was my first time in Asia, and my first time in a place where I stood out so starkly from the rest of the population. I was blown away by the food, the culture, the religion — all of it. Maybe it seems boring to you, but it certainly didn’t for me, a white girl from the States who’d never seen anything like it…

      • Okay, just so that you know where I am coming from, I am adding another reply here. Your first stanza is good, rich in short uniform rhythm and dressed with some imperfect rhymes. The second stanza is still not too bad, which is a fluid continuation from the first one. The rest is pretty much a gush from the first two, which serve as the setting or the cause. While the outburst of the flow of words is quite natural, it still preserves the form of poetry, which is quite good. When you read it aloud, it seems fairly straight from your heart. There wasn’t much editing involved, I suppose.

        One question though. In the phrase, “Off of on her own,” what’s that “of” for? Of what? Am I missing something after it? However, if you just smooth it over when you read it loud in your head, it sounds good. I don’t like that, because my computer cannot parse it correctly… Please let me know. Poetry is not about the feel only. The meaning has to be clear. Otherwise, you will have to depend on the authority to get you through the poetic ladder (as in the corporate ladder). That’s just too much bureaucracy for me.

      • Ahh, well see here you spotted something I missed! The “of” wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place. That was my fault. Thank you. I can see how that would have been confusing.

        And just to clarify, I by no means think this one of my best poems. It is the first poem I published on “shift,” and quite frankly I hesitated to publish it again. I am much prouder of some of my more recent work but chose to record it because it fit with this post.

      • You can insert an “and” as well, like “Off of and on her own…” Anyways. The first two stanzas are really not too bad. You can rewrite the rest if you want.

      • I already deleted the “of.” And, nah. I’d rather write new stuff. I can do better than this, and will. Starting from scratch is always more fun. Thanks for the encouragement, though!

  14. I’ve come to think that there’s very little we can change about ourselves. We are who we are. Realizing there is continual need to adjust and bend and compromise, the truth remains that all we can really do is find a way that is the closest to natural for us.
    It’s frustrating, because if you’re someone like me (and you, I suspect), all of life becomes a chore because I live in a world that is fighting ever against me.

    • I fully agree. We are who we are. You’re right that, while we can continually strive to be better, we can’t change our core. I could never ever for the life of me be a sanguine or the life of the party. It just isn’t me…

      And yet, yes, I understand that frustration. Lately I’ve been pretty down, I’ll be honest. It seems that while there are many things I like about myself, there’s that one thing that slams me to the ground, time and time again… So, yes, it’s our common struggle — learning to love ourselves and to not give a damn what the rest of the world thinks.

    • Thank you! I really appreciate all of your comments — they mean so much. Yes, I’m enjoying reading the poems aloud. I’ll keep doing it. Hope you have a wonderful weekend, too!

  15. Sounds of the Voices
    Are clipping against the trees,
    Are clipping against the,
    Mounting sides of an air.
    Air in a thin airy Man,
    Man, on a thin blink, blinking;
    And the Sounds of the Voices.

    And the Sounds of the Voices they,
    Are in a meaningful planet plan,
    So they are all in a limitful, limit;
    Limit, limited, an a sâme smile.

    On a crafty loft vessel in a climb,
    In a climbing loft on a climbing lip;
    So a climbing lip goes on a smile,
    And says:
    The Sounds of the Voices…
    The Sounds of the

    And the voices of a Smile.
    Thanks to the same old cry that flows.
    Whanks to the same old cry that lows,
    Lots in a same Ing in the flown of a crawl.
    So crawl, crawl the Flowing sense:
    Crawl the flowing sense in a long, lofty;
    Sounds of the Voices…

    Voices of a smile, So; kill her. In a,
    Klimbing voice of an Air that goes on in,
    Goes on in A Lofty hand that bleeds in a
    Room, room goes along in and on of a,
    Hanging drawers chest that opens an;
    Opens an, Opens and, the smile of an
    Ol’ways, says;
    The Sounds of the Voices.

    Yiğit İnceli

  16. ” knew what I wanted to be, and where I’d go to school, and who I’d marry (someday), and where I’d grow old. I knew who my friends would be, and how many kids I’d have…”

    well a duck – I would not have guessed you were so internally coherent. I have never known any of it, and still don’t know much of it.

    do now worry about struggle. when you cease struggling, you fade and die.

    • A good point. I’m not ashamed of my struggle. Rather, I’m proud of it! In fact, I think the less we struggle, the less interesting we are, the less open we are, the less effective we are, the less alive we are… Pushing our own envelope is, to me, the key to a successful life.

      (You *did* mean “do NOT worry about struggle,” not “do NOW” — right?)

  17. “knowing how it would turn out”… I’m sort of jealous. I wished I’d have coined that phrase in your context. Do we always think we have that knowledge? From small to large disappointments and pleasures life always seems a bit “off.” Today Ken and I are “bucket-listing” are way through Switzerland and got caught in the most godawful traffic jam. It added about one and half hours to our trip. We fumed and fretted, white knuckled and deep breathed. We became very clipped in conversation, tight lipped. You see we had dreams of eating at a little restaurant in Lucerne. It was one where we would sit outside, eat pasta, sip wine talk about life. When we arrived just a bit past 11 it was closed. Who knew any place closed in Europe, ever? Anyway, we ended up eating pizza sold by the slice on a rain soaked table outside of a bar with trucks whizzing by. This is not up there with great disappointments just a minor change of plans.

    Let’s see where was I going with this illustration, oh yes life has certainly been uncertain. You’re ahead by knowing you can’t always choose where or when things will be different (maybe never choose) but you do know what you want, you do have determination, you do have insight and imagination. Your writing skills show such a huge empathy and understanding of others struggles and sadness. Please know that I am certain that this will inform your writing. Skill is one thing but “knowing” is another. You’ve got both sweet girl.

    • Ahh, thanks so much for sharing, Terri! And I’m so glad you guys are in Switzerland! I didn’t know you were over there. I LOVE Switzerland. One of the most beautiful countries in the world, hands down… And your story about the traffic jam and stress, and arriving too late to eat at the restaurant — ahh, life. But you know what, as you said, it was just a minor change in plans, and even more, MEMORIES! I’ll never forget the time I ended up driving through a pedestrian-only street with Ron and Joan and April in… I think it was Rome? I can’t remember. Somewhere in Italy, though. We laugh about it now, but it was stressful at the time!

      You’re so sweet, Terri, and I thank you for the compliment. I certainly strive for sympathy/empathy and love writing more than anything. Hopefully, somehow, I can use these despite my weaknesses for good.

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