Working It Out

The past two weeks have been incredibly challenging.

This is not directly due to life in quarantine, but rather due to life at a less-than-ideal workplace. In the meantime, daily lunch (and sometimes dinner) chats with my Japanese classmates, the steady rhythm of tea classes and discussions, as well as sunny afternoons in my garden have kept me afloat.

Without delving into the nitty gritty details of workplace conflicts, I want to take some time to reflect very broadly on the emotions and lessons that have weathered me recently.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from this ordeal is that my ideal workplace is not defined necessarily by the prestige of the position or company, but rather by the social environment of those around me in the office. And while my current pay grade is embarrassingly low, I wouldn’t mind it quite as much if I had supportive leadership and feasible projects. I’m reminded of my summers interning at various monasteries for the mere exchange of food and shelter.

Working at the temple was no easy feat. It involved early mornings, late nights, barely any time to shower or do laundry in between, and the occasional all-nighter as we prepped for special ceremonies, meticulously arranged fruit on a platter, and finished proofreading extensive translation projects. But despite all of this, I was happy with the work, and I enjoyed the environment.

Thinking back to my time at The Huntington, when I spent a summer researching and translating Chinese poetry, I would say that is still my favorite job. There I worked in an office with people who loved to chat about classical literature, East Asian design and aesthetics, and combined their mastery of niche knowledge with kindness.

And so, as I look for other jobs now, I am not looking for something that pays a lot, nor am I looking for the name of a prestigious company. I am open to anything, and really, what I want to know is everything that happens behind the job ad. What is their office like? How collaborative is the environment? How transparent are different groups towards each other?

Perhaps two years ago, my former college advisor said to me , “Andrew, you could survive with close to nothing.”

And although I know I can always survive with next to nothing, I want to be able to thrive with next to nothing. Financially, I don’t feel particularly burdened, although each time I get paid my mom laughs at how she makes more washing dishes. To thrive though, I know I need to work in a space which is collaborative yet efficient, critical yet kind, ambitious yet realistic.

Without these traits, I simply feel like I would be working to survive, rather than working to grow.

And I sure hope there’s some growth after everything has been worked out.

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