Happiness, Ambition and the Renaissance Fair

Happiness, Ambition and the Renaissance Fair


I know.  It’s been a while.  And the site was down for a bit.

I have switched to a new server and am still working out the kinks.  If you found that some of the comments you left recently were deleted, please forgive me–some of the newer comments did not make the leap over to the new server.  Expect at least another week until things are back to normal.

Unfortunately, I can’t blame the lack of updates on the server alone.  To be brutally honest, I have been struggling emotionally–so much so, I find it difficult to write.  I am still suffering from severe reverse culture shock, even after one year. I tried to summarize my feelings and anxieties in a post to conclude my one year anniversary here in the United States, but none of the drafts seemed to convey just what I was feeling.  Plus, I was paranoid about sounding like a whiny, Asia-homesick weenie.

Like the stereotypical distraught writer figure, I was crumpling up my blog posts into paper balls and tossing them into the digital trash bin.  I had have  extremely bad writer’s block.

So in a rare change, I am going to ramble.

Does Ambition Make us Happy?

San Diego

I came across a very interesting article that talked about how relationships are more important than ambition. The article details how those that have achieved what society deems as “success” are actually less happier than their smug counterparts that never “amounted to much.”

The article contrasts the life of a traveling journalist with his homebody sister.  While the journalist saw the world and achieved mass media success, the sister planted herself happily in a small town and continued to build a smug, fulfilling community.  Although most would say the journalist was more “successful,” the homebody sister was actually happier in the long run since she was constantly surrounded and supported by her friends, family and community.  Eventually, the sister was diagnosed with cancer.  Instead of fight the battle alone, the entire town chipped in to support her.

The journalist brother then realized what was truly important–what happiness truly is.  He then understood that if he were to get cancer, no one would come running to his side.

In America, we are taught to ‘live up to your potential’ and ‘to be the best we can be.’  We’re trained from a young age that anything is possible with hard work, determination and a splash of intelligence.  This mindset is what helped create the Steve Jobs and Sheryl Sandbergs of today.  It’s a set of beliefs that value ambition more than anything else.

Yet sometimes I think we forget about what really makes us happy.  What really matters.happy

This article struck a very personal chord with me.  These days, I often feel like I fell short of all my ambitious goals in high school, post college, and even from a few years ago.  I felt like I haven’t reached my full potential.  I often feel like I hit rock bottom in America (aka fell from my fulfilling and prestigious life in China) and am scrambling to piece together the broken shared of my life in the U.S.

On the other Hand?

One of my family friends recently had a daughter.

“We need to send her to the best schools,” she said to her mother.  “If we send her to the 70k/annual elite, private preschool, she can get into the elite private elementary school and then get on track to attend the elite junior high and high school–and thus, attend Harvard.  All of her friends will be future movie stars, congressmen and women, entrepreneurs and leaders.  She’ll be running with the right crowd.”

My stomach twists into knots whenever I hear this family friend talk about her daughter’s future life.  While some might consider the daughter as ‘lucky’ for being born into such a financially well-to-do family that is determined to see their child succeed, I can’t help but think…Does getting into an ivy league school, having a seven digit salary and exchanging cocktails with future contenders for the oval office make you happy?  …What does it all even mean?

I need to stop thinking about failed dreams and wasted ambitions.  Instead, I need to focus on what I have and to be grateful.  Graduating from an ivy league school and getting a top-notch job is not what makes us happy.  It’s the people we love and care about.  And we should treasure them, always.

The Renaissance Fair

Ye Auld Jenga
Ye Auld Jenga

A few weeks ago I went to one of the country’s largest renaissance fairs.  It was my first time attending one, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  While I am a fantasy nerd and medieval geek at heart, I was apprehensive about what I might find at the fair.

Would it be a strange and awkward geekfest? 

A creepy assembly of those that don’t have a grip on reality?

A den of cosplaying drunks?

The Queen
The Queen

Surprisingly, it was none of that.

It was a place where one could escape the real world, if only for a few hours, and live in the realm of their dreams and fantasies.  It was a place where you’re Tom the accountant at the ticket window, but instantly transform into the Duke of Ettingshire (or wherever) after you step through the entrance.

No one worried about what they looked like or what they said.  Instead, everyone was drinking mead, feasting on turkey legs and laughing at the jesters performing on the stage, or cheering on their favorite jouster at the arena.  No one had a care in the world.

Yes, they had a blacksmith on site
Yes, they had a blacksmith on site

Although I didn’t dress up and go into full renaissance mode, I enjoyed myself immensely at the fair.  I talked with lords and ladies, nobles and the not-so-noble, and I threw a javelin.

Yes, I threw a javelin–and I didn’t kill anyone.  Somehow.

If you’re a fantasy geek (or even if you aren’t), the Renaissance fair is absolutely amazing.  The Pleasure Renaissance Fair happens at various venues throughout the year in the United States, and if you’re near one I highly recommend a visit.

Renaissance Pleasure Fair

It’s a very much needed break from reality–with mead.  Lots of mead.

So hopefully I’ll get back to posting on schedule and my writer’s block will go away.  Maybe I need some more mead to stir up writer’s inspiration!

11 thoughts on “Happiness, Ambition and the Renaissance Fair

  1. That is the main reason why I am afraid to go back to the States. I had so much turmoil in Maine/New England area. It’s a love/hate relationship, if that make sense. Also, we have no money to go back because the cost of living in the States is horrid – you basically live on non-existent disposable income. I don’t miss that.

    I’ve always felt like a failure throughout my life. I still struggle with it, but you have a point: It’s the people we love and care about that matters the most. The downside of moving around often is that I don’t make friends. Period. I am an introvert, so it’s even worse.

    I’m glad you had that break. We all need them.

    1. Eileeen!

      I’m always moving too so it’s hard to keep friends (I’ve built my life up from scratch at least 4 times already). I think that’s why it was so hard for me to leave Shanghai, it was the first time in my life I had such a tight knit community of friends that became family… and I miss them.

      Yeah, moving back is rough.. I don’t recommend it. And from many of the posts on your blog, I feel your strong attachment to Taiwan, and how it has kind of become a new ‘home’ to you. I think Shanghai became my new home, so when I come back to my country of origin I feel weird. Really out of place. And I’ve only been to Taipei/Taiwan once, but it was AWESOME! I don’t blame you for loving it so much, I would totally move there if I could find work! (Taiwan feels like China minus the corruption/communism).

      And yes, cost of living here is awful. I think America is too expensive and not worth the price tag (and driving, I can’t deal with it!!).

      Thanks for your comment of support. It means a lot to me.

      1. The downside living in Taiwan or China for me is that (especially in China), I can’t work. It is not legal. I only have a “family reunion visa” where I can be with my husband. Right when we left for Taiwan, I just graduated from cosmetology and realized that I have to continue my studies to become a beautician for the deceased…but that’s another story. I know that when I go back to the States, this long blank record will not look good. “What have you been doing for the past three years?” “Well, I sold artwork online…”

        I can’t be an English teacher. That is out of the question. So yes, I am dreadfully scared to go back to the States. I try to tell myself that there are 50 year old people who go back to college and change careers…so there’s hope…I think! xD

        (seriously though, they should have jobs that aren’t just for extroverts)

        I can relate about finding home in Shanghai. I lived here for over two years now. It has become routine. Haha.

        You want to know what’s sad? I don’t have a driver’s license. I am not fit to drive. (Hey, I care about other people’s safety)! I blank out. Too often.

  2. Oh, I so feel you, and really wish we could hang out (esp since you’re a fellow fantasy nerd). I’m still struggling a bit almost three years after China – though honestly, a large part of that is deciding not to pursue a real job and focus on artsy/freelance stuff. It leaves me divorced from reality.

    Sometimes, I feel weird that I didn’t live up to my potential at all. I always thought that I’d have a PhD, be a professional, and achieve that usual idea of success. But it’s ok – I’m happy as I am, trying out self-employment, and now I really value personal happiness over ambition. Like, I could have spent 5-7 years post college on that PhD. . .or I could have traveled, worked abroad, and had adventures. And the latter was actually my real, lifelong dream, even if it hasn’t resulted in the kind of professional success that people admire. I could have stayed in Asia and had a good life, but it’s worth it to me to be closer to my family. Plus, I keep reminding myself that I didn’t actually LIKE teaching English enough to do it my whole life; I mostly liked the lifestyle of having a high income, low cost of living, and travel opportunities.

    1. Kelly! I really wish we lived near each other too, I know we’d have so many things to discuss and talk about (such as fantasy books). Hearing you say that you still struggle 3 years later strangely comforts me. I guess I thought that ‘time would heal my wounds,’ but even a year later I still feel like I’m in the very early recovery phase. Getting over culture shock abroad wasn’t so hard, but getting over reverse culture shock in the USA is going to take even longer, I’m guessing.

      Whenever I feel bad about the potential I didn’t live up to, I think about those that have done what I essentially want to do–and looking at their downsides. Getting a PhD would cost loads of money, and many of my friends that are doing prestigious jobs are working from 7am to midnight with no holidays. I don’t know if I could do that, or would want to do that.

      I didn’t like being a teacher abroad either, although it was rewarding work. You just kind of know when a job isn’t meant for you, and for me English teaching was not it.

      And I respect you a lot for being brave and going freelance with your writing and web work. I thought about doing it once but I got so paranoid about not having an income (despite that I live with my bf and he is very stable and reliable) I chickened out. Still, sometimes I kick myself and wish I turned down my current job and went freelance. The freedom is liberating. I’ve been following your blog for a while and it’s been amazing to see it transform with all the skills you’ve learned, and how you’ve branched it out so much. I look forward to reading even more of it.

      Thanks so much for the comment Kelly. It means a lot!

      1. Aw, thanks! I’m still super paranoid about not having an income though! It’s hampered my progress , because sometimes I’m like, “I need a job NOW” and just spend fruitless weeks job searching. It definitely helps that my boyfriend has a good job with a reliable income; I don’t think I would have gone anywhere near this path if I hadn’t been with him.

        I think part of the reverse culture shock problem is that I really became an adult abroad. Like, real job, making it alone, paying the bills, being completely independent and jetsetting whenever. And then I came home, and it was like I reverted back to college me, and now I have to become an adult all over again. Except that I really haven’t yet, since I pretty much couldn’t do it on my own with the limited job prospects.

  3. I chose to stay in China, but if I had gone back home there would be some obvious advantages: I would have friends, I would be close to my family, I wouldn’t need to worry about food safety and air pollution (haha, not that I really worry much, as there is nothing I can do about it). .. and I would be able to attend my friends’ weddings. Two very good friends are getting married in a few weeks and I won’t be able to attend :_(

    But we have to focus on the positive. After all, life is about the little things. What does success mean? Wealth and fame don’t mean anything to me; I spend very little money (because I don’t desire many things, the only big spending I have is travel!) and I am not interested in being famous or in having people envy me. For me, success is being good at what you do, whatever it is!

    The Renaissance fair looks very fun!! There is something similar in my hometown in Spain. Look up Caceres in google images, the city center is from 500 or 600 years ago and very well preserved (there’s still people living there!), it is the perfect background for our renaissance fair!

    I’m happy you’re back, Mary! 加油!

    1. I’m with you Marta, wealth and fame mean nothing to me–but I guess I was hoping I would do a job that was more in line with my childhood dreams or even my post-grad goals. I know it’s not ‘too late’ and I’m trying to change, but I also have to remember that no matter what happens I have to be grateful for what I have!

      I know you have a great China community over there in Suzhou. While you have friends in family in Spain, you also have C, his family, and all of your other China friends. You have a great life in China, Marta!

      Awww Spain does Renaissance fairs too!?!? I bet they’re super fun!!! Spain is the perfect place to do it! Did you ever go? I would be super interested in a Renaissance Fair in China, haha, I bet that would be so bizarre.

      Thanks for the words of encouragement Marta, you’re so cooool!!!

  4. I enjoyed your so-called ramblings! I found them insightful, actually.

    You are so right about happiness. In Jonathan Haidt’s “Happiness Hypothesis,” which is filled with all sorts of footnoted medical studies (including MRIs, traumatic brain injuries, etc.), he eventually came to the same conclusion. One of the biggest components of human happiness is a sense of community. So it must be incredibly traumatic to be uprooted from one community in Asia, cope with culture shock, and reform another community here in the U.S. I hope you find your communities soon.

    Yes, the measures of success vary from country to country, and I think you can see the difference. In a very simplistic way, if you look at one of the happiest countries in the world, Denmark, they have evolved into a more socialist society, where medical needs and education are taken care of by the state. The work hours are shorter, family leave is longer. For those countries still in the throes of industrialization and growth, or where there is a tremendous cultural emphasis on work, it reminds me of the U.S. in the fifties and eighties — all about “keeping up with the Joneses,” and material markers for success. Right now, the U.S. is polarized, with half the country looking for a more progressive government, and half pushing for the laissez faire of 100 years ago.

    It doesn’t surprise me that you have friends determined to map out their kid’s life. Networks can be very helpful to material success, but…a movie star? Really? Most child stars, and many children of stars, are about as messed up as you can get. It’s because everyone on very, very expensive movie sets needs to get the shot as fast as possible, and they will promise these kids anything. No one says no to them and they never learn boundaries. It’s awful. Wouldn’t wish that on any kid.

    I think mead is a very, very important component of the Renaissance Fair. I always love the falconers, but I would have enjoyed the Fair more with less inhibitions. You guys did it up right!

    1. Autumn, I wrote a HUUUUUGE LOONG comment and the internet fairy crapped all over it and now it’s gone. Sad. I’m sorry I’m late with the reply.

      Thank you for your kind words and wisdom! You are so knowledgeable with all your research and statistics! Yes, I agree, I think having a community (no matter where it is, or how big/small) is absolutely vital to being happy. I read somewhere that it would take an extra 200k a year to compensate for the unhappiness you would feel in moving away from friends/family for a job. Although the people in Shanghai weren’t blood related, they basically became my family. Leaving them and having (almost) no community in L.A. has been the hardest adjustment by far (although the LA traffic comes in close second!)

      I don’t know if you watch Anthony Bourdain, but he went to Denmark to interview the head chef at the world’s #1 restaurant, Noma. The chef said he was ostracized in Copenhagen because his restaurant was too flashy and famous, with the local newspapers even labeling him a “capitalistic pig.” In America, a restaurant of such prestige would be highly respected and probably get a reality TV show, while in egalitarian Denmark it’s frowned upon to so openly ‘one-up’ someone else. Watching that was an eye opener to me, since I grew up in the USA and thought the rich/successful should be respected–over there, they saw him as some macho chef trying to show off.

      I think in LA families also tend to be more obsessed with giving their children material success (at least, that’s my one year observation). Everyone wants to drive the best car, go to the best schools, live in the best neighborhoods–even go to the ‘best’ hospitals. My family friend was not wealthy to begin with, but she was so determined to join the elite crowd she spent years and years searching to buy a home in Bel-Air (probably so her child could attend the schools in the area). Anyway, this 70-100k preschool is where the children of celebrities go to school, so when I say ‘child movie stars’ I’m just assuming one of those will end up a celebrity of some sort. And yes, child star life sounds so, so awful. I wouldn’t wish that on my child.

      Renaissance fair was super fun. It was my first time to have mead–and man, does it pack a punch! I only had one cup but I was gone. I had no idea the stuff was so lethal (it tasted like juice so I assumed it was weak, but I was wrong…). Anyway, even without mead it’s just a super fun event. I really liked seeing how everyone got into character and forgot about their regular life for a day. I’m a fantasy nerd too, so hearing the bard sing, seeing a jousting match and having the pub wenches heckle me was pretty fun!

      Thank you again Autumn! Your comments are always so insightful!

  5. The longer I live in Japan the more I feel anxious about going back to Germany at one point. It is like you said, you have to start all over again, and you might even be in a situation, where noone cares workwise, if you have awesome language skills or about what you learnt in your job abroad. But on the other hand, I would be really sad to think that I would forever live so far away from my family, being only able to see them once a year. It is complicated…I think you were very brave to go back to the States after having lived and worked in other contries for such a long time. And you probably made the decision to go back, because you were not a 100 per cent satisfied or happy with your life abroad, either, – so it might have been the best decision at that time. I truely believe that people, who work hard for their dreams, can actually achieve them, so even if you are struggling at the moment, I am sure that you can find (again), what makes you happy, – be it a successful working life or a place where you feel you belong to 🙂

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