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What do you want, anyway?

Last summer, I lived in a $450 sublet with a grease and filth-covered kitchen and 2 roommates. I didn’t make much money, but because rent was so cheap, I swung a trip Mexico for a week and attended my first Burning Man.

There was an amazing Chinese bakery across the street, a fantastic thrift shop next door, and Super 88 was a 5 minute walk away.

I was happy as a clam.

From September 2011 until mid-May 2012, I didn’t have a permanent address. While traveling through Asia, I didn’t work much and managed to break even after 4 months on the road. The entire trip, including airfare, cost about 8k. If I’d been even more cost conscious, I could probably done it for 6k.

After I got back to the US, I stayed on friends couches and with my parents for a few months. I thought about moving to Buenos Aires for the summer and learning Spanish. I looked up airfare, apartments, language immersion classes.

Still, I couldn’t shake my weariness. You know how people become lawyers to win their parents’ and peers’ approval? It’s crazy, but I was doing the same thing. I felt obligated to live out other peoples’ aborted dreams. That I was disappointing some phantom audience if I didn’t learn every language, visit every country, do this whole “travel thing.” Just because I knew that I could.

Not entirely sold on Buenos Aires, I got a short-term Boston sublet and picked up more clients, waiting to see what transpired.

Summer crept in, thick and golden. In July, I took a 2 week trip to Italy, because I could. I wandered beautiful miles of coastline and ate a few kilo of gelato. I hung out with backpackers, and saw the same travel stories play out: transient relationships, chance encounters, pantomimes.

A college friend happened to be in Lake Como. We rode the funicular to admire an panoramic view, then took a ferry to visit a villa.

As we walked back to the ferry, dripping wet from a dip in the water, I said to him: “You know what my problem is? I shouldn’t travel… unless I actually want to.”

The American couple walking behind us burst out in unmuffled laughter.

I felt a dark flash of embarrassment. I sounded spoiled. All the money and time in the world, whatever will I do?

I know what you’re thinking: give me a fucking break.


In order to succeed at anything – absolutely anything – the first step is always the same.

Get clear on what you want. Define the goal.

But why is the wanting so unclear?

Most people don’t want to grapple with the underbelly of this question.

It calls all your life choices into doubt. If you want something different than what you’re doing, it makes you feel like a hypocrite. And you already have a great resume – no one’s ever accused you of screwing up your life, so everything must be fine.

But that’s not the actual issue.

Consider this: if someone held a gun to your head, you’d give an answer.

It’s not that you don’t know. It’s that you don’t trust yourself.

Who are you to make that call, anyway?


After I got back from Italy, I thought: what am I waiting for?

I signed the lease for a studio apartment in downtown Boston after 2 days of hunting. It was much more expensive than last summer’s accommodation, and not a whole lot more luxurious – but it was mine.

I started working more and reattempted dating. Work went a lot better than dating, as is often the case. I stopped worrying so much about what I was going to do after freelancing, and began to focus on what I enjoyed about it. Things have gone well. I’m surprised and grateful.

I feel strange about writing this post. There’s no conclusion. And then I lived happily ever after? That would be boring and a lie.

And if I don’t post it now, I’ll just keep tacking things onto the end, or rewriting sections. But I suppose that’s ok – unless I get hit by a bus tomorrow, no one’s expecting a neat ending.



2 Responses to “What do you want, anyway?”

  1. – Define the goal…

    – Take Action
    – Assess the Results
    and if they aren’t what you wanted…

    We should do another late night ramen rendezvous soon.

    Posted by Phil | November 14, 2012, 8:12 pm
  2. hey

    but please go into more detail. here is what I mean Lingbo. And I am not trying to bother you:

    I like to see what you see in Italy. I live amongs A LOT of italians. I can eat at any moment in time, pesto , oil, risotto, pasta or any other deli as good as if not better than Italy. What would make Italy THAT much more appealing to me?

    Perhaps a bad question to ask and to print.. but nonetheless.. it is a view.

    see you..

    Posted by hey | December 6, 2012, 7:21 pm

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Lana Lingbo Li

I'm a world traveler / enthusiastic eater who's now blogging and producing videos over at HelloLana.com. Visit me there!

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