Essay, Vitae, Resume

Life isn’t your resume.

Floating around in the gray matter beneath my skull are 750+ shape-shifting Chinese characters, 350 lingering GRE words, a dozen grad school application statements and essays, two timezones, assorted emotions, mixed feelings, and a baffled sense of being.

Especially when you’re an American transplant in the world’s largest city by population, your mind exhorts you to define yourself. Who are you really? What makes you you? But in this country of 1.4 billion, you’ll never be unique. In this city of 24.2 million, you’re bound to get lost.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! In fact, once you’re lost and replaceable, you’re under a lot less pressure. The stress of constantly proving yourself fades away a bit.

I speak from experience here.

Finding myself suddenly unable to communicate with the people around me has been humbling — a defining moment to say the least. I couldn’t simply open my mouth and express the thoughts which I believed to be an integral part of what makes me who I am. My gut reaction was to panic in the face of the indomitable task of learning Mandarin (if you’ve ever attempted this language before, you’ll know just what I mean). Reaching a point at which I could once again define myself by expressing my thoughts is still miles away.

Given the context, that task alone was enough to make me rethink my definition of self. I chose to come here, after all. I gave up other opportunities to be here. I chose, but sometimes it seems like I threw darts blindfolded. Shanghai knocked me out, and after I came to, I forgot that I used to have amnesia: it was only a few months ago when I said that it’s all just a crapshoot, that shit choices could actually be the good ones.

So if you told me that life doesn’t start when you go abroad for a year, I’d understand you now. Life started from time immemorial. It started before I put pen to paper or even set foot on this Earth. Thousands of actions that caused tenfold reactions led me here. It wasn’t just one or two, and it was out of my hands to ever really begin with. Not because it’s fated, but because it’s inexplicable. And in this moment, it’s irrelevant whether it was the clever choice or not-so-clever one that led me here because choices don’t always define me or my life.

In other words, life didn’t start when I decided to live in Shanghai. But then again, life didn’t ever really “start” at all — I just thought it did.

And so I find myself repeating the mantra that life isn’t my resume. It’s not. Instead, it’s an infinitely worthless journey on the surface of this tiny planet in a vast universe. Which is probably the profoundest relief of my life. My life isn’t my grad school admission essay or any essay for that matter. My life isn’t my resume, vitae, or forte.

For the time being, life seems to be somehow surviving without making things worse.

Author: Erik Fruth

Erik lived in Shanghai from September 2014 to July 2015 while studying Mandarin at Fudan University and teaching English. Since then, he's continued writing and working in Ventura County, California.