“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
For me, it was an astronaut. Curiosity about the unknown was always a part of my nature. I remember the freedom and excitement I had as a child, so pure and honest—then life happened. I veered away from what it meant to be myself, and I was yearning for it back. As I began to discover self-love through self-care, things became more clear, life became more exciting, and I became happier.
When I entered high school, I succumbed to the woes of teenage pressure, conforming to the inevitable expectations in order to feel accepted. In college, the pressure only escalated, and I was, perhaps like many of my peers, pressured to decide the direction of my adult life and choose a career at the age of 18, just barely an adult, and already submitting countless applications to score my first salaried job as a designer. I went from job to job and climbed the financial ladder hoping to meet the expectations of my family and society, and eventually reached my goal of becoming art director for a leading design collective in Los Angeles...only to realize that life meant so much more.
Two years into my job, sitting on the shelves at SFMOMA, my designs were on full display. It was a proud moment for me, and I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. But as time went by, and I continued to do this work, I started to wonder, “What did all of this mean to me?” It was a daunting question; though I enjoyed my work, I also knew a part of me was unfulfilled and that going forward meant making a change. The thought of my work being mass-produced in countries where workers are forced into long hours in often poor working conditions—the epitome of unjust consumerism and capitalism—started to diminish the passion I felt for what I loved doing: using my ideas and art to solve problems.
My values are far more important to me than a shelf filled with my work. And though the decision wasn’t easy—the thought of it was extremely anxiety-inducing—I knew I had to stick to my beliefs and reconnect with a life lived in curiosity and, more importantly, honesty. Within a day of my promotion to art director, I quit my job. At the time, it felt like the biggest decision of my life, but I knew if I let fear take this one, I would never be in control of my own happiness. So I did it for me. And it changed the course of my life.
I wanted that excitement back that I had when I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I no longer want to be an astronaut, but that little boy who was always filled with wonder and freedom still lives inside me, calling for a life that is full. A life that is grand. A life that is happy. A life that is made and built through trusting myself and experiencing things outside of what’s prescribed and expected. I wanted to contribute to humanity, to be challenged, to know self-love—the missing puzzle piece to my true happiness—so that I could give back more to the world.
Change can be intimidating, but trusting in myself also reaffirmed the love I have for myself. For the first time in my life, I feel free from all that was holding me back. I feel liberated, excited, inspired, self-assured, and I feel like everything will be okay. I am certain that any change in my life is an opportunity for growth. Through this process, I’m learning that when you take care of yourself and your well-being, your mind is in a healthy place, and when your mind is in a healthy place, it means you are ready for the opportunities that are awaiting you. I am fortunate enough to be self-employed, to have the freedom to choose to only participate in work that feels honest to who I am.
Though I have no certainty in where these decisions will lead me, I am confident about one thing: me. Self-love is a constant and daily practice, a valuable investment for a rich, full, and happy life. As you learn to love yourself a little more, you seek less validation from the outside world. Decisions are made with honesty and compassion—and when you can be honest with yourself and others, it eliminates any need for outside validation. So where am I now in my career? I split my time between being a self-employed designer working with clients who share similar values, and Spacemakers, a community organization that I host monthly for queer and trans people of color. I wake up every morning excited about my day, and I go to sleep every night knowing I’m doing my best. Though I don’t live in a luxury apartment or drive a fancy car, I’m surrounded by people who inspire me, and I live in a world that only gets more beautiful every day.
Written by Ly Tran for Youth To The People