The Gratitude of Seeing the Forest

From the Portola Redwoods State Park


This is something I wrote while I had some time to think and reflect. Obviously, I’m not currently sitting on a plane… 

I never imagined that I would be here in this moment. Years ago, I was frustrated and fed up. Everyone around me seemed to be doing so well, joining cool companies or doing interesting work. I wanted a piece of it but it always seemed just out of reach. I was ready to go do something else. Drop design entirely and be something else, anything but me.

Now as I write this, I am on a plane heading back to the US after a business trip to Germany. Before this, I never really traveled to Europe and I’ve now done so on 3 separate occasions. Sure, it’s for business, but even on business trips you get a glimpse into local culture and customs (maybe even more than if I were just a tourist).

What’s even more interesting to me than the travel aspect is the people I’ve met. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with colleagues in Germany, to be part of some portion of their lives. I mean sure, it’s mostly just work, and of course we aren’t bonded together as BFF’s or anything, but I still think that for them to know me and for me to know them is a pretty miraculous thing. I mean, how many events in the world need to align in order for us to be aware of each other’s existence?

I was just some goofy kid growing up in the Midwest who just happened to like drawing a lot more than his peers. Back then, I hadn’t thought much of the rest of the world. Of course, I knew there was much more out there than where I lived, but it was in the same way you know there’s hair on the back of your head. You never really see it, so how often do you give it much thought? The idea that I’d one day be working, no, collaborating with people in Germany for projects was so far from my mind that it might as well not have even existed.

And how could they know as well? I don’t know too much about their respective pasts, but I sincerely doubt that as kids growing up in Germany that they would have ever conceived of the idea that they’d be working with a Chinese American guy coming over from the Silicon Valley. There’s just no way to chart that kind of course in life.

In many ways, it’s kind of absurd, no? I mean just the way it sounds, a Chinese American designer goes to Germany to brainstorm solutions for luxury vehicles with German colleagues, there’s something about it that goes beyond fiction. This whole scenario could not have been scripted and really seems impossible for any of that to even work. But in the end it did and I am not just making up stories.

We also just did a podcast on negativity. I totally understand the feeling when people get frustrated and annoyed with their jobs. I did. And perhaps I still will. In those times, it is extremely difficult to see the forest for the trees. You get hung up on the details, why are things happening to you, what could you have done differently, is there anyone else feeling the same way, etc. But this is exactly why having a positive outlook helps a lot. You never really know what will happen in your life. You never know who you’ll meet or have the chance to spend time with. It’s such a strange thing to realize when you can take a step back from the everyday world you live in, to see the people you encounter as more than just things external to you, but really as extensions of events in your life that were perhaps long in the making.

I don’t want to act like there is some heavy cosmic significance to everything, because I honestly don’t believe that there is. But at the same time, it’s hard to understand how a tiny insignificant choice from years past could have set me on this path today. At the time, all I felt was an urge to change, and only years later as I look back now, it’s easy to see how much I did.

In the end, the only thing I can say is that I am truly grateful for the things I’ve experienced, as seemingly difficult as they appeared to be at first. We always have choices in life. Nothing is ever deterministic. Perhaps in our minds we like to perceive things more severely sometimes, so it can be hard to really see your options. But there is always the possibility for conditions to change or perhaps more accurately, for you to change your outlook and in turn other things will fall into place. There will certainly be more challenges ahead. I’m not dumb. There’s still a long road ahead of me, and it will almost certainly continue to challenge me. But I cannot expect success by dragging the baggage of the past down the road to the future. There are too many people to meet, to collaborate with, to experience things with. I guess in a way, I’m lucky. I work with a lot of great people on a lot of unique projects (and not just for Mercedes). Despite some challenging hurdles, I feel a lot of gratitude for what I’ve been able to accomplish in my time so far.

And to that, I say to everyone “Thank you.”

The Gratitude of Seeing the Forest

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