By Karen Desai
This is my mother at the age of 25 and my father at 27 on the day of their arranged wedding in India.
I grew up seeing this photo framed in my living room my entire childhood, always reminded of their story: My mother’s parents invited my dad over for tea. My father was awestruck by my mom’s beauty, intelligence and unique ambitions — he thought she had it all. My mother felt that my father talked too much, yet they shared common goals of becoming doctors and moving to America. It was a match. And with that, they were married, moved to America in 1975, practiced medicine, had two children and today are enjoying 40 years of marriage.
My parents were driven by a few unified goals, and that’s what motivated them to take a giant leap together.
Today I’m the same age as my mother in that photo, and I don’t understand how my parents did all of this. For the first time in my life, I feel the pressure of several pivotal decisions — relocation, career, a serious relationship — and I’m frozen in fear, unable to choose one path over the other.
I moved to New York City at the age of 17 for college and have lived here for nearly eight years, now working in media and marketing. I owe my growth and development to this vivacious city. It threw me into a playground of opportunity, energy and sin. I learned how to say "no," "yes" and to ask for more — transforming into the independent and driven person I am today. In this city, I’m surrounded by strong, ambitious friends who have the desire to learn and see the world. They are excelling in their careers, moving to new countries, meeting exciting people — living seemingly without worries. So many of my peers say, “We’re in our 20s — this is the time to take risks, be independent. It’s the only time we can be selfish.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to achieve the goals I have set as an ‘I,’ when I also become a ‘we.’ I’ve stood at this fork in the road for months now — what path do I take to ensure I have the most fulfilling journey ahead of me?”
But I’m also in a committed relationship with my boyfriend of five years who is waiting for me to move to Chicago after being long-distance for over two years. I love him, he loves me, my friends and family love him. We could live near our families, get married, settle down. While this premeditated future is something I definitely desire, what has both brought us closer and driven us apart for so long is shared ambition and our individual longing for fulfilling careers. Leaving New York, where my career is growing, seems to contradict the independent, adventurous mindset I share and appreciate with my peers and colleagues.
I don’t know if moving to Chicago and starting a life there with him will hurt the career I’ve worked hard to build here in New York. I don’t know if this move will inevitably impact the independence I have fostered as a New Yorker. And I don’t know if I’ll be able to achieve the goals I have set as an “I,” when I also become a “we.”
I’ve stood at this fork in the road for months now — what path do I take to ensure I have the most fulfilling journey ahead of me? I’ve been paralyzed and unable to take a step forward, filled with the fear that I may choose wrong. I’ve continued to delay my move to Chicago, effectively hurting someone I deeply care for, and yet unable to truly live my life in New York City with one foot out the door.
“My parents shared stories I’ve never heard before — stories of the rejection they faced when moving to America, the risks they took starting their own medical practice, the multiple failures that taught them how to work together through thick and thin. … It was the perspective I needed.”
Recently I watched Netflix’s “Master of None,” and I realized that these are sentiments shared among many millennials. Taking a cue from the show, I confronted my parents about my fears to understand how they felt at my age. They shared stories I’ve never heard before — stories of the rejection they faced when moving to America, the risks they took starting their own medical practice, the multiple failures that taught them how to work together through thick and thin. As a couple, they struggled and succeeded to achieve one selfless goal: to create a comfortable and happy future for their family. After hearing these stories, I felt like my situation was trivial in comparison. It was the perspective I needed.
At one point in “Master of None,” Dev (Aziz Ansari’s character) reads a quote from “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath: “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.... I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
I don’t know what my future should be or will be, but I do know I no longer want to be paralyzed with — starving from — indecision. I want to move forward with my life. I want to be surrounded by people who inspire me and embrace me for me. My boyfriend does just that, and I’d like to build a life with him in Chicago so that we can try to achieve our goals, together.
I’m learning to be comfortable with creating unified goals, not knowing what mistakes and lessons our future holds. Like my parents, I’ve decided to take that leap of faith — to Chicago, definitely a shorter distance than India to America — in pursuit of building my life with another.
Karen Desai is a product marketing manager who resides in New York City, soon to be residing in Chicago.