To commemorate my 28th birthday, I got my first tattoo – 4 characters on my left wrist – N2L&.
The tattoo serves as a reminder that it is “never too late…” to shed fear and be your most authentic self. Today as I embrace 29, I’m proud to reflect on how much I’ve grown. I credit this tattoo as a key first step in a series of big changes this year.
Part 1: The First Domino
The decision to get the tattoo was not an easy one. I had always admired them on others, but committing to something so permanent challenged every fiber of my perfectionism. Yet, I also deeply hated my inaction. Saying you want to do something and not doing it at all is often a worse crime than doing it poorly. So as my 28th birthday approached, I loosely held my very strong belief that it was time to get a tattoo.
To say everything fell into place is an understatement. I landed in New Zealand with no set plans, but a long list of potential adventures. Miraculously, all the pieces fell into place, and I woke up on my last day in Auckland with only one item left on my list – “Get a tattoo”.
I walked into a reputable tattoo parlor and asked if they could squeeze a walk-in. A stern man at the counter asked me what I was looking to get. When I told him I wanted 4 small characters on my wrist, it became obvious that I was not a customer he was interested in. My 15-minute request was not marketable art. He sent me on my way.
To soothe my rejection and figure out a new plan, I stepped into a bright pink, pop-themed coffee shop to grab a coffee. An attractive, but grungy man covered in tattoos and piercings stood out like a sore thumb. His eyes met mine for a brief moment before we both shied away.
Coffee in hand, I headed to check out the plan B option – Black Cat Tattoo. A friendly lady at the front desk asked me how she could help. I explained my request and time-constraints. I only had 3 hours before my 5 pm flight to Queenstown.
“It looks like we had a last minute cancellation at 1 pm? Does that work?” she asked.
I eagerly took the appointment without further questions. I was overwhelmed by feelings of serendipity.
I came back 15 minutes before my appointment to scan the artwork on the walls and preview the styles of the artists. Most artists had a variety of work that ranged from sweet to hard core – except one – Toby. Toby was just hard core.
“Hey, who is doing my tattoo btw?” I asked the same lady who had booked my appointment.
“Let’s see. You’re with Toby today.” she responded.
Anxiety pushed my heart rate through the roof. Why Toby? Anyoneee but Toby…
A man walked into the waiting room from the parlor. It was the attractive, grungy man from the coffee shop! We looked at each other shocked.
“Hi – I’m Toby. Are you Mei?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yes I am. I saw you earlier at the coffee shop. What a wild coincidence.” I confirmed.
I felt at ease again. The universe works in mysterious ways, and I knew in that moment that I was meant to get my first tattoo from Toby.
I explained to him what I wanted…and I wanted it all. The numbers “2” and “8” to represent my 28th birthday, the “8” to morph into an “&” to represent a story continuing, and the “2” to look like a “Z” so that it could also be read as in “New Zealand”.
“Oh and if you could light a candle and sing happy birthday while you’re doing it that would be great too” I joked.
Despite the jumbled vision, Toby free-handed an elegant design and placed the stencil on my wrist. I told him the first version was too small. He increased the size. I told him the second version was the right size, but angled off-center. He adjusted it until I was content. We pulled the trigger. I closed my eyes and looked away as the needle pierced my skin.
I turned to look at the finished design. My mind began to race – It’s too big. It’s not straight when I turn my wrist. I combined too many concepts. It’s impossible to explain in a cohesive way. My insecurities gushed through my armour.
This train of thought continued as I left the tattoo parlor and headed to the airport. I sat in the waiting dock to board and felt a calm presence take over. A deep love for myself emerged.
I saw myself as a strong woman in control of my destiny. A woman that breaks through self-limiting beliefs and takes risks.
The tattoo was not art. It was not 28, an &, or New Zealand. It had taken on a deeper meaning.
The tattoo looked perfect to me.
Part 2: A Chain of Events
Inspired by newfound confidence, I began to see the world through a lens of abundance.
When my co-worker and friend Linda casually mentioned that I’d be a good fit for her team, I became hooked on the idea. The opportunity came 6 months earlier than “planned”; however, my new risk-taking appetite craved a bigger challenge. The idea of change felt daunting; afterall, I had spent my entire career building products for internal audiences. My inner guidance knew building consumer products would give me a larger platform for impact and urged me to take a risk. Fast-forward 5 months – I fought tooth and nail to land a founding PM role on our flagship product team.
Lesson #1: It’s never too late to change your path to purpose.
Then the pandemic and riots swept the globe. San Francisco was not immune – everything changed in an instant. My beloved office closed. The city shut down and then was pillaged. Cars drove by dropping explosives that sounded like bombs. I felt unsafe to leave my building.
Yet being in my building was just as miserable. Living on top of a hill made me a slave to online shopping, groceries, and food delivery. The refrigerator failed to keep our groceries cold, and the food expired quickly. Our tiny kitchen made cooking feel like a chore. Building problems became a daily issue – the ceiling crumbled and fell – exposing hazardous asbestos, the shower regurgitated dirty water, and the toilet stopped working. The best part? Paying a pretty SF penny – 5K a month to live in a small 2 bedroom apartment built in the 19th century.
Further, my personal life turned dark. I had no car or means to escape. My circle of friends shrank as many retreated and ran away from the city. Dating lost its spark – physical chemistry could not be replicated digitally. I ran out of Netflix binges and TED talks to keep me satiated. To fill the void, retail therapy and redecorating my room became my drug of choice.
I was clearly miserable; however, I refused to accept my new reality and held onto hope that things would go back to normal.
I’ll never forget the night I decided to take action and move to Seattle. The idea of a state tax-free pandemic gap year surrounded by boundless nature enthralled me. I stayed up until 5 am researching everything about the city. My body refused to sleep and woke up again at 7 am – a sign that I was ready to pounce. After a morning walk to socialize my crazy idea with Sarah, we agreed to take the risk and move to Seattle. By 2 pm, we signed a lease for the building we live in today.
Lesson #2: It’s never too late to turn your greatest pain into the greatest pleasure.
Seattle has been a therapeutic reset. With logistical challenges no longer consuming my day-to-day, I’ve repurposed my energy towards improving my mental health and resiliency.
One area where I’ve noticed major improvements is how I approach romantic relationships. I have a penchant for acting out of fear and smothering life out of any potential connection. I saw the old habits kick in during the 4th date with someone I felt a strong connection to. I pieced together that he had been seeing other women and began to panic. I confronted him, and he apologized for the timing, but not for the actions. I left the date feeling heartbroken, lost, and confused.
In that moment of pain, I reached for my spiritual salve. Listening to Gabby Bernstein for hours a day became the norm. Her teachings helped me see that I had acted out of irrational fear (we had only known each other for 2 weeks!) and gave me a path to return to love.
Her solution was simple – surrender the outcome. I began to act out of unwavering trust that the universe would not steer me down the wrong path. He was my assignment. It was time for me to step up and face my assignment or like a broken record – replay my destructive tendencies over and over again. And so I chose to apologize to him for reacting out of fear and instead, re-channeled my focus towards being grateful for the moments of joy as they came.
A dozen encounters later, we continue to build on our initial connection organically. Spending time with him reminds me of my own completeness. He inspires me to use my gifts on a larger scale and put in the work to make things happen. Our connection is my favorite surprise of 2020.
Lesson #3: It’s never too late to surrender control and accept spiritual guidance.
I feel immense gratitude for the learnings from this year, and the people who have been my assignments. The path to change is steep and winding, and being pushed to the point of tears is a regular part of the narrative. However, I can attest the pain is worth the prize. Even rejection – examined through a wider lens – is simply love-in-disguise.
At 29, I’m feeling prime – pun intended – to be a beacon for love. The risks I’ve taken this past year have shown me the limits of my resiliency. I feel more ready than ever to conquer the parts unknown.
Thank you for your support on this journey.