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A short time after I returned from traveling for a year, I panicked about discovering my life calling (not much has changed there) and started looking for ways to travel on someone else’s money. Instead of applying for jobs, I applied for contests. (In the end, aren’t all job applications contests?) There was one contest where I would have been able to video blog for a year as I completed things from my international bucket list. After submitting what I thought was a hilariously winning video, I soon learned that I came out to be in the top 30 finalists out of 1300, but not in the necessary 10 to move on.

This made me feel worse about myself instead of feeling very, very proud.

So I next applied to a travel writing scholarship to China, with a story I’ve written over and over again, one that’s so very dear to me. I get the sense that people who have read my writing before have read this story a reasonable number of times with slight variations to it. I swear to you, dear reader, this is the last time I’ll edit this story.

I discovered that I made it to the top 25 finalists out of 1150 entries. I didn’t really expect to win this contest, I’m suddenly more and more convinced that I should keep writing. Although I didn’t win the contest, I’m getting an official certificate for making it to the shortlist.

Surely I must be doing something right.

Feel free to read the story here. Or keep reading below.

You Raksha My World

Watching me jump out of the moving bus, she waved and adjusted one end of her scarf, her dupatta, over her shoulder. At 5’2” with her head tilted to one side and hair in a thick braid, she looked more like a timid teen on a first date rather than a Bharata Natyam master of Indian folk dance.

“Hello,” she said, holding out her hand and bowing, “I’m Raksha. And you’re…”

“I’m Josh,” I blurted, “and I’m here to learn dance.” Feeling the need to explain myself, I continued, “No, I’m not a dancer, I just don’t know if I want to be a doctor. Or do something else. So, no, I don’t know what I want to do with my life. Or my future.”

Raksha’s head tilted even farther, confused as I tried to retract my aggressive first impression. Instead, she handed me a small picture of herself, dressed in traditional blue and green Bharata Natyam clothing. The bottom of the business card read “Artist & Consultant Dental Surgeon.”

“My parents wanted me to become a doctor, but they also wanted me to follow my passion.  Our jobs can feed us, but art frees us to express how we live, feel, and think.” She explained, reading the apparent confusion plastered across my arched eyebrow.

We spent the day hurtling through the streets of JP Nagar on her electric scooter, Raksha pointing out shrines and markets and food stands while I struggled to balance on her back seat. For a soft-spoken woman, she truculently squeezed between auto rickshaws, buses, and cars without hesitation. A stream of men and women dotted in colored powder while smacking sticks together flowed across the street.

The scooter halted, and my grip around Raksha’s waist relaxed.

I felt the wheaty chapati, the hot chili baggi, and fresh coconut water mixing in my stomach. I could smell the sweet coffee boiled in shops and the pyramids of fruit on vendors’ carts. The setting sun silhouetted a monstrous monkey god statue of Hanuman along the horizon, and I could hear the prayers of a wedding ceremony through the shouts of the nearby street market.

“This is India,” Raksha said over her shoulder, “it will change you, if you allow it. I understand you don’t know what you’re going to do, but understand you’re here now. Enjoy what you have while you have it, instead of worrying about a future that will inevitably arrive.”

At that moment I realized where this electric scooter, this woman, and this year would take me: very, very far from having to choose between passion and profession.

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