“Yours is the name of a famous actress I adore,” mom revealed the story of my name one day. Before she told me, all I knew was it stood for elegance and brightness, like that of the stars. Yet, my childhood dreams had nothing to do with acting.
I imagined being a diplomat to help build world peace through firm handshakes and conversations. In a child’s eyes, it was like a wonder. Words could stop wars and words could guide people to see others beyond their skin colors, languages and many other boundaries. I started out that life by greeting my neighbors walking down the small alley where my house was nestled. There was always something in people that drew me towards them. Something beyond the smiles. Something beyond “hello”. Something beyond the wave of hands. And later I learnt it was their stories.
At another point, I fell in love with drawing and thought I would be an artist someday. I started out that life by creating my arts, with some colored markers and cigarette-box-turned-canvas from grandma’s convenient store. Each time I completed a piece, I would proudly hang it on the wall that looked out the front yard so everyone who came to the store could see. It was my mini DIY exhibition, the medium through which my imagination took its many flights to the multiverse. It helped me see the beauties beyond school, house chores, and most of all, memories I didn’t want to revisit.
Alongside drawing, I also often found myself delving into literature books, self-help books and journaling. Mom often made her trips to a bookstore after work and brought home many titles. My cousins who lived in the old quarter of Hanoi generously transferred the ownership of their trunks of old books to me and my sister. My house, tiny as it was, turned a library. And the sunlit nook in my room turned a thinking and writing corner. I would quietly capture life wonders in an essay or get into the depth of my thoughts and emotions in a diary entry. Then winning a literary contest at high school made a message in my head loud and clear. I wanted to be a writer one day, and started out that life by making a picture book and writing a fantasy. By releasing the words in my head that wanted to have their own lives on paper, I felt magic. They talked back to me. Kindly.
Assisting my grandma with her small business also meant I was intrigued by the idea of creating my own. Purchasing products at wholesale prices. Selling them at a higher price for at customers’ convenience. And making profits from there. So I started out that life by setting up a book rental store right in our front yard. The kids in my neighborhood didn’t have books and I had a heap of them. A sign stuck at the gate, a table made out of bricks and a discarded wooden board, with books of different rental prices layered on its top, and a notebook for accounting were all I needed and eagerly assembled. With the money growing and being invested in more books, the expansion of my book store led to the expansion of many kids’ childhood. And I felt deeply joyful: I solved a problem and brought happiness to my peers.
Years went by. I am not a diplomat, yet I am one. I still keep connecting with people, wherever I go, either it be a peaceful small town in Ireland or a chaotic slum in India (the brief experience of shaking hands, shrugging shoulders with or asking tough questions to country leaders was a story of the past). And I am not an artist, yet I am one. I sometimes still paint, either by myself or with my little daughter. I am not a writer, yet I am one. I sometimes take a day off to participate in a writer’s workshop or let my words flow on paper. I am not a CEO, yet I am one. I am my own boss with a movement that I hold dear in my heart.
In another life, I would be a real diplomat — possibly one who secretly longs for inner peace other than the bubbly political life, a real artist — possibly one who yearns for more dynamic use of her passion for people and stories other than only befriending colors and brushes, a real writer — possibly one who wonders how she could also solve a real-life problem other than creating fictional heroes, and a real business person — possibly one who questions what the meaning of life is other than revenue and profits.
Now in this very life, I brought with me the essence of the lives sampled and wove them into a beautiful full picture, one that feels whole, one that tells a coherent story, one that has my purpose and unique gifts at its core, and one that beckons me to continue my journey of more discoveries under its compass so I could add to it some more touches. In it, I now see my name clearly.
P. S. In one of the lives experimented, I did act, for a TV commercial.
*Amy Nguyen is working on a book about her journey of training her mom’s brain to have her all from more peaceful parenting to more solid relationships to successful career pivot and entrepreneurship. Subscribe to her weekly Happier YOU Letter for weekly happiness-fuelled stories and brain-based tips to uplevel your happiness in both work and life.