Chen Xiao had pretty much given up making her own decisions and so decided to throw open her life to the whims of China’s hundreds of millions of Internet users, known in China as netizens.
“It’s your right to arrange Chen Xiao’s life, and it’s my obligation to serve you,” read her online shop.
Since December, Chen has been allowing others to decide what she will do each day, because, for the most part, last year was awful, she said. Her hometown was hit by blizzards, her country rocked by a devastating earthquake, friends divorced and her clothing shop went bankrupt.
“Every time I had a plan for what I wanted my life to be like, nothing would come of it. It was very disappointing. I figured if other people came up with things for me to do, I might stumble upon something new and better,” she told CNN.
C’mon, who hasn’t thought about it?
Who hasn’t had days when you wish you could just hand someone else the reins? When every decision you made ended up blowing up in your face, and every choice ended disastrously? I know I have.
“Executive functioning” is not my strong suit.There are, and have been times when I thought it would be a relief to have someone else be “in charge.” (Though, as a husband and father of two, with a full time job, I haven’t really been “in charge” of my life for while now. Let’s face it. Once you have kids, your time and you life are not entirely your own.)
After all, then at least if things go awry, it wouldn’t be my fault since it wasn’t my choice, right? (Although, choosing to let someone else choose for me is itself a choice.)
On the other hand, my first thought is, “Oh, I can just imagine the kinds of requests I’d receive.” Maybe that’s a typical, cynical (but not unjustified) American response, though. Things have worked out reasonably well for Chen Xiao.
What she stumbled upon was not only a new life but a new way to make a living. She charges about $3 an hour, and she’s been asked to do almost everything from delivering pet food to caring for stray cats to taking a hot lunch to a homeless man.
What surprised her the most was not so much the varied requests but being able to find happiness in the process.
“If somebody asks you to do something, something simple, and you do it, it can make you very happy. You can change from a gloomy person to a very bright one. It can help give you a new sense of self-esteem,” she said.
So far, the most meaningful assignment she was given was attending a child’s birth — the father was a complete stranger who just wanted someone to take pictures and share the moment.
There are limits to what she will agree to do. She will not do anything illegal, immoral or violent, but she said that has not stopped some from asking.
Ah. See, it wouldn’t have entered my ADD brain to be specific. I’d be more likely to figure out later that I should have been more specific.
Anyway, it’d never work, unless I only got requests from people telling me to do something I already wanted to do anyway, in which case I’d probably do it on my own. So it sounds like the did better than I would have, and even ended up with more of a feel-good story than the:
- the guy who tried to sell his life on ebay
- the jobless executive who put himself up for auction online (for a starting bid price of $1.73)
- the grad student who tried to sell himself, because he couldn’t pay his tuition
- the atheist who tried to auction off his reproductive viability
- the gamer who auctioned himself as a “virtual slave” in World of Warcraft
- the student who auctioned himself as a prom date, for $29.95
I know she’s not the first. Other people have let blog readers and other netizens make decisions in various aspects of their lives. Even I let readers suggest my musical purchases for a year. But she does seem to have succeeded at finding a niche.
My only question for Chen Xiao is “What’s next?” At 26-years-old, she’s pretty young. Young enough, in fact, that there’s plenty of time for “next.” I ask because, after five years online, I’m asking myself the same thing. Having recently celebrated the second anniversary of my twentieth birthday (do the math), I’m not quite in the same place in life as a twenty-something, newly-minted college grad, and my available choices are not quite the same.
But eventually Chen Xiao will have to choose — when the novelty of letting others choose for her wears thin, both with her and her readers. I wonder what her range of choices will be, and what she will choose, or what will be chosen for her.