Where Are We All Rushing To?
Photo courtesy of ZCOOP Singapore
“Millennials don’t know the value of time. They think it’s okay to take their time to settle down in their career or start a family.”
This is a common refrain I’ve been hearing the older generation make lately. That we are taking too much time to “find ourselves” or figure out what we want to do or can do that will make us happy AND pay the bills.
It’s a First World problem, for sure, the privilege to pick the most suitable career for ourselves or take a hiatus to regain our true footing. But that doesn’t make it less anxiety-inducing.
Fresh graduates think it’s stressful to decide on a career path upon graduation, but the real pressure is when you are contemplating a career switch. Would it mean that we have wasted all that time in the wrong career? How do I know I’m making the right decision NOW? WHAT if I’m wasting more time making this leap? Will I ever be find job satisfaction, success or happiness??
Photo courtesy of ZCOOP Singapore
It’s daunting to realise that we not only have to start from scratch all over again, but choose from the plethora of options we now have or routes we can embark on. Psychologists call it the paradox of choice, where we become more anxious and paralysed by doubt the more options we are presented with.
Our parents often advise us to plan out our lives before we set out into the vast wilderness. Decide when we want to get married, set up a family, give ourselves a deadline to get somewhere career-wise, climb the corporate ladder rung by rung until we finally reach the top — no time to waste, keep on keeping on.
But do we ever stop to wonder why we are rushing and where we’re actually rushing TO?
Conventionally (and pragmatically), our twenties is for us to build up our financial foundation in case complications arise later in life or we take on more commitments. In our twenties we pay our dues, throw ourselves into carving out a career, find a significant other along the way to eventually settle down with.
By thirty, we are expected to have become financially stable and ready to embark on the next stage of life: creating a family with the wealth we have amassed over the years.
In an ideal world, that’s what we would all do. We would decide on the right career for ourselves even before we’ve collected our degrees, hop on the fast track towards career achievement and self-actualisation. We would find our soul mates along the way (after brushing off a failed relationship or two) and love in marital bliss or at least a working companionship that would last till old age. We would be well adjusted, productive human beings who play out our roles perfectly to keep society running smoothly like it has appeared to all along. Everything would fit into play, the pieces will fall into place at the right moment.
Now, wouldn’t that be lovely? Everything well thought out and executed as planned?
How often does that work out though?
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While it’s well and good to be armed with a plan as we navigate our way through life, more often than not those plans get cast aside. Circumstances change, and we are forced to adapt to them. Or we grow into a version of ourselves vastly different from that bright-eyed, bushy-tailed twenty-two year old we used to be. We want different things, our goals change and our priorities shift around.
When that happens, all our carefully-charted plans get thrown out the window. Maybe we realise journalism isn’t quite for us after all, or we start seeing the pointlessness of a corporate, profit-driven life.
The “daily grind” is dubbed as such because it wears us down, breaks our soul, and crushes our dreams. We drag ourselves out of bed, dread the start of the week because we see no reason to go through the whole monotonous routine of sitting at meetings or doing yet another presentation we no longer feel enthusiastic about or particularly interested in. All we do is look forward to the (too-short) weekend, and then we throw ourselves back into the same cycle. It’s enough to drive anyone to despair. (Or, it’s enough to galvanise anyone into action. )
Millennials are seen as spoiled or whiny if they talk about their souls being drained by reality, because this sort of brokenness cannot be seen, much less understood by the older generation. Check your privilege, they’d say.
Sure, we understand that we are in a far better circumstance than, say, the physically handicapped or a low-wage earner. But is it wrong to want more out of life? Just because we have it better than some doesn’t mean we stop trying to improve the life we have or working towards the one we want.
When the momentum slows and eventually sputters out, shouldn’t we take some time off to recalibrate and assess our situation, decide whether to keep pressing on, or develop a new plan?
Yet, society doesn’t really allow us that time. If we don’t have our career or relationship on track by 30, people start shaking their heads. Irresponsible, still a child, flaky, and maybe even selfish are the words they use to describe us. Particularly in an Asian family, questions from well-meaning family members can veer into critical and judgemental territory. Our sense of duty to our parents may also hinder us from stepping off the beaten track and carving out a route for ourselves.
But wouldn’t it be an even bigger waste of time and energy if we rush towards a destination we’re not ready for, or one that we don’t really want to be?
And why should 30 be that “magic number”, the ideal age where everyone aims to get their shit together? Everyone’s journey is different, so why do we set ourselves the same deadlines as everyone else’s?
Photo courtesy of ZCOOP Singapore
Other people’s expectations of us is based on their own perceptions of the good life, the “right” life, what THEY think life should be, or in the case of our parents, perhaps the life they wish they had for themselves but couldn’t. But that doesn’t mean they should impose their ideals or beliefs on us, or that we should accept them. Because then we would be living for other people and not ourselves. The ones who love us would want to see us happy doing what we love rather than successful but miserable doing something we are only doing because we think it makes THEM happy.
The only “right” kind of life is that one that we have carved out on our own terms, one that may be flawed but that we are entirely satisfied with, one that we have fought for bravely and passionately. One that has us leaping out of bed on a Monday morning, raring to go. One that gets us excited and fills our heart with purpose. One that we can look back on and say, I did the best I could and I didn’t have to seek anyone’s approval for it.
The meaning of life is, in Albert Camus’s words, whatever we are doing that prevents us from killing ourselves. Rather dramatic, yes, but the French philosopher and writer’s distilled but fundamental statement is one that we can come back to over and over when we ask ourselves the reason for which we are doing what we do at this present moment, why we are unhappy, what our next move will be, and what we actually, truly want. Perhaps the meaning of life, then, is simply to give our lives meaning.
And if this requires a bit of time to figure out, then maybe the most prudent thing to do is to accord ourselves the time we need.
Are you reassessing your life goals now? What are your views on setting deadlines for yourself in life? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below!