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You Thought You Would Have Everything Figured Out by 30

Some anecdotes from the 20-odd years of life that I hope can inspire someone to keep going.


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Nabila Basuki

3 years ago | 7 min read

Many of us have been conditioned since our childhood that everything will fall into place once we’ve graduated. With that coveted scroll in our hands and the black robe draped across our shoulders, we would be unstoppable.

Coming from an Asian family, I am no different. I thought that everything relied on getting my first degree, and then moving on to getting a job, and then earning the dough, followed by moving out of my family home and into my own little space.

I was taught to focus on my studies. I was taught that, to be a filial daughter, I had to fulfill my duties to my parents, and make them proud no matter what. I was taught to play by the rules because hey, that’s the only way you can win, right?

Turns out there’s no winning in life.

Every corner I turn, I’m faced with failures, disappointments, losses, deaths. I’m in my mid-20’s and I still have no damn clue what role I’m supposed to be playing in this grand game of Life.

When I was in my teens, I thought everyone who was ten years older than me had everything all sorted out. They seemed so successful, but now that I’m standing where they are, I realize that I was just placing them on a pedestal — a level at which they probably placed others as well.

And they probably had a multitude of stuff to worry about, just like me and you.

Achieving Your Dreams versus Financial Stability

It’s said that millennials are the most anxious generation, needing professional help more often than those who came before us.

We’re worried about so many things — the possibility of achieving our dreams being a very important metric of happiness for us. While Boomers work for the sake of providing sustenance to their families, we want something that stirs our passions and ignites our desires.

Do work that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

That’s a saying that has been clogging up my mind ever since I graduated high school. I’ve always been on this never-ending trajectory, wondering why I was born, what job best suits my talents and/or interests, what jobs pay the bills.

And I’ve always been caught between jobs that I love versus jobs that pay well.

Growing up, people around me (often being friends of my parents) would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, and then would give me several options: doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer.

Did I really have a choice, then?

When I first got into engineering school, I tried my hardest to convince myself that that was what I really wanted. I kept trying in spite of absolutely hating my first week there. I kept hustling even after exiting a class that needed me to dismantle an old Honda engine, memorize names and uses of each part, and then reassemble them.

To say that I had no idea what the hell I was doing with a bloody spanner in my hand would be an understatement.

See, I wanted to make my parents proud. I wanted to be the filial daughter. Because if I don’t take up the challenge, who will?

I ended up quitting engineering school a year later. That year was filled with so many tears that I’ve come to block it out of my memory.

I then spent a year figuring out what I wanted. I knew I liked art and writing. I almost applied for art school but thought the better of it because I listened to those around me who said that all I could be with an art degree was a starving artist.

Little did they know that those “starving artists” are now making a ton of money, probably more than them, by creating beautiful art online.

I was probably too young to realize it, but I wish I had known better than to listen to them. If I had followed my dream of becoming an artist, I probably wouldn’t be a miserable twat sitting here, writing about my failures in life at 4 AM.

In the years succeeding my failures at university choices, I’ve come to learn one thing:

Nobody knows you like you know yourself.

If you don’t really know yourself, that means those people know even less about you. They definitely don’t know enough to force their opinions on you, especially when it comes to how you should lead your life.

Having a Life Partner

Now, the man that I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with just told me that he didn’t love me anymore. Fair enough, we had been arguing back and forth for a couple of months, but I sincerely thought we could work things out.

Turns out, I was wrong.

Another way that Life messes with you is that it feeds you enough breadcrumbs to make you hopeful, and then takes a huge shit on you when you’re being too hopeful.

Thing is, I had been broken up with a couple of times in the past several years, so although I wouldn’t say that I took the news very well, I didn’t react in a manner that was as overwhelming as my first breakup.

It hurt like hell.

But when you’ve been subjected to the same hurt over and over again, it comes to a point when your heart just goes numb. I found myself thinking:

“Ah well, it’s just another breakup. There’s the pain again. It’s going to stay there for a couple of days, and maybe if I’m lucky, a couple of months, but in the end, the pain will go away.”

It will go away.

Don’t listen to the people who tell you that you have to pick yourself up right away and go out there and date someone just for the hell of it. If you need to bundle yourself up in blankets and ugly-cry to Titanic, then go ahead.

I recall wailing to an anime about a girl with a bionic arm — and I don’t even watch anime. But when your heart is torn, and your brain doesn’t work, and all you can think of is “why does this always happen to me?”, what you do to take care of yourself within that moment becomes the only thing that matters.

Self-care is the most important thing, regardless of any sort of situation, regardless of whatever people say.

You are your first priority.

Your Parents

Remember when I said that that year in engineering school was full of tears?

I recall one night, as I sat curled up on my chair at my desk, feeling so dumb because I just couldn’t absorb all these theories about structures, thermodynamics, and engines, when I called my mother.

Something was off in her voice. She sounded breathless, like as though breathing was the most painful thing she had to do. When I asked her what was wrong, she pretended like everything was fine, but when I kept prodding, she told me something that felt like a knife through the heart.

She had just been discharged from the hospital, having had a mastectomy done a couple of days ago. And I, living away from home at the time, knew nothing because she didn’t want to worry me and have it affect my studies.

It has been a couple of years since then, and with each day the fear I have for my parents’ wellbeing continues to grow.

As the only child, it’s up to me to take care of them. Oftentimes I feel myself envying my friends whose parents are younger than mine, who are healthier than mine. My friends have siblings that they can rely on for emotional support in the event that something goes awry.

I feel like the odd duckling who has to deal with issues that most of my friends haven’t had to experience yet. At times, I can’t help but feel alone because of that.

But when I find myself in my darkest hour where I constantly berate myself for being a disappointment to my family, I try to find some goodness in it. There must be some light at the end of the tunnel, I would remind myself.

If it doesn’t happen now, it will happen sometime in the future anyway.

The trick is to keep going. Keep moving.

Talk to your parents about how they dealt with adversity in their lives, how they picked themselves back up, and kept going in spite of all the shit Life threw at them.

You may think that you’re the only one out there who’s going through all these horrid moments, but there are those who have gone through worse, and they are better off because of it.

You have friends. You have family.

You have good people around you if you only took the time to sit back and look, take in your surroundings, realize that within the chaos of your world there is still peace somewhere within you.

No doubt Life’s a shitty game, but a great player never quits.

Originally published on medium

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