2/19/2016
Opening remarks

Remember finally graduating from college and you feel like you have the entire world to yourself? You're seated in one seat among many, rows and rows of similarly giddy graduates wearing togas, fidgeting because the wait is long and you're incredibly bored. But at the end of all of this, you'll get your diploma - or, in this case, a diploma analogue, since they'll send you the real thing in a couple of weeks - and, well, that's it. You've graduated. You're ready.

The moment the dean hands you that rolled up piece of paper, you are powerful. You now have everything in your hands to make a change in the world: all those lessons, from the classroom, from the field, from the nooks and crannies in between - and the approval of the people that matter. "Yes, you know very well, now. Now, go!" As you take photographs with your friends, the frenzy of all this possibility overshadows the dread you actually are more inclined to feel.

What do I do exactly now?

Eight years later, you're in your office desk, doing whatever it is that you've been asked to do. On one side, there's the constant threat of you not being good enough, of you being asked to pack your things and go. (How do you pack everything and bring it home? You do not have a car!) On the other, there's Facebook, and you checking it whenever you're on break, or don't feel like working. There's this steady stream of photos and status messages, from all of the friends you managed to accumulate all this time. Hey, here's him on the beach with his fiancée. Didn't he just go to Bangkok on holiday? Now he's in Bali? Man, I wish I could do that.

And hey, here's her cupcake business. She's doing very well for herself, huh. A couple of magazine features. Not bad. At least she's able to do something she really loves. She's been baking cupcakes since high school. I swear, they're really good. And she earns from that, too! Man, I wish I could do that.

And so on, and so forth, until the IT guy decides to block Facebook. By then you're torn if it's a bad thing or a good thing. Resume working, then. More spreadsheets to fill.

Is this what the kids these days call a quarterlife crisis?

There is a Wikipedia entry for that, apparently, not that it's the most scholarly thing to turn to. "The quarterlife crisis is a period of life usually ranging from the early twenties to the mid twenties," it explains, "in which a person begins to feel doubtful about their own lives, brought on by the stress of becoming an adult."

If that really was just it, then it seems your friends - those friends who always complain, with their not-funny mangled English, about "how to adult" - are dealing well. It's a normal thing, though. Everybody goes through that in one way or another. Here you are, the whole world at the palm of your hands, for eight years now and running. What exactly are you doing?

Me, I'm trying to justify to myself why my friends are better off than I am.

It used to be very easy. There were stock excuses you could turn to. How come you haven't yet splurged on this thing or that thing? "They all use credit cards," my mother would say, trying to make me feel good about the fact that I have yet to travel by myself. I'm already 27. My friends, they've all done that now: just look at that continuous drip-feed of photos from trips prior, complete with a punny hashtag integrating the name of your destination with some song title or general sentiment or something. That trip was six months ago, guys; move on!

"They all use credit cards, and that's not what you usually do."

That is true. I would rather have the cash at hand - or at least the knowledge that it is somewhere out there - before spending it. Maybe we all shouldn't be this cautious, however. The whole world is in your freaking hands, sir; do something about it! Hatch that brilliant idea! Make yourself that important name! Do that successful thing! And don't forget your Instagram filters while you're at it!

People always ask me to stop thinking too much, but, well, here I am, overthinking, arriving at the conclusion that "the whole world is in your hands" really applies more to people with privilege and money. Otherwise, you're doomed to slave away in front of spreadsheets, or conveyor belts, or a steering wheel, trying to save money while worrying about bills and rainy day funds and your kids' future. You need to be rich to be able to pursue your passion. You need to be rich to be able to write songs on a guitar, record an album, and look awesome for the masses.

I just happen to be surrounded by those people. It wasn't clear before. In the classroom you were all equals; while hierarchies are only formed on the basis of looks, or academic performance, for the most part, you're all just trying to impress your thesis panel. Once the structure is gone, and we're all free to go our own ways, the biases and inequalities start to show. You learn that one of your friends is the son of a multiple-term politician in some province you've never been to. Could that be why he's such a success?

You realize that almost all of your friends are rich. Well, of course, Niko. You went to La Salle! Maybe it's the way you were raised; you never really thought of putting yourself on a higher pedestal than everyone else, well, unless you have proof, which are all in report cards. (But I was expelled in high school. That tarnishes everything.) Maybe they all just played the modest card. But, yes, all this time your friends - most of them, not all - lived in posh subdivisions and have parents with access to all that money. It's just not something I ever considered.

Wait, I sound very bitter. That's wrong.

But then you see people younger than you achieving the same success at a much younger age.

I can't be bitter about this, right? Being bitter is wrong.

It's my fault I did not save enough money. It's my fault I was not heartless and relentless at work. It's my fault I did not set my mind towards being a manager in five years. I would have been earning half a million a year! Taxes aside, and everything else aside, I would be living in my own home, lovingly decorated, traveling whenever I want without much worry about whether I have the money or not... but wait. All this time I was convinced I was doing things the right way. Saving just enough for the future, spending just enough for your needs and those little things you treat yourself to... have I been doing it wrong all this time?

Or maybe I'm just being overly ambitious? Damn it. I warned myself that reading Monocle regularly is not helping me in the long run. And besides, not all my friends are rich. A bunch of them are just regular middle-class folks, and they're the sort of people you don't hear much about, precisely because they're unremarkable, steadily working, you know. Not like me, aiming too high, hoping to get insider access in a world where insider access is attained by birth rather than by merit.

Or could it be that my generation, or at least most of it, has been screwed over by our elders, or at least particular elders and their privileged children? When I was young, I had some flowchart-like idea of what should happen in my life. I graduate from college and get a job, then get a girlfriend, then get married and move into my own house. At this rate, I will not be able to afford my own house. Everything seems to be priced for those who have saved up a hell lot in their early years - or those who have already had lots of it to begin with. Everything around me is a luxury product. Everything is artisanal shit.

I feel this way, never mind the fact that my father's really worked his way up. Am I not working as hard? Or maybe I'm working hard and getting less because, well, capitalism? The system screwing my kind over, over and over? How can real estate developers dictate where to put traffic lights, never mind the knock-on-knock-on effect on commoners? How come even parks are closed off to all but those willing to pay?

This is why people beg for me to stop thinking too much.

I wish it was just easy to call this a quarterlife crisis, but honestly, that doesn't quite cover it. It's not a satisfactory explanation, even to me. How does that explain me daydreaming of jumping off things - off buildings, off moving buses, off sidewalks, off train platforms? What a nice way to end things, never mind that I'm not likely to follow through on any of those because I am, ultimately, afraid of dying. I am, ultimately, afraid of not being aware, of being nothing.

Still, there are way too many things going on, and I am overwhelmed, and I am not capable of doing anything, and isn't it best if I just die? That can't just be a quarterlife crisis. That can't just be me doubting what I've done with my life so far. If anybody asks, I do not know how to start explaining this, if I ever get to.

And your responses...

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