“Everything in the universe goes by indirection. There are no straight lines.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Poet (1803 – 1882)
A decade ago, when I was in the midst of my studies, I was forced to confront an intrinsic truth; I had no talent in my chosen field of study. I had worked hard to enter the course because of an obsessive interest in manga and anime, but whilst my passion stayed true, it did not translate into an ability for drawing or animating, something rather unfortunate as both were somewhat necessary traits for an animation major.
Nonetheless, I soldiered on and found solace in a traditional animation class. My uneven sketches would never win any prizes, but armed with pencil, paper, a light-box and a zeal for burning weekends at school, I could still churn out a decent animatic. While I could never say for certain if the teacher-in-charge eventually gave me my first A grade out of compassion, I was grateful; it felt like my effort was finally paying off.
Time went by and I graduated, major intact despite a train-wreck of the final year project. It also marked the end of my dreams of working in the animation industry. But as it turned out, the experience and knowledge I had gained from my struggles had freed me.
I would never be an animator or an artist. That much was clear. But there were other things I could do; I turned out to be rather good at sorting things out. Shortly after graduation, I landed my first job as an assistant producer. Within months of joining the company, my proposal for a Japan focused short series was approved. I was to be sent as part of a three person team to Japan for a two week shoot.
It wasn’t quite how I envisioned visiting the country of my dreams. Before my lack of talent in school had became apparent, I had dreams of becoming an understudy for my favorite mangakas, toiling day and night till the day I could strike out an original series on my own. Instead, I arrived in Tokyo on a tightly budgeted shoot, which had, among other things, havign to visit the Parasite Museum and getting footage of their prize tapeworm exhibit. It was all very surprising and new to me.
I loved it.
I was having the time of my life and I was just starting out.
Flash ten years on. My chosen career path did not quite follow a path as I thought it would. Now, I watch as my peers, siblings, even new faces bound ahead in their lives and their careers while my own slowly dwindled to a standstill. I can’t help but ask myself; what happened?
It wasn’t that the past decade had been bad. On the contrary, I have held interesting jobs, met fascinating people and been exposed to inimitable life experiences. These very encounters have led me to new questions, chief amongst them is the one which has bothered me for a long time; what do I really want to do with my life?
A myriad of confusion arose over my indecision about the future. I spent a lot of time musing over what-am-i-really-good-at, what-can-i-do, what-makes-me-happy and the possibility of finding some kind of middle ground. But most of all, the inquiry has brought forth an innate fear. What if I choose and get it wrong and I don’t have another chance or time to choose again? What if I am not good enough? It was like being told to choose my last meal, with the clock ticking down and too many choices in front of me. Will I choose correctly? Or will I end up dying a hungry ghost?
I have a tendency to try to save the best for last, but alas, it’s not really always a good thing. You run the risk of putting things away where you can’t see them, forgetting that they were even there. By the time you do remember, it could already be useless. Or better yet to use a favorite food analogy, someone else will steal it off the plate before you get to it.
There was a bad year in the past decade. It was the year when everything that could go wrong, went wrong. I found myself jobless for well over six months with my bank account dwindling close to a zero. Some close friendships ended. To top things off, I got suddenly dumped by a “we-will-get-married” boyfriend over the phone just barely a month or so after I had visited his extended family in his native country. Stupefied and hurt, I broke the news to my mother as we walked through a mall after lunch. She ended up holding my hand, telling me that everything would be okay as I looked away, trying hard not to bust into tears in front of her. I didn’t think I could sink any further then.
But right after, things turned around. I got a job. My new bosses were lovable and understanding. I picked up the nuances of my new workplace relatively fast, had weekends off to meet friends and cultivate new interests. I had enough pay and vacation time to start travelling again. I visited the country that created the program that helped me laugh out of my slump. I climbed a mountain, ate their local dishes and fell a little in love with the place. Suddenly I had a desire to come back to this place and stay for a little while.
It was a risqué decision with valid concerns about my age, the draining of my not-sizable savings and possibly destroying my- already-not-overtly-bright prospects with this move. I had trouble answering the questions that others throw at me; how is doing this useful or relevant to your future?
The truth is; I don’t know. And I still don’t. The only thing certain is that right now, I’ve settled into a comfort zone and out-stayed my welcome. It’s true that there are way too many concerns about the uncertainties of my future. But I look back to a time when I was younger, still somewhat wet behind the ears, and a rather wild but wonderful way of working out the major decisions in my life.
Faced with a pressing dilemma but unable to make up my mind, I would ask myself, would I regret doing this if I were to die tomorrow? It was that easy. I realized then that it had been a long time since I made a pick that way.
I quit my job this March.
Due to hesitancy and indecision, I ended up missing the summer program application but I am still trying. I can’t and don’t expect to be able to shake off all the ambivalence or other habits that I have accumulated over the years overnight. But some of the old hunger has returned. This week, I mentally slapped myself and pushed aside my irresolution to begin plans for the enrollment of the next semester.
Steve Jobs said in his 2005 address, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
It was one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard and read from connecting the dots, living each day like your last, following your heart because somehow you will know it, and most of all, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.”
I am being Foolish but I’m still Hungry. What about you?