It’s been a quarter. But a quarter to what, exactly?
Let’s just start with the basic description of how I am right now:
- Not in a constant distress, just a routine that sometimes becomes boring
- Having a good time, but not exactly devoid of any good work
- Meeting people, but not being attached to them
I have been through things. But to what end they are for, I’m still deciding and waiting for things to unfold.
I just stop expecting anything to happen; I just focus on doing things on my own. Everything that is unfolding and will unfold before me, they are not for me to decide. As long as I know what to do, I think I’ll be fine. Just don’t attach whatever you do into any kind of reward/event that you expect to happen. Whatever is yours will be yours, as long as you happen to meet the conditions. I just need climb towards it with every might I could muster.
“Do things, but don’t make things happen” is what my conscience tells me.
Anyone who is around my age must have heard a lot about quarter-life crisis by now. But come to think of it, haven’t you noticed that this term is somewhat presumptuous? They’re talking about a quarter of our lives as if we’re going to live to eighty or a hundred years. Yes, I read somewhere that a third of humans born after 2000 will live become centenarians, namely people who will have a 100th birthday. But do we have the right to be sure about that? Well, in any case, there seems to be a great number of young adults who suffer from this lack of direction or meaning in their lives. Including me, or maybe you. We have so much to figure out in our brief lives.
What can we do to find meaning? The late psychiatrist Viktor Frankl outlines in his book Man’s Search for Meaning the three ways to meaning:
- Creating a work or doing something
- Meeting someone and doing things for them
- Strengthening yourself in the face of suffering
Let’s talk about these three things. Have I gained meaning from them so far? I’m going to start backwards.
For reasons I won’t go into in this writeup, I don’t like my childhood years that much. There were a lot of hard lessons that I had to take and bitter-tasting medicine I had to taste. Sure, they were not Holocaust-level horrors like Viktor Frankl once suffered. But for me, the growing pains were real and they were exactly why I transformed into (I think) a completely different sort of person by now.
I still think I’m missing out on many things. Instead of the joy of childhood, I got myself staring into the abyss. Instead of the playfulness of an adolescent, I sank towards the valley of fear and trembling. In exchange, though, I think I’ve become a more resilient person thanks to these experiences. Broadly speaking, my life these past two and a half decades has taken a path from miserable in my childhood years, terrible during my adolescent years, and then dull and stressful but with many sprinkles of pleasure during this young adult phase (so far). There have still been and there will be things that I had to learn the hard way, but thankfully I’m now in a much better shape to take them head-on.
Actually, Viktor Frankl didn’t talk very much about finding someone you love. Maybe it was not much of interest for him. This is a rather difficult subject for me to write about, especially here. But let’s just gloss over the basic ideas I have about it:
- It’s kind of useless to talk about love (re: my post about the Djalan Sampoerna manuscript or my attempted translation of a D.H. Lawrence’s poem) because people think about it in wildly different ways
- Instead, we can talk about attachment and the need to be attached to others (as per Jacques Lacan’s conception of need)
- This is not my attempt to a pessimist or a cynic. In order to settle the matters of heart, we need to have a good understanding of it, and that can only be reached by using the words that can describe our feelings accurately and without any ambiguities. Love is ambiguous; attachment and need are not. As the late Mr. Rogers once spoke, “Feelings that are mentionable are actionable.”
I deem myself to be lucky. I took up college studies in the humanities, and everywhere jobs are so scarce in this sector. Many people I know had to take jobs completely unrelated to the humanities, nothing in common at all with what they were passionate about in their early days. Yet here I am, far from home but doing the work that I think to be important as a humanities-minded person.
So far, money hasn’t become an issue for me. Many people work so they are able to live, but at this moment I live to work. I believe in the value of my work and I think that it helps me grow. It’s enough reason for me to continue doing this despite other people’s skepticisms that I have to swallow.
I am no believer in the advice of follow your passion. Let’s face it: not all passions make money. We can all do the things we love, but those things we love doing don’t always make us better people in the long run, especially in financial terms. This is a fact that rings truer in some work areas, such as the humanities. There’s a really cool book about this, titled So Good They Can’t Ignore You. The writer Cal Newport emphasizes that passion is not a good predictor at all to work success. You might even end up hating your job after the fire of passion has dimmed. Instead, he suggests to find something that is doable and money-making that you can learn to accomplish, then stick on it while trying to improve continuously. Choose a profitable line of work, then learn so much so you can be so good they can’t ignore you. He then outlined the steps to achieve this brand of career fulfillment. In the end, if you can master your work, you will grow a love of it. In Javanese terms, we can speak of this kind of love of work as witing tresno jalaran soko kulino (which can be translated as “love comes from being familiar”).
It’s easy to dislike something that has become ordinary to you. Work is that kind of thing. But if you have grown to love it, you’ll be free from dread and anxiety that comes from work. Even if you think that the work is stressful, you’ll always find reason to come back to it.
And today, on a Sunday, I’m going to my office to work.
As I said before, currently I just focus on doing things. I’m still waiting for things to unfold. There are big plans, but I think I won’t worry about them for the next few months, or even for the next few years for some of these plans. As one line of the opening song in Hamilton put it:
There’s a million things I haven’t done,
But just you wait!