In the second wave, I got to talk to some old friends I didn’t interact a whole lot with the past year. We reminisced about college, what we did (and should/shouldn’t have done), what we could have done but never could. A striking feature of every conversation was, of course, the loss of innocence and carefreeness.
More striking yet was how significantly different people thought of post-college as their next natural stage of life. There is some ambivalence among my graduating batch when it comes to work. It also has to do with lamenting the passing of a more utopian time. With crippling loneliness, and an obvious need to have physical interactions, one idea that keeps changing is that of work, and what it means to people. There’s obviously a sense of excitement with work. But is it worth all that energy?
In my final year, of course, I was forced to ask questions about what work meant to me, because I had my first burnout last year. I was very afraid to start working on my goals again, because that would entail working like a madman. I was completely unsure of what the pandemic awaited, which meant that I felt the need to compensate for it a little extra. I invested almost my energy towards my professional goals in my second year, not knowing the consequences of that kind of investment. In short, I was running a rat-race everyday. I don’t regret it, because I didn’t know better. If I’m being honest, I also enjoyed that period quite a bit. I also realised why: success is a pretty woozy high. You don’t really see the low until everything comes to a standstill. You know, like drugs.
I asked myself a few key questions about the nature of work. How much of it do I want to make my personality? Do I constantly feel the need to compete, and is that healthy for me? What is then the alternative to competition? What do I love outside of work that makes me feel like myself?
The answers seemed fairly obvious. A proper understanding of those came only with more time. Yes, I felt the need to compete, but not because I liked to prove my superiority over other people. It was only to prove something to myself, and that problem accumulated over time. In college, you’re among very like-minded people who all want to be someone at the end of 3 years. So you always want to go the extra mile. In school, of course, it made you popular (in hindsight, that was true for college too — but that only mattered so long and so much).
Only now does it appear to me that all our paths could not be more different. I remember this friend telling me how they used to feel that they weren’t enough when they compared themselves to me, till they realised that I was never their competition. And I realised it’s a cycle — I did that with respect to a lot of people myself. I shed that approach bit by bit in my final year, where all I wanted to do is just best myself (being isolated from the world weirdly helped, not that I would choose that anyway). It’s not a coincidence that the year I harbored the least number of grudges was my final year of college, the year that a pandemic hit. After months of doing this and doing that to “build a profile", I realised that I needed to have a collaborative mindset to work. Sure, I live in a capitalistic society, so competition is something I have to live with and reluctantly nurture at every turning point of my life. I don’t need to allow it to fundamentally alter who I am, though. If I’m working, I’m building something with other people, or bust. If it’s not with, then it’s not against either. I’ll only harbor a competitive nature when needed, because I can’t keep running a rat-race forever.
This is also why I now have a certain aversion educational institutions that exist in status quo. I’m not saying I’m keeping further studies out of my sight completely, I’d probably still love to study more economics someday. That day, however, is not coming anytime soon, I have known that for a while now. If I enter a postgraduate institution, I know that I’ll be forced to, ahem, “grind and hustle" everyday. For once, I would want to learn for the sake of learning and talking about a subject. I should have realised this much earlier. But again, it’s hard to when you’re in the zone. Kanye was right: don’t let us enter into our zones.
I realised that my passion for things made certain aspects of work my personality, too. In hindsight, if you talk shop, even if it’s for fun, the “constantly working" tag gets attached to you. Not that that’s completely wrong, but it’s one of those areas that I sometimes get a little too excited about. I guess that the trick is to never let it be all-consuming and actually make an effort to be interesting, which I can fairly say is working pretty okay for me.
Which answers some of the questions above. As for enjoying things outside of work: I harbor dreams of attending concerts. I want to write more things on pop culture. I want to go out on the field, play football, probably injure myself while at it (not deliberately, it’s just this thing that keeps happening to me). I want to sing and have karaoke nights (I’m really good at bad falsettos). More importantly, I want to be able to do those things without feeling too guilty. Now, I can’t say much about this right now without having to risk myself to a deadly virus. But when things open up, I’d like to try feeling that again.
Obviously, the bigger question you’re likely asking is: what’s a 21 y/o doing asking questions about work and stuff? In all probability, I would not have if it weren’t for the pandemic. There isn’t a lot to distract oneself when one is locked in a box. Plus, I’ve been in massively competitive environments all my life, and I see my immediate college juniors doing the same. It’s not wrong by any means, but there has to be a point where you realise it is taking a toll, and that you can’t be doing things because someone else is. For me, personally, it blurred lines about what I should derive from work, if I am indeed deriving anything. And you constantly need to question yourself about the latter idea, because it’s pretty easy to lose yourself in the chase for something.
I’m fairly certain I’ll be revisiting this idea after a few years. But, for now, I’ll take a chill pill on this idea, because there’s no point beating my head over this.