Today is the last day of my life in the twenties age bracket.
Everyday before today I was smiling for others; today I will only smile for myself.
Everyday before today I was pleasing everybody else; from now on I will please myself.
What I remember of my days before I was 10 years old, was fun at school, falling off monkey bars, going to a blue-light disco in Perth, watching Ninja Turtles after school and then having to study Chinese when all the other kids went out to romp on the lawns and dance around sprinklers. I also had to do maths exercises and drills for aged 15 when I was only 9 years old in Australia – standards there apparently were lower than that in Hong Kong, where I am from. I started to learn about the world then, and the thoughts of having to always achieve more than what I already have were grounded. Firmly set was the idea of work before play, and more work still – everything had an order and organization.
The priority of “achievement” was paramount.
The second decade of my life marked the years of disappointments as I tried to form a self-image.
I was looking for my place in the world. Outward confidence I exhibited was deceiving; I was mistaken as overly ambitious, and my zeal masked my diffidence. Deeply rooted in these 10 years were the insecurities of not being the best at what I can do, the uncertainties of what lies before me, and the tug of wars between what I should be doing versus what I want to do – with the latter one subservient. I did what I was told to. I tried to rebel but I couldn’t do so successfully to pave a way for myself that reaped recognition. So, I succumbed to external pressure from teachers, parents, and peers. I walked the way everyone walked and my little head got lost in the multitude of people on the same path. I felt like a nobody. Frustration, sense of failure, anger, and bitterness accumulated, but firmly suppressed. Dreams were forgotten as I embarked on the quest to stand out and played according to the rules of the game I was in.
I became an over-achiever.
The Quarter Life
I turned a new leaf at the age of 20 and stopped rebelling. I settled for what was “great” in the eyes of the people and did my double degree in Law and Political Science even though I’d was more interested in literature and psychology. But given that the program and university in HK I got into was elite in itself, I relented and decided I will excel in my little pond. I was no First Honours student from the start. Yet I tried to prove my worth in other ways: scholarships to study at Sciences Po, Paris, another school deemed “elite” in its field, English Debating awards and being captain, winning moot court competitions, representing Hong Kong internationally, dorm life, newspaper articles, being known and recommended by the Faculty, research thesis, more scholarships… I chased meaningless titles and recognition.
I had done my summer internships at Chambers and solicitors’ firms alike (and that application process the year before was just at ruthless) and knew pretty well I didn’t want to be stuck as a lawyer for the rest of my life. It did not excite me. But being by then well-trained to suppress my passions, I doubted my own instinctual feelings and went with what was “prudent” and “right”. I got my training contract of course. Everyone congratulated me. Everyone was happy. Everyone, except me. But I’d be ungrateful to complain.
In the end, I reneged my training contract and joined the banking industry instead. It was my ticket out of Hong Kong. I felt so suffocated by the game and the track I was supposed to follow, and be judged by all these irrelevant onlookers in my life that I had to get out. I felt that no one could understand me and hear my little voice. I wanted to start anew. I fled. I avoided HK for the next few years and basked in my clean slate. I mellowed down, I tried new methods of socializing, I stepped out of my “comfort zone” and networked with strangers, I was easy to approach, I was diligent, I worked hard, I got my good ratings, I had senior management support, I experimented with dating and effect I can have on men, I giggled, I laughed, I took exams, I applied to graduate school like everyone for who doesn’t want a Harvard MBA? I was riding the wave for all I knew.
I wanted people to like me and be friendly. I constructed an image of me with the pleasant sides of me. I showed others only what they wanted to see. I worked hard in the office to build up a reputation. I was so stressed out at work but I was completely blinded by my own vanity for approval. I was doing “so well” in life that I was actually destroying it. I sacrificed my health. I knew so many people wherever I lived and thought I made so many new friends. I invested my time and effort into the relationships. And yet today how many of them stay in touch and initiate contact? Some don’t even bother to take time to see me when I visit anymore. Who am I kidding?
I was blinded by my own superficiality. I was desperate for some form of approval that I betrayed my own heart.
Entering the Fourth Decade
Therefore, after 29 years on earth, I have finally learnt that nothing is more important than me and myself albeit in a hard, sick and painful way.
Not to say we all need to become self-centered bastards, but we cannot deny ourselves the time and the luxury of following our hearts instead of our minds. We must not act simply for the benefit of others. People will drain you dry, you must look after yourself. The society will exhaust you, so you must protect yourself. Let the heart speak.
Take care of yourself first, and the rest will follow.
So if you are a friend, you will know why I am putting myself before you. You will keep inviting me to brunches and not be put off my by no-shows. You know if I don’t reply to your email for a month is only because I haven’t checked my email for a month. You will understand my need for solitude and stop whining even if I never pick up my phone ever again and my goodness does it annoy me so when it’s always the first thing you mention in every email – I don’t want to talk, tough luck, deal with it. If you don’t understand why I am now putting myself as priority, well too bad, you weren’t invited to the wedding anyways.
My feelings matter too.
The New Era
At birth, I embarked into the unknown and was put on the “track” I was supposed to go.
At the age of 10, I was disappointment.
At the age of 20, I sought external approval and defied myself.
At the age of 30 today, I will just be me – me me me me me me me me me me me me…
14th April 2011: Happy Birthday to me. Happy New Era to me.