Some people have known all their lives what they want to do in later life.
I, however, have never been one of them.
From an early age I had always known I would go to university, mostly because it was expected of me. I also knew I wanted to eventually get married and had a family of my own. As for jobs? Just like any other kid, my dream career changed as quickly as seasons.
When I was in Lower Sixth (Year 12), in a vain (and ambitious) attempt to prove myself, I decided to sit 4 AS and A-level exams all in one go. I picked universities and courses pretty much with a blindfold on as I did not have a clue; nevertheless I was delighted when I was accepted into a few universities with conditional offers.
Results day came and I didn’t get the grades I needed, but having 4 A-levels was enough to get me into another university (which in hindsight, suited me much better than my original choices); and I bit the bullet despite my reluctant parents. My 17-year old self was stubborn – I was going to leave school a year earlier that expected. I was adamant to make this work.
Hasty preparations were made, and a fortnight after I turned 18, I left home for university.
The next few years was a haze. University was a continuous cycle of morning lectures, nights of partying and cramming before exams. Couple of internships and travelling abroad, though fruitful, had not help me make up my mind on a future career. I was always either busy, or on the road, so I had little time to think.
I was still waiting for that midnight epiphany to come, but my final year of university came and went. I handed in my dissertation, put on a gown and graduated. Still, I didn’t really know who I was, nor my purpose in life.
That, was the precise moment I realised my life had been on “autopilot” all this time.
September came and I started my research degree.
Things were off to a promising start: I was simultaneously holding a few jobs, while throwing myself into societies and student bodies. Stress, as well as a couple of sports injuries halted my days in the pool and the gym.
If anything, this was the beginning of my “quarter-life crisis”. (Is that even a thing?)
Every slight insecurity since I was a kid came flooding back. I was totally lost.
I naively thought there would be a “how to be an adult” guidebook. I read self-help books. I tried self-medicating and briefly delved into other destructive coping mechanisms. Nothing really worked. My research work was in jeopardy, as were my relationships, friendships and much more. My health suffered a great deal and I was spiralling out of control.
After the initial tears dried up, I realised I had created new monsters to replace those who used to sleep under my bed. I was hurting, but I had to work through the pain. I had spent too much time berating myself for not being good enough, and going from one extreme to another.
I had to start taking care of myself. No more self-sabotaging.
Slowly but surely, I started to heal. I asked for help, I swapped harmful behaviours with beneficial ones. Crochet turned out to be more than a granny’s hobby; meditation wasn’t only for hippies; and exercises should never be viewed as punishment.
Right now my life is far from perfect, but I am learning each and every day – learning to accept things as they are; learning to be gentle and patient; learning to allow myself room for error and improvement.
By trusting my intuition and letting it guide my way, I’d gradually become more at peace with myself.
That way, I’d be free.
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.”
― Jim Morrison