It’s April again this year, so many Aprils have marched past relentlessly thus far — my 25th this year and I’d like to ask Time to slow the fuck down please because I haven’t the money to splurge on a bottle of SKII just yet and also yay double standards! and the beauty industry making its millions by feeding on the swirling insecurities of female folk, courtesy of the fucking patriarchy, but I digress. It’s the season of new employees, so fresh-faced college graduates are currently scuttling about the streets in their ill-fitting cheap black suits and new leather shoes, hair gelled or otherwise scraped back cleanly in no-fuss ponytails. Mere babies, I think to myself as I look at them, half scoffing, and yet with a touch of nostalgia and endearment. They look like children to me now.
It was only three years ago when I was one of them, a child with a planner full of interview dates, filling out those applications and writing out my prepared answers to practice, doing those Skype interviews with a collared shirt and pajama pants, trying to pretend that I cared, had a singular spark of interest in any of the jobs I was applying to, getting rejected and rejected and rejected. An endless parade of rejections, impersonal email after email regretfully informing me of their decision not to hire me for no particular reason, have a good day. I felt like a short man on Tinder. My regular schedule consisted of me donning my ugly suit and flitting to and from career fairs and group interviews and the like, before promptly changing back into sweats and melting into a pool of self-pity at night. I stayed up till 2 or 3 a.m., alternating between sending out applications and losing myself in easy entertainment, an episode or six of something to numb the dull panic within me.
My dearest grandmother told me in high school that she wouldn’t die until she saw me graduate high school. Upon graduating high school, she aimed to live until I graduated college. Now, newly graduated and distinctively, painfully unemployed, she promised to live until I found a job. Well, I am happy to report that at age 88, she has renewed her agreement with me; she has declared that she will finally rest in peace once I’ve found myself a nice, heterosexual man and married him, possibly popped out a baby or two before she reunites with my grandfather. These new conditions to our pact means that she may live forever, but that is another story. Point is, I somehow managed to wrangle myself a job within those three, tortuously slow and humiliating months after graduating. I feel safe now. I have an employee badge with photo ID that I wear proudly around my neck during work hours like a collar and zip safely inside my bag when I’m done for the day. Somehow, miraculously, I have escaped the ranks of the Unemployed.
But there’ll be times when I feel a certain way. When I have to fold myself into the curves of other bodies during my morning commute and squish myself into oblivion, swaying as one body as the train takes us to our respective destinations, inhaling that terribly distinctive odor of middle-aged men, that mix of cologne and oily skin. When it’s a particularly nice day outside and I can feel the sun on my eyelids as I walk back to the office from lunch, and it seems such a damn shame to return back to the confines of my air-conditioned box. When I’m walking home from work at 10 or 11 p.m. and have to dodge puddles of human vomit and dog shit on the pavement like I’m playing hopscotch, this ugly city of mine. It’s such a dreary place sometimes, Tokyo. I can’t see it the way foreigners do in their viral videos that they post of Japan, that mystic swirl of neon lights and glittery skyscrapers. It’s just plain ugly sometimes, a random mishmash of utilitarian, rectangular buildings and unhappy, overworked people, men spitting phlegm and puking freely on the streets; the world is their toilet.
I don’t have a passion for my current work. It doesn’t excite me. When people ask me about my work, I make self-deprecating jokes about it or otherwise bore myself midway in my explanation. I have an all-consuming envy of people who’ve always known what they wanted to be since toddlerhood, be it a pilot or doctor or lawyer, and those lucky few with bright, visible talents who fearlessly work towards their dreams of becoming singers and ballerinas and graphic designers and whatnot — The Creatives — the ones who scoff at the “stuffed shirts” and the 9-to-5.
I know that I could choose to live a radically different life if I so desired, splurge all my savings and begin from scratch in some remote location overseas, earning just enough to get by every month by juggling various odd jobs. I could mark exams, I could waitress, I could bartend, I could run a hot-dog stand, I could be a receptionist at a fancy hotel, I could scribble names on coffee cups and purposely fuck up the names of white people just to mess with them, I could adopt a new American (read: non-ethnic) name and start afresh, I could join Greenpeace and throw soggy tomatoes and paint at rich people wearing fur coats, I could learn a new language or three. The possibilities are endless. But at the end of the day, I haven’t the courage to disappoint my parents, after all the sacrifices they’ve made for my education, for me. Filial piety and all that. And though I do enjoy writing and hope to make something of it one day, it’s not like I abhor working at an office in general or the steady paycheck. I’m competent at what I do; they tell me so. I have vague dreams of wanting to reach a position where I’m known by others to be highly knowledgeable in my field of work, to genuinely enjoy the work that I do instead of eagerly counting down the minutes till lunch. I hope to one day find that something, my weekday passion.
It’s a bit terrifying sometimes, even now, when I meet people my age who have been fortunate enough to already find theirs and speak of it with such glowing enthusiasm; it makes me feel anxious and stunted somehow. And I know that soon-to-be and fresh college graduates must feel this anxiety even more acutely at this point in their lives — I getchu, I really do.
When I was 22, I confessed my fear of not knowing what I wanted to do to my mother. She told me, with infinite wisdom and not a little sarcasm, that of course I didn’t know what to do — how could I possibly, when I’d never worked a day in my life, notwithstanding those stints at lemonade stands or bake sales, aggressively shaking samples of a new soybean snack at drugstores to disinterested housewives, getting peed on by 5-year-olds with Dior shoes and poor penile aim at summer camp, and weekly English sessions with apathetic middle schoolers at cram school? The key was to figure out little by little what my strengths and interests were, while gaining work experience. Figure out what you like by figuring out what you don’t like first. Process of elimination.
And another important thing to remember too is that the concept of a dream job is inherently capitalistic, a fantasy fed to us so that the line between work and life is made completely obsolete, because if you love what you do so much, it isn’t a job anymore; your job is now your life. Which is a dangerously false narrative, because the work you do does not define who you are as a person. What makes you snort with laughter, what makes you cry when you’re alone, your hopes, your values, your insecurities, the books you read, what you push to the side of the plate and surreptitiously hide under a leaf of lettuce at restaurants, what makes you shake with anger, what makes your heart sing, the people you love, you kiss, you fuck, all the banalities of your existence like your favorite brand of potato chips, the way you tie your shoelaces, the way you walk, the way you peel an orange: these and more are what define you as a person. Not your job title, your salary, what you secretly think of your boss, or vice versa, what your boss thinks of you and your relative value to the company.
Know this: within a company, you will always be replaceable; there is no job that cannot be done by anyone else. The harsh truth is that you could be gone tomorrow and the company won’t fall apart at the seams — it’ll be inconvenient, a brief hiccup in operations, but they’ll manage just fine. But outside of the company, you’re not replaceable, not truly. Maybe there will be others who will have the same name, or a similar sense of humor, who will remind other people of you in some way. Not all friendships and relationships last. But you are irreplaceable, never mind what Beyonce says. There will never be anyone else quite like you.
So if you find your dream job, great; and if not, as long as it doesn’t cause you stress ulcers and make you cry on Monday mornings and the people are tolerable, likable even, and it pays the rent, then also great — carry on with your non-capitalistic ways and find joy and meaning in other aspects of your life. It’s what I’m trying to believe too, as I make my way through the game board of Life. Devout atheist as I am, at intermittent moments, I understand why some choose the comfort of an omnipresent God (i.e. mysterious man in the sky who allegedly impregnated a virgin and sent his one and only child on a suicide mission to save all of mankind, but again, I digress), and believe that all things happen for a reason, that there is continuation after death. It’d be nice to hold onto a little bit of conviction, sometimes.
But in the end, I ultimately subscribe to the belief that there’s beauty in not knowing, the excitement and anticipation of an unknown future that contains endless possibilities. A million parallel universes splintering off into others with every decision I make. “MOMO MAKES MOMO”, my dad texted me before, on one of my birthdays. And it’s true, I am the architect of my own future.
I make me.
You make you.
We don’t know yet, but we’ll find out. It’s all gonna be okay, I promise.