On the fourth day of 2016, I was back in my office and the excitement of the New Year have calmed down (not really. I found myself still gleefully wishing ‘Happy New Yearrr!’ to random strangers I met at the lift). I was talking to a friend when he dropped the revelation bomb.
“Do you realise that we’ll be 30 before we know it?” (Yes, and it physically hurts my gut)
“If we live to be 60, which is the average statistical number of years people currently live, that means we have lived almost half our lives! Have you done anything significant?”
And with that, my 2016 hurrah fell splat on the floor and died.
As he went on about his goals of being a millionaire (okay maybe he didn’t say exactly that, but that was the gist I got), my mind had already wandered off somewhere else. The state of panic had caused my brain to immediately do a quick flash back on my highlights of the past 10 years. Strangely enough, instead of the big, ‘significant’, recognisable things that happened to me, my mind seemed to be flashing random images of mundane life incidents. Like that time I was on the bus on the way to work because I haven’t bought a car. Or the time I watched a starry sky on a shipdeck after being stranded there for three weeks for work. My first night in my new, empty apartment and I was excited about it. People. Lots and lots of images of people who came, then stayed or left but made a difference anyway. Beautiful quiet Sunday mornings at home with brunch. Laughing with friends. Laughing with my Mom. Chasing a train somewhere in Vietnam. Crying at movies. Crying at boys. Jumping off a jetty into the sea at sunset. Flying a kite. Eating fois gras and discovering that it’s overrated. Writing at my favourite spot by the window.
My mind doesn't seem to flag some of the bigger things that I had done or seen. It missed out graduation. Or getting highest in class for a subject. Buying designer bags. Buying a car. Working. People whom I thought did me wrong. Extravagant weddings. Pretentious parties. As much as some of these things are important, standard milestones, it doesn't seem to feel that they had a significant impact on my hard drive memory.
There is always a pressure to fulfil our lives with generic goals that the environment around us seem to have set for everybody. Unfortunately, more often than not these have the least impact on our personal self-growth. I am not all saying that getting job isn’t important, or that owning property isn’t momentous. In fact, that may very well be the case for some of us. My point here is that what is significant for you may not necessarily be the same as what is significant to other people, and vice versa. Your idea of a life well lived isn’t always the same as your friends or what your parents have envisioned for you. I have a friend whose vision of a great life is having lots of kids and they all gather around for Raya every year. On the contrary, I also know someone who quit her job to focus on being a photographer, is still currently struggling to get her work recognised but is embracing her current lifestyle because it is what she has always aspired to be. Unfortunately a lot of us (read: myself included sometimes) tend to conclude that what’s different from the norm is often ‘sad’. Which makes us the sad ones, really.
So when the question arose about whether I have done anything significant, I was more concerned if I had spent the past thirty years living someone else’s life. Did I do the things I wanted to do? Did I live the way I wanted to live, however weird, odd and perplexing the choices may see from the outside? Did I pay attention to the little details that make up to the sum of a wonderful, adventurous life?
“So, are you where you thought you’d be by now?” the friend asked.
I sighed. I am so glad the answer wasn’t no.