of suits and sweatpants

i read an article today in the NY Times about how one has to lose oneself before you can determine what you will become in life, and how it is not your wish and desires that shape your future, but instead a set of problems you attempt to solve. the writer, Mr Brooks, surmised: “most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. they look outside and find a problem, which summons their life.”

for instance, if your overbearing Asian Tiger mother decides that she wants you to become a doctor, you either a) solve the problem and pursue this path or b) become a lawyer instead. in another instance – taken directly and unabashedly out of my favourite Hindi movie 3 Idiots – if your family is well beneath the poverty line and your teacher mother is the only source of income to support you, your sister and your paralysed father, the obvious solution would be to become a doctor or an engineer and earn a shit load of money so that all your family’s financial woes will be solved.

these facetious examples are exaggerated metaphors of reality. so, part of what Mr Brooks write is, indeed, true. in this west meets east hodgepodge culture of liberalism and Asian conservativeness that is unique to a growing number of young adults in modern Asia, it has become so very easy indeed to lose oneself in attempting to find some sort of stability far beneath the chaos. one well established path out of this post college mess is to not stay in the field they have majored in anymore. don’t be a researcher; be a banker. don’t be an employee; be your own boss. in essence, college graduates like both you and i are proffered contradictory advice: follow your heart, feel free to do whatever you wish, but be sure to conform and earn lots of cash while you’re at it. “doing your job well means suppressing yourself,” Mr Brooks writes. further, he also quotes Atul Gawande at Harvard Med: “being a good doctor often means being part of a team, following the rules of an institution, going down a regimented checklist.”

for most people, suppressing oneself is not difficult to do: the allure of working in a smart suit in an air-conditioned room, and then heading out to dine with beautiful people in the city’s finest restaurants seems infinitely more palatable than working menial technical jobs in sweatpants for menial pay with the sole purpose of wanting so very badly to go to grad school, an option which few savvy Asians seek to do.

Mr Brooks also writes:

“Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.”

it is in this conclusion that i find his take home message most baffling. i have been told that nobody, and nobody at all, can excel at what they do without loving it with every fibre of their being. in these 8 months that i have been free of college, more and more i find that this rings true. nobody wants to work in a cubicle for the rest of their lives. spoken in true 22-year-old form, i am aspiring and working very hard to have a job that i will love and that i will not regret waking up every morning at 5am for. the optimistic self buried in me can safely say that i have located this want and am doing everything i can in my power to realize it. if the Purpose in life is to lose yourself to your passion that is not a task, then so be it.

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