I Don’t Know What I’m Doing With My Life
Why do I feel lost and a failure during my early 20s?
My name is Tanya and I’m 22 years old. I’m [ethnically] half Filipina and half British, but I mostly grew up in the Philippines with my mother’s side of the family. I graduated from the University of British Columbia in June 2020, during the middle of a pandemic. I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and Creative Writing. What have I done with that? Nothing. Since then, I’ve had periods of feeling lost, alone, and unmotivated. Since then, I’ve started my own cookie business, took an entrepreneurship course, began working on an [confidential] exciting project, gone viral on Instagram for a reel I cringe over, and attended countless webinars about Financing and Business Plans.
And since then, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.
I usually visit my parents in the Philippines every summer. In 2020 I stayed in Vancouver, Canada for the entire year. Except for a week in February where I travelled to Cancún during UBC’s reading break. That seems like a lifetime ago. The concept of travel feels surreal and utopian now. Staying in Vancouver has made me feel a bit stagnant. It’s as if someone has my life on a VHS tape, decides to watch it, but then pauses it for ten months. Yet I’m still living in that pause. No matter which project or venture I embark on, it feels as though nothing I do is momentous.
See, as a student, if anybody asks you what you do, all you have to say is “I’m a student”. Perhaps they’ll ask what/where you study or what you plan to do, but even then they aren’t overly concerned for you. Now, when you’ve graduated and are, much like me, all over the place, suddenly it irks you to be asked what you do. I don’t know what I’m doing, okay, Cassandra?!
In my case, I find myself talking about being a business owner and some of the writing I do. Even when I only see the person’s eyes because a mask covers 75% of their face, I somehow convince myself that this person either finds me pretentious or thinks I’m not going anywhere. Even when they say “Oh honey, that’s amazing! It’s lovely that during this pandemic you’ve managed to do something for yourself!” I think they’re lying. My overanalysing mind detects that under the high pitched crinkled eye statement, they think I’m a complete failure. And I can only respond with a whispered “Thank you” as my eyes begin to water and I mention how chilly I feel in the 6-degree Vancouverian winter.
Then I go home and scroll through social media to see everybody “living their best lives”. The latest Forbes 30 Under 30 pops up and it features people years younger than me. I read success stories of entrepreneurs starting their businesses during the pandemic and are now booming. I hear friends getting employed and receiving an actual salary plus all the health and dental benefits. And all I can think about is… what the hell am I doing with my life?
If you know me personally, you know me to be one of the most joyous, positive, smiling people you’ve ever come across. I’ll assume you don’t and perhaps you think I’m being quite negative with my life, or that I’ve reached my quarter-life crisis earlier than scheduled. But if you know me personally, you also know that I feel through my emotions and give them the space they need to be heard.
And so I wonder: if the pandemic didn’t happen or if it was controlled, would I be in this exact position?
A big part of me says no. She thinks she would have spent the summer solo travelling around Europe like she dreamed of. She would have gone home and spent quality time with her family. She’d relish her mother’s cooking and read books with her father in the mornings. She’d have tanned, mango stained skin that made her feel like herself again. She wouldn’t need to say premature goodbyes to the friends that left abruptly, and she would’ve most definitely walked across the stage in the Chan Centre to receive her degree from Santa Ono.
Yet it’s absurd to process the minuscule part of me that whispers yes, you would be in this exact, same position. And that’s because after all the jobs I’ve had, I never saw myself in a conventional 9 to 5 desk job. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was because my brain has a tendency to release fear as a way of protecting myself from being rejected. However, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s rooted in the belief that I’m capable of paving my own path that deviates from the capitalistic system entrenched in my being.
Shortly after finishing my classes in April, my father asked me to consider working in the Communications Department for pharmaceuticals or oil companies. He knows writing and communication are some of my assets, so why not perform for some of the most profiting industries in the world? I laughed at his e-mail, shaking my head and thinking Oh, dad. Sticking to the Silent Generation you are. Too precious.
There’s something in me that fights against the idea of working for money instead of passion. Whenever I try to swallow the slightest possibility of doing so, I vomit it back up right away. It doesn’t sit well in my stomach, and so I avoid it. If only I avoided dairy the same way, I wouldn’t experience as much bloating and gas as I currently do.
That’s why when I reflect on 2020 and ask myself if I’d have it any other way, my initial answer would always be yes. But when I think about the 2020 I actually had, I can’t help but feel grateful for the way it turned out. I stood by myself through it all: the frustration, the achievements, the doubt, the personal growth, the bursting into tears in the shower. After all the emotional turmoil I experienced, I probably spent the majority of the time sitting and not standing — but the truth was I developed the greatest relationship one can have: a relationship with myself.
It’s hard to live in a [capitalistic] system where success is measured by aspects such as income and speed of creation. It’s harder when you’re exposed to success on your News Feed or For You Page every single day. You create this idea of what success should look like and how fast it should be within reach, that if you’re not living in a beautiful apartment with floor to ceiling glass windows and a 6 figure income in a year’s time, you’re automatically a failure.
But let me tell you: it isn’t your fault. We’re living in a world where instant gratification is available through the devices we endlessly scroll on. We’re obsessed with it. Post a photo and get all the likes. Send a message, give it 5 minutes, and get a reply. Place an order online and it’ll be shipped the following day. All in the comfort of your comfort zone. So it isn’t your fault if you suddenly realise success and a stable income doesn’t come pounding on your door after putting an ounce of effort.
And the truth is, we all know that. We all know we have to work for success; we hear about it all the time. Even in those success stories we read, there’s usually a quote that goes something like “It took time, hard work, and dedication”. Yet we resist accepting the fact that action and patience are required for success because we already visualise the doubt, stress, frustration, and failure it comes with — and who would want to deal with that?
But deep down inside, underneath all the voices that have clouded your own, you know success is innately yours — because you get to define success. And even when you realise that it means going against or deviating from the current, it isn’t impossible.
So perhaps it’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing with my life… it’s I’m learning to trust my own path.