NON FICTION: Why I’ve Stopped Wishing For A Perfect Life

Three women laughing

Photo: Priscilla Du Preez

It seems as if my life’s just about making one blunder after another.

Things have took a turn for the better compared to ten years ago, but the mistakes keep coming. I still have issues to work on, wounds to heal, and a life to improve, yet I often mess them up by doing the wrong things.

Looking back, I wish I’d studied harder, worked harder, and didn’t waste so much time just loafing around. Who knows what I might’ve become had I applied myself much earlier in life?

But at the same time, I sometimes wonder if all that fooling around is the exact reason why I’m being more mindful about this. In fact, I might probably have been worse off had I not made all those bad decisions.

If life was smooth sailing, I might’ve not even realised my dream as a writer. The action that set me on this course was so tiny that I could’ve actually missed the chance to be where I am today.

And I still shudder thinking about that reality.

Back up, rewind

For your convenience, let’s have a quick recap on my career path before we move on with the story.

Barring the downtimes when I’d held odd jobs such as being a roadie, a cybercafe attendant, a waiter, and even an insurance agent, my professional life can largely be categorised into three phases: hairdressing, auditing, and writing.

These vocations spanned across fifteen years, neither of them being careers I’d actively sought. It was all a blind stumble from one industry to another, and this is where the story begins.

Woman climbing stairs

Photo: Vidar Nordli Mathisen

The first step

Growing up, I never knew that writing was a viable career option. As much as I was drawn to the craft since I was a kid, I thought that it’d be nothing short of a hobby. In fact, besides writing, I never really did pay attention in school, resulting in terrible grades and a fuck-all attitude towards career-building.

So when it came time to stop fooling around and end my streak of dead-end jobs, I naturally picked the job that required the least amount of studying—hairdressing. It wasn’t something I was particularly interested in, but I could work with my hands and there wasn’t any paperwork to do.

What ensued were the sixty-hour workweeks and having to work during the holidays—Christmas and New Year’s included. Still, I had something to pay the bills with, so there wasn’t much to complain about.

During this time, I’d notice my colleagues’ passion for the industry. They’d comb through (heh) fashion magazines, figure out new styles, and constantly practise the less-used skills, such as hair-setting for proms and weddings.

Me? I read the lifestyle magazines, with the now-defunct FHM Malaysia being one of my regular reads. One particular article stood out to me, and it was about a magazine staffer having a week to prepare for an amateur boxing fight, without having any fight experience whatsoever.

That was the first time I’d ever discovered my possible dream job. Before that, jobs were just means of earning money to me. This was actually interesting. I sold myself the dream that someday, I too will have a byline in a magazine.

But it remained that. Just a dream.

I would suppress my ambitions and continue grinding in the service industry. After about six years of this, I finally decided that this wasn’t the place for me to be in.

“You have to die a few times before you actually live.”

—Charles Bukowski

The next chapter

After the hairdressing phase was over and done with, I decided to give the office life a go. I mean, anything with a five-day workweek plus holidays sounded like a great deal. My biggest misjudgement, however, was that I needed to go back to school for this.

The only option open—due to my terrible school grades—was accounting. Still, I leapt at it while juggling a part-time retail job and some haircuts on the side. This was my life for two years, and it was a very basic one.

I was on my way back up again… but was I really?

After graduation came the job hunt. I must’ve sent out some fifty applications even before I left college, but only one company would get back to me.

Deflated and not wanting to waste any more time, I decided to take it. Turns out, the workload still totalled to sixty hours per week, and I got paid the same amount (about USD 300 per month) as when I was in hairdressing. I never even got to see the sun set or rise.

Enter the most depressing time of my life, when I was caught between a terrible career, a bad relationship, and nothing to look forward to. I’d never known the dread of having to wake up in the mornings until I landed this job. Even the challenging trials of the service industry was nothing compared to the grinding torture that was auditing.

Interestingly, I’d also notice my colleagues treating the 2012 Corporate Tax Guide like the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Every time I watched them study the book like it was their duty (heh heh), a question would loom at the back of my head: How could anyone ever be interested in stuff like that? I was definitely in the wrong company, both the business and the people I was surrounded with.

I’d eventually break and take whatever meagre savings I had to escape to Thailand for a month. I just needed to get away from everything, even if that meant emptying out my bank account and choosing the cheapest options available (I stayed in Muay Thai gyms and dorms my entire time there, got around by foot, and subsisted on ramen and boiled water).

Hand flipping page of book

Photo: Prasanna Kumar

Finding myself

I was mad at the world. I’d played by the rules and still gotten nowhere.

I was mad at my ex-girlfriend. We’d broken up at this point, and I was still hurting from the way she had treated me, especially during this trying time in my life.

But most of all, I was mad at myself. For not studying. For always making the wrong decisions. For not having the means to take care of myself.

I was twenty-eight years old, and I was going to start from zero for the third time in my life.

But you’re reading this article now, and that only means that all my bad decisions had played a part in making my writerly dreams come true.

“People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.”

—Thomas Szasz

The turning point

So there I was in Thailand with nothing to my name, still browsing job portals for vacancies. I came across some openings for writers that listed these requirements: Degree in Journalism or equivalent, at least two years’ experience, good command of the English language.

My first language was English, and I figured having one out of three requirements wasn’t bad. But I laughed as I entertained the thought of sending in my resume, because who’d ever want an ex-hairdresser with a Diploma in Accounting as a writer?

I never would’ve thought to send the applications had I not already lost everything I thought I had. Was it my higher-self guiding me? Maybe the writing dreams I’d harboured from my hairdressing days were beginning to surface? Had I gone crazy? I don’t know, but I applied for both vacancies.

Both companies emailed me the very next day. I went from having 2% odds to 100%, all without having the necessary requirements. That day would mark my foray into the publishing industry, and me learning that I shouldn’t disqualify myself before other people do.

Woman sitting before sign that says 'This is my happy place'

Photo: Artem Beliaikin

The meaning of it all

While the publishing industry does come with its own challenges, I’ve never again felt the dread during my time in auditing, nor the indifference when I was in hairdressing.

This understanding came full circle when—during my time in a business newspaper—I came across a dusty copy of Strunk’s The Elements Of Style in our office library (read: a table full of books). I devoured that book cover to cover, and my colleagues thought I was somewhat of a weirdo.

That was when it hit me—I was finally where I was meant to be. Because of this, I truly believe that each of us has something we were meant to do, and we all have our own paths to tread before we get to find our way in life.

I could’ve listened to my doubts and still be in a place I don’t belong today. I’ve also learned to reject certainty, as who knows, perhaps someday I’d be a programmer, a standup-up comedian, or even a very successful dog-walker.

What I mean to say is this: life certainly does put the beatdown on you sometimes, but the important thing is that you keep going. Keep trying and never stay still, because you’ll never know where your next silver lining will shine from. Besides, inaction only brings about deterioration, dead fish downstream quotes and all.

I might still look back ten years from now and find out how much of an idiot I’ve been, but I’m no longer worried about having to constantly make the right choices.

No matter how bad of a decision I make, I’ll still end up learning something, and if I can stumble my way to making a dream come true, then I guess having an imperfect life isn’t so bad after all.

Do follow my Facebook page if you’d like to stay updated and know more than just my career history.

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