Like many of you, I had no shortage of ambitions growing up, each promising their own little umbrella of possibilities. And if life turned out for you the same way it did for me, these dreams probably petered out and died through the ravages of adulthood.
We’ve probably even shared ambitions as kids: fireman, lawyer, scientist. But as I entered my teenage years, I’d realise that my dreams would take a turn for the grandiose.
I wanted to be an X-Games inline skater, a Starcraft player, an MMA fighter. I also entertained the idea of being a game developer, a writer, a parkour expert.
Thanks to the power of the internet, I was able to stoke my aspirations without having any local resources to actually realise them. MMA gyms, for example, weren’t even heard of in Malaysia when Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture broke pay-per-view records on the other side of the world, circa 2005.
So I had to be content with a graveyard of broken dreams. I grew up with the idea that achieving your dreams was only reserved for the lucky few. Everyone else had to grow up and do the responsible thing—to get good grades, find a stable job, start a family, and die.
Odd one out
I wasn’t made for the system though, and the first decade of my working life would make sure that I’d know. Everyone else around me seemed perfectly fine going through what I’d call a ‘checklist life’, and these same people would tell me to forget being a writer, or to stop making all that stupid programmes on the computer.
I bought into that thought too. So I settled for a career in hairdressing—something that had a progression I could work up to—and I assumed that the intense emptiness that came along with that was just part of adulting.
It’s only when I’ve almost lost everything that I decided to do what I wanted to instead of what people thought I should. I had nothing to lose—money, relationships, future—so why bother going back to something that I hated? I was starving as a hairdresser and an accountant, why not starve as a writer?
As it turned out, the hollowness I had felt for the first ten years of my working life wasn’t a depression of sorts—it was my heart telling me that I wasn’t in the right place.
A broken record
I repeat this story a lot, because how often do we shortchange ourselves and think that we aren’t worthy? I never once thought of applying for a writing career, one that I’d thrive in, based solely on my academic achievements.
I’d have missed out on seeing my name in magazines and newspapers. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to travel all around the world and experience assignments both wonderful and insufferable. Wouldn’t have gotten my book deal. All because I didn’t have a degree in journalism (and thought that it mattered).
Ralph Waldo Emerson might’ve teetered on the edge of woo-woo when he said that once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen, but I’m starting to believe that what he said rings so, so true.
What else could explain me having the same pay for more than a decade, then seeing it grow exponentially within a year once I changed industries? Why would I get constant offers for interesting gigs despite having no qualifications at all? And why do I keep wanting to do this thing even though there’s no guarantee that I’ll ever make it as a writer?
I don’t know the answers to all that, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that it’s the universe’s way of telling me that I’m exactly where I need to be, and I’ll continue staying here as long as it tells me to.
The universe is guiding me
Last year, I left my cushy job as a content manager because something nudged me once again, telling me that writing website copy and social media posts wasn’t what I was meant to do.
That nudge would help me realise my dream of being a traditionally-published author, but that didn’t mean my journey wasn’t far from ideal; signing a book deal doesn’t automatically mean money.
In fact, I’m not even banking on breaking even. It’s just something I felt I had to do, and it’s the first time I’ve ever felt any sort of conviction in my life. So far it’s been a wise choice.
“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Time to reflect
As Covid-19 threatens to take over the entire year, I believe that now’s the time to talk about our dreams, to take the isolation as an opportunity to figure out what really matters in our lives.
After all, as recent events have proven, life can really turn on a dime, and I don’t want to have to turn a corner in my life only to realise that I haven’t been living at all.
The X-Games is now a thing of the past, and I might be way behind on the skill curve where MMA is concerned, but I still have other dreams, and for once in my life, I get to say that I took a chance on one of them.
It’s scary to not have a proven path to follow, to have to fumble along on my own, but for what it’s worth, in my whole thirty-seven years of living, I’ve never felt more alive.