There was a time when I believed I could change the world with hard work.
This was exactly nine years ago, I was also a high school senior who believed that a thick, black eyeliner with matching side-swept bangs, the kind that dramatically covers one eye, would garner me a place among the school cool kids.
It didn’t. The only thing I garnered from that was fashion felony and a new Facebook account.
At the beginning of the year, we were each tasked to decorate the covers of our school journal with our aspirations and dreams. This was a problem because I can’t draw for shit. Perhaps when God showered artistic creativity, I was busy reading Stallion pocketbooks indoors. Just as every class have their fair share of overgeneralized stereotypes—the jocks, class clowns, servant-leaders—we also have the unsung heroes of the uncreative: the artists.
Our class had two artists. I begged one of them to do my journal for a handsome fee, or a week’s worth of assignment, or both. Despite my epic skills of extortion, she refused. She said she already had lots of customers and by lots she meant half of the class.
I was left to my own devices. I squeezed my brain to force-produce creative juices. There was barely a drop, and that drop just screamed, “F*ck drawing. Just throw in a bold quote!”
I took out the closest thing I have to an art supply, a very artsy, sophisticated, black permanent marker. I wrote in large block letters: I WILL CHANGE THE WORLD.
The work made me proud. Amidst the obvious lack of visual aesthetic, what added weight to those words was my belief. I didn’t question what I wrote. If the teacher had asked, “Why do you want to change the world, and how do you plan on doing it?” He would’ve only gotten an awkward chuckle from me. But I was a high school senior about to be shoved into Adulting’s Ass, I didn’t think of trivial questions like that.
What I only invested in was the feeling of possibilities.
Suddenly, I can be anything I want.
From being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to “What do you want to be?”
The phrase when you grow up had dropped. I had grown up. I can be anything.
It was too much power.
That power was further strengthened by one unified slogan chanted everywhere in the world like some cult ritual: You can be anything you want to be if you work hard.
This idea of hard work echoed throughout my childhood and adolescence. It was littered across television shows, songs, and even during family gatherings where my titos and titas only had that one script as if they went to the same how to be an exemplary relative seminar.
And the message came across. I believed working hard was my key to success.
Skip to six years of hard work and three years of working an 8-5 job, and I still haven’t changed the world.
Surprise, surprise, mothercrucker.
It was indeed a vast expanse of possibilities, and the one possibility where I was a miserable adult, downing two grande cups of overpriced coffee to compensate for my lack of satisfaction, came true.
Success ≠ Hard Work
I’m not miserable because I haven’t achieved anything. In fact, I have. (Or at least other people think I have.)
I was able to graduate with flying colors (credits goes to the lot of Indian YouTubers and cheat sheets I found online). I also have a title before my name—Engineer, to be specific— which has yin-yang qualities, like all things:
- People think I’m good at mental math. Let me just clear this up, I am not good at mental math. (Saying this, I feel like a disgrace to the Engineering community, but oh well, the truth shall set me free.) Whenever we eat at restaurants, please don’t yell out the prices of each dish then ask me what the total is, because we have calculators for such adversities. (Some people are excellent at mental math but just like with artistic creativity, if I can’t do it, let others do it.)
- In order to keep the title, I have to earn, every 3 years or so, a minimum of 15 CPD units (which just means attending overcharged seminars that occur surprisingly on the day you got the invitation).
- The only good thing to get out of this is I get people to call me Engineer. It feels good because who doesn’t like that little aura of superiority? And before you scamper to your keyboards and cancel me on Twitter, I am merely writing the truth. I don’t mean the Karen-type superiority: demanding to see the manager just because a mundane issue (like receiving the wrong sauce for her nuggets) has damaged her self-worth. What I actually meant is the sense of triumph attained from the hard work for achieving said title. (But the underlying truth is: I love validation.)
Despite this “success”, I’m still miserable.
I realized—as I wedged deeper into Adulting’s Ass— what my problem was. It was that I was ordinary.
I haven’t changed the world; heck, I haven’t even changed my sheets this week.
The social idea of meritocracy that was ruthlessly engraved in me—hard work equals success—is false. Hard work only gets you 50% of the ‘anything’ you want to be. The other half, which they failed to emphasize (or chose not to), was luck.
Case in point: the world’s richest man, Mr. Bill Gates himself.
If you think about it, there’s a lot of programmers out there that are as skilled as Bill Gates. But have you ever wondered why not all of them gets to be the world’s richest man (despite them working hard and believing in the ‘you can be anything you want to be crap’)?
Well, to put it simply, Bill Gates was just lucky. He had all the appropriate conditions, the right privilege, the perfect timing, plus the hard work.
We have to realize that it wasn’t just hard work that got Mr. Gates to where he is now.
If that had been the case, then our farmers, school teachers, construction workers, firefighters, who work to the point of exhaustion should get to drive a sports car, or to live in a penthouse.
All my life I was taught that hard work was the only key to success, and look where it got me—miserable, for realizing all my hard work wasn’t enough to change anything. When my hard work fell short of fancy getaways, fame, and upscale condos, I blamed myself thinking “Maybe I gotta work extra harder”.
But that’s just wrong. So wrong. I did it and it was ugly.
We didn’t ask to be born and going with this logic, we don’t have to amount to anything, we don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone because in the first place, we didn’t ask to be spewed out of the vagina and exist.
If you’re looking for comfort from this post, you won’t find one. I can’t give you comfort simply because I don’t know what gives you comfort. It’s just as it is—we’re both ordinary (unless you’re the child of Elon or a mafia boss).
I can, however, tell you what gave me comfort and in the process might help you find yours.
Ditching Hard Work
It wasn’t easy gnawing out of the protective shell of meritocracy and discovering I would never amount to anything no matter how hard I work.
The question “What’s the point?” was like a hand pinning me down my bed each day.
What happened next was just pure luck—my mom was cleaning out some of our old stuff to make room for new clutter. She found my old books. I picked one out of the pile and started reading one page and then—holy fork!—magic was rediscovered.
It was a tiny spark at first, but the more I read, the brighter the beacon grew. I finally found—or re-found—something worth staying up late with and worth waking up to.
Reading stories had been so much fun as a kid, and now that I’ve grown, reading has also become more profound.
It was a worthy Eureka! moment that could rival that of Archimedes. Although in my opinion, holy fork! is a much better catchphrase than Eureka—using the original f-word, obvs.
Reading reawakened in me the sense of doing something out of pure enjoyment. You know, like when you were a kid. Just doing things because it was fun. Like eating poop (not that I did but I know people who did, shut up) or watching Tom & Jerry over and over again or chanting with all your heart when Dora asked you to help her stop Swiper from swiping.
It didn’t matter if it didn’t make sense, it was just fun—and it was free from judgment, free from the pressure of trying to prove something, free from the prison of social ideals.
Failure is an Option
With reading came the need to write. I’ve tried my hand with fiction but I’m really not a good storyteller (as you can probably tell).
Now I’m writing because I enjoy writing. I’m writing for the sake of writing. I’m not hoping to produce the next New York bestseller or be the next Shakespeare or be the best blogger.
I don’t even hope for you to like my writing, it’s just I write simply because it brings me comfort despite not changing the world. I write despite knowing there’s so much better writers out there.
Reading and writing, even if just a little bit, helped me cope with existence. Melissa Broder (one of my fave authors) wrote she enjoyed nose-picking as a child, that she experienced pure happiness from the mere touch of an outstretched finger and a booger, and that:
“…there aren’t many ways to find comfort in this world. We must take it where we can get it, even in the darkest, most disgusting places.”
Find your comfort. I’m rooting for you.
Try these out!
Finding your comfort thing should be easy (in theory) since you did it when you were a kid. But I’d like to make your life easier by giving you a list of activities that might give you a Holy Fork! moment:
- Making Memes! (GOD-TIER)
- Gardening (I was actually about to type “Planting”. It’s not entirely wrong but oh my god)
- Playing musical instruments
- Making Music/Songs
- Making Movies
- Writing Stories/Poems
- Nose-picking (TOP-TIER)
And when you find it (whether from my pathetic list or from deep within your heart), remember this:
Destroy the idea that you gotta be good at artistic things to enjoy them, that every hobby has become something you’re so good at, you can monetize it. A capitalist lie.
Sing offkey. Draw poorly. Write badly. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not monetized. You’re not a product.— @bookavid