For Novia, on her birthday.
"Es-tu ambitieuse?" ("Are you ambitious?") Nicolas, my French teacher asked me a few days ago when we were having the usual in-class discussions. We were talking about happiness at work and whether or not that's achievable.
"Oui... quand j'étais jeune," ("Yes... when I was young") I answered truthfully before stopping myself from elaborating too much. Believe me, I could talk about this all day, but my French isn't adequate for me to do that. And I didn't want to bore my teacher and classmates with my personal sob story. You know, how life is so tough and how, in consequence, my younger ambitious and energetic self no longer exists.
So, I'm gonna write it here instead.
First of all, am I the only one around here who feel depressed upon finding out that the super talented Top Chef contestant is just 18 years old? I know, right? At that age, I thought Chipotle was the best food ever (I still think it's sooo good even now). But that 18-year-old guy with the glory of his youth, talks about transforming camembert cheese into something mind-blowingly unrecognizable and making frothy foams that are made of foie gras and God knows what else. When I watch such talent in such a young body, I often wonder, what was I doing with my life when I was that age? I certainly wasn't talking about my aspirations with such passion that would move other to tears. I wasn't even close to knowing what was it I was born to do in this world.
As a 25-year-old (I'm not 26 just yet, okay?) who has been in this world long enough to be exposed to heartbreaking life problems, but not long enough to be giving out wise advice, I can attest that boy, navigating through life is not easy. You know that feeling when you are about to sit for an exam and you are hoping that it won't be harder than expected? Life is what happens when you skim through the exam questions and you realize, to your dismay, that you have no idea how to answer those questions. So then you freestyle your way up until the last question, hoping for the best. Sometimes you pass the exam, sometimes you fail. And as we've all heard many times, when your life (or exam) knocks you down and you fail, you get back up. But, what if, getting back up on your feet is easier said than done?
Look, I'm not a cynical person whose ultimate objective is to make you feel mellow and dispirited. Successful people talk about their past failures in the hope of motivating others not to give up. I genuinely think that's great, and I myself often go on Youtube to search for motivational videos of Ted talks or tips from successful people, whenever I need a mental boost. What we don't talk about enough is people who are on the way somewhere but often don't even know their destinations. People who are trying to get ahead in life but seem to meet countless dead ends in the process. People who think their lives spiral out of control and have no idea how to get back on the right track. People who wish to fast-forward this part of their lives to the next scene in which they feel happier and fulfilled.
People, in general, love happy endings. Or inspiring success stories. Or good news. I don't think I have ever seen "Top 20 Entrepreneurs Who Are Still Figuring Out How To Be Successful" headline printed across a magazine cover. Probably because such headline doesn't sell the magazine and it definitely doesn't make people dream. But that is often the truth for a lot of people, including myself, today, and yet we don't read or hear about it enough. With the omnipresent social media updates, in which most people display a better version of their lives, we might find ourselves falling short of our own or society's expectations. Now, I'm not blaming other people who post highlights of their lives on their social media profiles because I, myself, am guilty as charged. For example, I might post a photo of my neatly (relatively) arranged book shelves with several coffee table books that are definitely Instaworthy. But what you don't see is the hot mess underneath those shelves because my tiny studio apartment can't fit all of my possessions. You also won't see a picture of myself, makeup free, waking up from a nap caused by my full stomach, with empty potato chips bag scattered on the floor. But, hey, at least I'm telling you about it here. See, it's easier to think that my life evolves around big cheery smiles and fantastic meals than to see the real and, a lot of times not Instaworthy, behind-the-scenes. No, you don't see social media posts of me crying my eyes out because I'm disappointed with myself or other things. Why? Because I'm a human being. I love beautiful things wrapped in even more gorgeous packaging.
It's like when I first arrived in Paris for my studies. My French was far from conversational and people often asked me how long I had been living in Paris.
"3 months," I sheepishly replied.
And they would be telling me things like, "Oh, it's normal that you don't really speak French, you just got here. I'm sure you'll be fluently speaking French in no time."
People were sympathetic and why wouldn't they? Even the French know their language is almost impossible to master and I was a newcomer. Then, 3 months turned into 6 months and turned into 1 year and turned into 3 years. It's no longer cute or okay to still say, "Je parle pas français, est-ce que vous parlez anglais?" ("I don't speak French, do you speak English?") anymore. And believe me, I wish I could install the French language in my brains the way I can install Google Translate on my phone.
In addition to this speaking fluent French frustration, I also have expectations for myself. My much younger self, who strived to always be in the Top 5 of her class (this was true until I was 12), would shake her head in disapproval if she saw how things turn out for me. I love writing yet I lack the discipline and sometimes the creativity one needs to be a good writer. I don't have anything concrete on my CV I can impress people with. I'm a freelancer; fortunately for me, I love what I do. But working freelance means emotional and financial roller coaster, and I'm nowhere near reaching my goals. My ambitious younger self would have expected my mid-20s self to be safely tucking away some of her stable income and putting it into fruitful investments. In reality, I have just started reading up on investing for beginners books and have just recently learned the difference between stock and bond.
What I'm trying to say is I know patience, along with passion, are more than crucial for one to have. Just like I can't suddenly speak French fluently by instantly installing the language in my brains, there is, sadly, no shortcut. That's why I make myself go to my French class (often not easy to do) whenever I'm not working. That's why I have been watching more French TV programs and although I don't understand them 100%, I have noticed some progress especially compared to my first year in France.
I don't pretend to know the solutions to get ourselves to our desired destinations because I'm also still on the way there and don't know when I will be there. I'm writing this hoping that it would also serve as a reminder to myself that success doesn't happen as fast as cooking an instant noodle. That people might laugh when we fall, jeer at us when we try to advance in life and they might mock us out of their own insecurities when we gradually get ahead. But you know what, there are simply too many enriching books out there to be read and there are too many things to eat, learn and see to care about unnecessary distractions.
Nobody knows what the future holds. Just wanted to let you know that feeling lost and disoriented in life is as normal as the cold and rainy weather in Paris in autumn, and that you're not alone in feeling so. To people who found their passion early in life and are content with their achievements, I'd like to congratulate you from the bottom of my heart (I promise no sarcasm involved) because people like you, along with people who refuse to stop trying, are my inspirations.