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Chủ Nhật, 24 tháng 6, 2012

Not all those who wander are lost

1. Since the beginning of this year, I've been thinking a lot about quitting jobs, applying to jobs, shifting between jobs, and on top of countless questions I've asked myself about jobs, I also deal with the choice between working and studying, my path in the future, my goals in life, my nature, my qualifications. In short, everything a person needs to know to figure out where she used to be, where she is, and where she is moving towards to. I struggle through the process, occasionally wish someone were there to tell me the answers. Yet when I look around, many of my friends are having the same problems at various extents. However, most of them think of these problems as personal stuffs, namely it's their own private matters to handle and settle. No one can tell them where to go, what to do, and how to make a decision about their own lives. Very true, but a commonness that thrives above all individual differences is the confusion and struggle that we young people all share. We fumble through choices and decisions, sometimes fall and hurt ourselves along the way. But why?

2. First of all, no "how-to-be-a-successful-person" books or "how-to-achieve-the-best-in-life" training course can tell you what you want. There are many principles, rules and arguments they talk about, and it's not easy to reach an agreement on what is actually the best way to succeed. Sometimes, information is even conflicting, just serves to drive the readers even more confused from a great pool of advice available. Yet, they are all similar in one thing. Their point of departure is an assumption that everyone already has a goal they want to reach. All self-help books and motivational courses aim at helping you materialize and make your dreams come true. Lots of instructions are given on the process of turning yourself into a great person.

Therefore, none of these rich resources teach you how to have a dream in the first place. They take it for granted that everyone must want something, and readers only need to work with a set of inborn and passionate dreams they have always held dear to their hearts. Which is absolutely not true, because not everyone is born with a mission that they are required to accomplish, much less a burning desire they are compelled to fulfill. The mainstream discourse makes it worse by always publishing messages and stories about people who forcefully move towards their goals, leaving the rest guilty as if having no dream to cherish is a crime. You don't have a dream, then you can't be a complete human.

Living in a post-modern period only makes the matter worse. We are encouraged to "find" our dreams, and not quit searching until we can "identify" something that we are totally thrilled to do and will never get tired of doing it. The notion of "looking for", and "searching" imply that "something" exists, it's always there, like an eternal treasure or a faithful servant waiting for us to discover. Such a dream sounds so much solid and still that we can grasp it with a little effort from our sides, and most importantly, we can not quit until we find it. That means we can keep hopping and leaving things along the way, until we are truly satisfied that we have come to "the dream". This sentiment of entitlement draws many young people (me included) into an endless cycle of asking "is this job the right one for me?" "should I quit to find something better?" "what if I am missing out on something great out there?"

On our way to "search" and "find" THE dream,  we are confused a lot, because we can never be sure, especially when we are young, whether the current job we have is the one. It doesn't have a label "best job for you", it doesn't tell us, there is no sign except our own feelings, which by the way is fleeting and unreliable. No one tells us how to "create" a dream, they just spread the message that first we need to find it, then hold it tight and make it come true. Yet when we find something that seems nice enough, we are reluctant because we don't know if it's the right one, so we don't apply the "how to be successful" rules, because it takes effort and determination, and when we can't be sure if this less than perfect job is worth the effort, we leave it to find something better. The cycle continues.

3. Secondly, after young people leave school, we lack a system of orientation. Having spent 16 years in a coherent and consistent system (assuming they finish undergrad degree), we are now left on our own to figure out when to grade themselves a 10 or a 0. During school time, there are certain times we need to work hard (i.e. exams) and times we can relax (summer vacation). We have fixed and clear goals we want to achieve (high scores, good remarks from teachers). And the rewards are obvious and predictable as well. Our lives revolve around this system, and as long as we follow the rules, we will win the game.

However, in an "adult" world, even black and white is not always separated, let alone "high score" and "low score". We and our best friends may choose different values to base our lives on. Some want to make lots of money, some want fame, yet some others want an intellectually challenging occupation. Some hope for security, some strive to be adventurous. As there is no teacher to tell us right from wrong, we look around and our peers only confuse us more. Paths diverse, and it's hard to measure one against another. Yet we young people are not usually aware of this split, we keep comparing ourselves to friends from high school or university, and we turn miserable if they earn more money than us, even if they are having the most boring jobs in the world!

Young people are left to build a new value system, and surely they are ill-prepared after so many years spent inside educational institutions' walls. Either they take whatever their families or their friends believe is the best for them without questioning, or they struggle to set up their own structure. Living in a hyper-connected world doesn't help. As we are constantly bombarded with news and updates from friends about their jobs, their ups and downs, or even their income and achievements, we can't help but feeling pressured to be at least as good as the best of them. No matter how many times we tell ourselves to stop doing that, deep down we still feel uneasy if somehow through a random conversation of facebook, we come to know that most of our friends are earning 400-500$ while we only earn 350$. Then either consciously or unconsciously, we feel something wrong, even if we can't name it. This only adds up to our relentless confusion and makes it more difficult to stay in the same place and feel satisfied.

When can we buy ourselves an ice-cream when neither our bosses nor our colleagues give us a score on our performance? When we have raise in salary? A promotion? An exciting task? By the way, none is these rewards are likely to take place among young people, who have joined the workforce for only a short time and lack any indicators to comfort themselves about their work.

4. Last but not least, as young people we can afford choosing among many options and changing our minds along the way. We don't have a family to support yet, and many of us are still supported by our parents, so we don't have to take into consideration a tight range of salary, distance from home to work, working hours, annual leaves, insurance and many other factors that a committed and married employee needs to think about when she or he wants to change jobs. We can travel a little further, accept a little lower payment, work a little longer, just to have the job we like. Again, since we are too free to start with, it's more difficult to make a sound decision. We are not bounded by many limitation as older employees as they are responsible for some other family members besides themselves, we only have our feelings to base our judgement on. It's great because it allows freedom, but not so great as it also allows precariousness. We shift and move continuously. Young people often lack the necessary experience and broad perspective to know what's best for us in the long term.

Moreover, as young people from certain social class background (I am talking about middle-class and above, urban youth), we don't have to worry about not having food to eat the next day if we quit this job and can't find a new one immediately. We have such a secure life that we can take the risk of being unemployed for months, even years. Some of us break the cycle altogether and become freelancers, which is great except that we know we can fall back on our parents whenever we need. This security is great also because it allows us more freedom as we rise above the necessities, yet it sways our decisions easily. As a result, we fumble and are not willing to commit or pay the price we need to pay. We are blanketed among our parents' arms, so we refuse to grow up. By switching jobs, we permit ourselves the right to act according to what we want, not what we need.

5. Nevertheless, I do believe that this stage of life is necessary and good. If we are confused and can afford being confused, then it's ok to be confused. If we fumble, fall, and fail at some points, and don't break ourselves or burden someone else because of our failures, then it's ok to fumble, fall and fail. If we don't know yet what we want, and can take the time to try different things, without going hungry or let someone else go hungry, then it's ok to not know what we want, at least for the time being. Of all the causes, I think the most important to me is rephrase the term "find your dream" to "create your dream". Only when we stop viewing dreams and goals as fixed and independently existing from ourselves, and change to think of them as a product of the process, which we "create" as we act, rather than something we "look for", "find" and only start working later.

Very few people know what they want from the beginning, even fewer are born with an innate mission. Thus, to embrace confusion, to greet difficult choices and to hold on to our questions even if we don't have an answer is good.  As Nietzsche once wrote: "One must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star."

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