Off the Board, Opinion

When I grow up, I want to still be an idealist

This is a coming-of-age story.

At a young age, I signed up for multiple activities outside of school—dance, piano, chess classes, all that good stuff. Being relatively skilled at each thing I tried, I quickly became a busy kid, running to different places each day after the ring of the school bell. The same thing continued as I reached the bittersweet years of adolescence. I picked up the saxophone just simply because I thought playing in my high school’s jazz band during Jazz Night looked really fun. My habit of setting out to do random things and expecting myself to do well at them worked out fairly well for most of my teen years. However, the expectation that I would excel at everything I did became the reason why I would skip school to avoid writing an exam for which I did not think I studied enough. Before I knew it, I turned into what they call a “perfectionist,” or what I call an idealist. 

I like to think of myself as an idealist rather than a perfectionist because I do not see myself as someone who wants everything to be perfect. Rather, I understand myself as someone who wants to attain the standards that I set for myself at the beginning of a journey, albeit, they are pretty high.

Regardless of the choice of word, the fallout was not a pretty scene: Successive burnouts, which I never recognized as such, created a massive breakdown that took the better part of a year to recover from. 

I do not think my story is unique unfortunately. A lot of young people are taught to value achievements over failures, to be competitive, and to be fueled by the notion that hard work is the recipe to success. Sadly, they end up in similar states early in life and are consumed by the unreachable idea of pure meritocracy.

My point is not to discourage people from working hard toward their goals in life. In fact, I’ve still chosen to work hard toward what I believe in since that dark episode of my life. But I learned from it that things do not always pan out the way you imagined they would. This could take the form of a previously agreed-upon commitment turning into something that seems to take up your time more than you expected and finding it hard to manage your time with your new set of responsibilities. If you are luckier than me, you will have an easier path, adjust to circumstances smoothly, and find yourself doing something that you didn’t think about before and find yourself liking it. A lot of the time though, you realize that achieving your goals is not as simple as going after them or terrible things happen completely out of the blue. In those cases, you need to decide what to do next and how to do it. 

Here is one other thing I learned. When you grow up, you have more freedom but also more responsibility over your choices—the dilemma of adulthood. The good news is that you can decide that mistakes and failures are not bad, to certain extents. What I have come to enjoy as well are the times when I find I can work through a tough moment and learn something new. At least, that’s what I tell myself to feel wise.

The point is that it’s impossible to know exactly how things are going to turn out. There is no way to know whether there is a drawn-out path for you and what that path looks like. So, when shit hits the fan—pardon the vulgarity—if you are not able to adjust yourself to the setting, you will find yourself disappointed with life and maybe even worse, yourself. After realizing this, what I decided to believe is that it does not matter where you end up; it only matters if you like where you are and what you do at that moment. The mistakes and the journey are all equally mine.

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