After Christmas 2017, American illustrator and writer Chris Kindred asked people to write something they had done in 2017 that would shock themselves in 2012. Many people replied that they had improved over the last five years. They had found their dream jobs, their health had gotten better, they are much happier with their identity now.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a common question in job interview. When asked that, I once saw myself establishing my foothold in the company, being an influential part of the team, and growing with the company. The unsaid part was that I wished I would find stability and fulfilment in life.
Five years ago, I thought I was on the path to redemption. I taught English and Australian Culture to teenagers intending to complete their high school degree in Australia, while also teaching IELTS (International English Language Testing System) preparation class at the host school. It was a dream job – I got to talk about life in Australia, and IELTS material are always interesting.
Where I saw myself at the fifth year of this career? Back in Australia, chaperoning students there. Working at the head office in Melbourne. Seeing my first students graduated from Australian universities. Happily telling my old friends about my new life.
In mid-2013, the hard work paid off. I organized an international Catholic youth conference, and proudly telling friends that I was no longer a freelance worker. My supervisor offered me a full-time position at the office. I would be the only male teacher and staff. I had pictured decorating my desk and celebrating birthdays throughout the year.
It wasn’t meant to be. The conference was the high point of my relations with my church group, and it went downhill from there. No fighting. No one took me sideways. Everyone just went out without me, I didn’t enjoy hanging out with the group, and the good memories from the conference faded fast.
Meanwhile, I had to take another interview for the promotion and it didn’t work well – the owner tried to persuade me that I was too good for teaching, and I would not enjoy working with women. I didn’t hear back from the office for months, and I couldn’t even teach anymore. Until today it’s still not clear what happened.
I was back in the purgatory in the beginning of 2014 – writing part time, losing social connections I had, trying to explain my life to old friends, and wondering what went wrong. Even the finale of How I Met Your Mother, whose final season kept me happy while waiting for that phone call from office, disappointed me and millions worldwide.
While searching for explanation online, I found Zooey Deschanel’s feminist website HelloGiggles (now sold to People), and browsed the website daily. In May 2014 I took a train ride to Surabaya to see the whole island of Java. In Surabaya I studied feminism, and the angry gamers who threatened journalists, video bloggers, and academics in late 2013.
My life changed completely in the next three years. I got to know Magdalene, wrote regularly here, as well as publishing a listicle for HelloGiggles. In early 2015 I navigated the complexity of feminism, while gradually getting new friends – readers, fellow writers, and feminists across the globe. I grew more confident with my freelancing work, with my casual femininity, and with my progressive politics. I believed I could recover my relations with my church friends.
That wasn’t the case. Last year I concluded that the problem wasn’t me being awkward, shy, or anti-social. The problem was them. The problem wasn’t me not religious enough. The problem was with the religious institution. I happily stopped going to church, not out of disappointment and resignation, but out of informed choice and confidence. My time and energy were better spent befriending non-Catholics and making a small project on Sunday morning.
In 2016, the toxic masculinity of gamers and other nerds, a fringe culture in 2012, had seeped into mainstream politics. On the other hand, feminists and their allies also fought back, and representation of minorities has increased significantly in popular culture. More feminist writers examine popular culture, and I got to know more people who share passions for feminism and superheroes.
On Christmas Day 2016, my father asked me if I wanted to join a pilgrimage to Europe, from Lisbon to Rome. I agreed, and the trip changed my life. I learned that southern Europe was a diverse and progressive place, I comfortably made small talks in several different languages, and more importantly, I held a year-long Schengen visa that I could use to my country of choice.
I chose Sweden, got in smoothly, and spent a week alone in Stockholm. During the trip, I made peace with my old town Melbourne, which resembles European cities. I made peace with myself, who left Melbourne in anger and disappointment. I failed to find romance in Stockholm, but my admiration for Sweden lasts to this day. In the past I rued the missed chance of staying in Australia. Now I’m looking forward for the opportunity to move to Sweden.
I spent the last week of 2017 with my family in Singapore, and felt peace. I felt happy with how things were, I felt happy with my current life. Moreover, I found Singaporeans to be more relaxed and friendlier now, compared to previous years.
To sum everything up, on that week my social network was buzzing with the “U.S.S. Callister” episode of Black Mirror, where Cristin Milioti, who played The Mother in HIMYM, plays a coder trying to stay safe in her new office, and a video game character fighting for her freedom from a Trumpian world. Everything that happened in the last five years comes together in that one-hour story.
My 2013 self would not recognize me now – spending money for Wonder Woman comics instead of politics books? Learning Swedish instead of Korean? No longer looking for other Chinese-Indonesians and feeling happier about that? Life does change in five years.
Find out what Mario thinks of evangelical Christianity and follow @MarioRustan on Twitter.