I want to have a house, to work for a prestigious company, to be considered successful. I want to earn lots of money, so I have to prioritize studying and, later, working. Because I don’t want to be a burden, because I don’t want to grow up to be a bum.
I’ve always thought that is my dream, but there are times when I question it. Is it really my dream?
All my life I was taught to put studying as my first priority, because – as one of my teacher said during the first week of high school – being of a Chinese descent and a Christian in Indonesia is a double “sin.” You will be discriminated. But if you are more capable than the privileged majority you will survive. Discrimination happens, he said, so just face it. If you don’t study hard you won’t make it, so if you’re lazy why not just quit living now?
His words as well as the values promoted by the school that I attended from kindergarten to high school taught me that you have to study no matter what happens. Even when you’re sick you should go to school – unless you can’t get up from bed. I didn’t realize it back then, but I know now that although people think I’m a diligent person by nature, I’m actually not. I love to laze around, procrastinate and do nothing all day long. But I know if I do that I will fail. And I can’t afford to fail.
It is fear that pushes me to give my best. I’m afraid of failing my class, so I study. I’m afraid of having no friends, so I join as many organizations as I can. I’m afraid of being jobless, so I desperately take any opportunity to boost my CV: taking part-time jobs, doing internships, joining competitions, applying for programs.
Perhaps it’s a good thing because I do get rewards for what I have done. But this constant pushing does not come without consequences. Because I joined many organizations, I can’t spend a lot of time on any of them. I don’t neglect my responsibilities, but I can’t hang out often with other members of the organizations. It’s not like I’m a stranger to them, but I can’t say I know them really well either.
Since I have many activities, and because I have to study as well, I can’t spend much time with my family. On a side note, my family values independence and personal space, so even when we are home we usually just do our own things.
I don’t regret my choices when I win competitions, get accepted in some program, and do internships or part-time jobs. I like being busy because it makes me feel productive, and being productive should make me happy, right?
But eventually I burn myself out, and at times I realize the price I pay for such rewards may be too expensive. That’s when I seriously question: Why do I even do what I do? Why must I work hard at the expense of everything else? For whose sake, whose dream? Is it really what I want, or do I just think I want it because everyone else seems to want it too?
The first time I questioned it was during my last year in high school. It’s the most stressful time of my life, and, by self-diagnosis, I think I suffered from mild clinical depression. I couldn’t sleep well, I didn’t have much appetite, I lost interest in pretty much anything. I didn’t even feel entertained when I read my favorite comics or ate my favorite food. At times I thought about killing myself – just thinking about it because I had been taught it’s an inappropriate thing and personally I thought since I was already a burden just by living, I shouldn’t bother others by dying.
But the trigger was my unstable emotion. I got angry at things that usually wouldn’t even bother me. I got upset and cried for no apparent reason. Sometimes I just laughed without knowing why.
Every time I snapped, I would regret it soon, as usually the one I raised my voice at is my mother. And it made me think: I studied hard so I could work at a good place later and earn lots of money for my parents. If I got stressed because of my studies and ended up hurting my mother, wouldn’t it be pointless?
I wasn’t the only one who was depressed though. In fact, most of my friends were also stressed out during this time. My best friend told me that perhaps we were the only students who were told by their parents not to study too much – to which we could only ask back: “But isn’t it you who told us to study hard for the sake of our future? So make up your mind, what do you want us to do?”
Somehow I pulled through and graduated though, and forgot all about those questions, until they bug me again during my sixth semester at university.
Up until the fifth semester, I was too busy to even take a breath, and because of that, I felt like I just wanted to play during the sixth semester. Since I cut down on my activities, I had a lot of free time. Perhaps too much free time, as I could no longer distract myself from questioning why I feel like I have to work so hard.
I realized then that I hadn’t spent much time with my best friends, that despite knowing many people due to my various activities, I was not close to most of them since I could only spend little time with each of them. And I hated it.
So since then, I’ve taken fewer activities and prioritize spending my time with few friends and my family. I’m happier, thought I think I’ve had enough rest, as I’m starting to miss being busy and interacting with lots of people, so I plan to be busier soon.
In the end, I do love money and want to be rich, but I think I’ll define “success” on my own. Having enough money to provide myself and my family basic necessities, insurance and occasionally entertainment should be enough. At least that’s what I think now.
I might change my mind, and why couldn’t I? Perhaps the answer to the question of what I want to do with my life and why I do what I do is something I have to define for my entire life. And that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?
Jennifer Sidharta is a seventh semester Multimedia Journalism student who loves reading, writing and daydreaming. Her dream is to live happily and die with a smile on her face, though she is still trying to define happiness.