Contradictions and possibilities
My story begins on the ledge of a 12th-floor apartment in Shanghai, sometime after midnight. That was the first and last time I thought of ending my life.
A series of unfortunate events had brought me to that point on the ledge, where I, a terrified, 23-year-old, thought of what it would be like not to feel anything anymore.
I had first flown to Shanghai about eight months earlier, excited and hopeful that my artificial intelligence startup was finally going to take off. For eight long months, I worked 12-hour days to get my startup the funding, the exposure, and the clients — a golden triad that slowly began to occupy my every waking hour. It all built up into a magnificent crescendo of back-to-back opportunities, and just as quickly fell away until I was left with close to nothing.
I still remember it as the longest two weeks of my life: It started with me losing $50,000 after a partner took off with the proceeds of a stock trading algorithm I had built, and ended with me getting sexually assaulted and nearly raped by a Middle Eastern restaurateur and having to run for my life.
The rent was due, my bank account was running on empty, and I was scrounging for change to eat one meal a day at Family Mart, spending the rest of my time in a hazy stupor brought on by shock. I would stare blankly at my laptop for hours on end, browsing every obscure site under the sun without actually getting any work done.
It was the longest two weeks of my life, primarily because I ended up spending the next three years getting myself out of the hole into which I had inadvertently stumbled. And when everything was said and done, I was a completely different person from when I came in.
The last three years of recovery started on that ledge of a 12th-floor apartment in Shanghai, the first and last time I seriously thought of ending my life. It struck me, as I looked down at the ground below, that the only thing I had to look forward to if I jumped was the certainty that I wouldn’t ever feel anything again. And that was what scared me.
I thought of it a lot on the flight back, and the next three months I spent slowly recovering everything — from my health to my startup’s clients — and I never really could find a satisfactory answer to why I got off the ledge that night.
But looking back on it three years later as I write this, I realize that I got off that ledge not because I was scared of dying, but because I was scared of not living. On the face of it, it seemed like the same thing, but when you think about it, it’s actually something else altogether.
I was scared of not having new experiences anymore, of not being able to make new friends and acquaintances anymore, of not being able to learn new skills anymore. I was scared of ending my story, scared of winding down 23 years of ups and downs into a dark and empty oblivion. And it was that fear that made me realize that my life was worth living.
It was that fear that opened me up to the realization that each and every day I’m alive is a possibility to do better, an opportunity to become a better version of who I am. It was that fear that helped me understand that failure and suffering weren’t things that should be avoided, but things that should be learned from.
It took me three years of trial and error, three years of big and small mistakes, to get to where I am today. My startup is still growing, but we now have a stable group of clients who are very satisfied with our tools and solutions. I am by no means perfect, but I am better than who I was yesterday — and that has started to mean a lot more to me as I get older.
Overall, I have gotten to understanding that life is really just a series of uncertainties put together in no particular order. That I can’t really know what’s going to happen next, but as long as I can be confident in myself and in my skills, things are sure to turn out all right in the end.
You might say that pain has been a very good teacher to me. I’m not afraid anymore. In fact, I’ve started to look forward to things again. Not as the idealist that I was three years ago, but as a realist who understands that life is full of pain and suffering, but also full of happiness and possibility. I have become a pragmatic realist, cautiously optimistic about the future, but also willing to be wrong most of the time.
Because if you step back and really think about it, life is full of weird contradictions and vibrant possibilities.
And that’s what makes it beautiful.
And that’s what makes it worth living.
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Kathleen Yu, 26, is the Founder and CEO of Rumarocket Limited Inc., an artificial intelligence startup that helps companies make better decisions about their talent. She is a 2017 Outstanding Asean Woman Entrepreneur awardee.
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