I marched onto the stage, head held high and grinning proudly, thinking of how much nearer I was to achieving my dreams. Like the silver medal I was about to receive, I thought, I’d have the world in my hands, if not at my feet. There was no reason that I wouldn’t. After four challenging years in the state university, everything was going well. I thought that as long as I had the drive and determination, I could do whatever I wanted: Graduate with flying colors from law school, top the bar, and publish my own book before I turn 23.
I was invincible.
Later, as a grade-conscious law freshman, I set daily goals to make sure I was staying on track: Memorize every case, be updated on relevant news, and recite every day without notes. I had to be distinct, impressive, brilliant.
For a few months it worked—until I got my first nerve-wracking, fist-clenching humiliation in class. I knew everyone gets it in law school, and some had become so inured to it they didn’t mind anymore. But not me, grade-conscious, perfectionist, megalomaniac me. So I doubled my efforts, but the situation only got worse. What’s wrong with these professors?! I was getting stressed, depressed, and ill. My doctor told me to take a leave of absence. I ignored the advice at first, but shortly my body gave up.
For two years now I’ve been on leave from school, popping antidepressants, reading self-help books, drinking with random people. Recently I’ve been job-hopping, traveling, programming, learning street art from tambay, getting real tattoos—anything to distract my obsessive mind from this self-inflicted pain of disappointment.
In two years of wandering I’ve learned to rationalize how stressful a lawyer’s life is, how unfair and political the system is, and how my creativity is being stifled by this boring, pretentious, overrated field.
But more important, I’ve learned how much I didn’t know about the real world, what really matters in life more than title or academic achievement, what makes people tick (and it has nothing to do with being smart), and how people who frequently go to clubs are rational.
It took me two years of drinking and mindless, honest talking with all kinds of people (bosses, clients, coworkers, and the coolest tambay) to learn more about life than what I did in the university.
My family still tells other people I’m currently studying in a premier law school, and keeps asking me when I’ll go back to school.
I don’t know, but I’m sure I’m happier with my life now, working at my own pace, exploring places, meeting new people, and finally pursuing my real passion.
I may not be a lawyer, but I can reach out to out-of-school youth more effectively through animation. I may not have a glamorous title, but I can help organize livelihood projects, transform urban communities, and solve eyesore billboard problems through street art advertising.
It took me two years of wandering to finally get out of our culture’s deep-rooted obsession with academic achievements, titles, and self-importance.
How long will it take you?
Ciara Gallardo Juan, 21, went to the University of the Philippines College of Law. She is now working as an advertiser while studying 3D animation and visual effects. She leads the Street Art Philippines Movement.