“I want to be forever young.” This is a line from Alphaville’s famous song. The album was released in 1984, the year I was born. Fast-forward: After exactly 29 years, I found myself listening to this song in the midst of my anxiety.
I am starting to get nervous. I am 29. I do not have a good amount of savings. I am struggling to finish my graduate-school thesis. I am single. I still live with my parents. And I have no choice but to continue teaching because this is all I know and I think that this is what I do best.
I wonder what went wrong. After graduation from college, I worked in the call center industry for roughly four years and subsequently taught in high school for three years. I decided to teach college students last year, so this is my third semester of teaching. That is a total of eight years with three different companies and job descriptions. I guess this is just one of the perks of being young: You are not restricted as to where you want to go, and you have the liberty to spend your time any way you like.
I have learned that eight years can pass unnoticed, especially in my case when I was so busy and enmeshed in taking calls, dealing with different kinds of students, and accomplishing school deliverables.
It has dawned on me that I have not accomplished much in life. I feel inferior compared to my contemporaries who are now publishing their scholarly works or raising a family and holding down stable and good-paying jobs. Looking back, I feel like I lacked strategic planning and a sense of focus and direction.
I suddenly feel unsatisfied with how my life has unfolded. Worse, I have realized that I am getting older and still have so many things to prove and goals to achieve. Dissatisfaction and aging are two deadly things when combined; this is the point in one’s life when one starts to weigh priorities, calculate, and bargain.
It becomes an occasion for bargaining because you know that you can no longer do all the things you want to do. Thus, you need to narrow down your list based on two important questions: One, is it achievable? And two, will it provide maximum contentment, comfort, and sense of meaning? Compromising at this stage is dangerous because you lose an ounce of happiness whenever you let go of something.
One can claim that age is irrelevant, that it is nothing but a number and it does not necessarily define maturity. Or that it is not age but the attitude and the perspective that differentiate the young from the old. I argue that these are not completely true.
Youth is a fleeting and transitory stage which everyone is compelled to go through. It is not a relative concept at all. This is the critical moment that is not exclusively measured by the amount of fun and happy memories. This is the turning point where one dreams and decides to act in order to make a difference and live life meaningfully and productively. This has always been an open secret; we do not just have ample time to grasp it because we are so busy being and acting young.
I understand that there are many factors that disable and hinder the development of the Filipino youth today—corruption, drugs, unequal access to education and resources, too much influence from various forms of media, among many others. The playing field is also uneven because of discrimination in relation to race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Only a few are privileged to be born in a rich family, which generally guarantees them success and a good life in the future.
The picture is not so good and the future is not so bright. But the beauty in being young is that there is a certain sense of “agency”—meaning the youth can somehow defy deteriorating and ineffective systems and institutions. They can do this precisely because they are young, and this age propels them to make a difference because they are left with no other desirable alternative. “Being young” can be considered “capital” in itself. The youth can harness all the power and the promise of their age in order to become someone better.
I have so much faith in the youth, and that is why I will still hold on to my board marker and assign my students exciting and provocative readings. I want to inspire them, and in the process, motivate and help myself, too.
I guess that being single at 29, living with my parents, trying to finish graduate school, and working in the academe are not so bad. I have always been convinced that I am capable of accomplishing great things both for my personal satisfaction and for the advocacies that I uphold. I still do not doubt myself, but currently I am just desperately in need of more time. I do not regret the things that I did, but the only trouble is that it is too late for me to realize that time befriends no one.
I am writing this piece not to vent my anguish. I am sharing my thoughts and personal story in order to caution the young ones that they need to properly handle their youth and their precious time.
How do we get the message across about the importance of being young? How do we get to remind the youth that what they do today will affect their personal level of happiness (in particular) and society’s development (in general)? This article is insignificant; perhaps only a few people will read it. I doubt if the content is substantial enough or if the medium or style is even palatable to the young generation. For one, creative and influential artists can write more songs about the promises and dangers of being young. I don’t like Justin Bieber because his lyrics are filled with too much “baby ohh,” but I like the band Fun, particularly its song that has so much drive and passion: “Tonight, we are young/so let’s set the world on fire/we can burn brighter than the sun.”
We need to let the youth know that they have all the right to enjoy their young age. But, we also need to remind them that this stage is only temporary, and that it will make or break them. Youth is a capital but it is also ephemeral. We need to hold on to it and make the most out of it because we can never be forever young.
Michael Eduard L. Labayandoy, 29, is an instructor at Lyceum of the Philippines and a sociology graduate student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.