I’ve seen the movie “(500) Days of Summer” a couple of times more than an average person has. Strange, but it still hits home every single time, clearly because I can relate to Tom Hansen in more ways than one. Other than being a hopeless romantic and a self-destructive psycho, he was also a “could be a great (insert an occupation here) if he wanted to” twentysomething who got stuck in the same limbo.
It’s 2013 and this has been the dullest phase of my life yet. This is my quarter-life.
I stepped into the corporate world with a degree in mass communication, sheer determination, and wishful thinking. I knew that it was a jungle out there, but that was 2009 and I was 19. I had nothing but a small sliver of hope to hold on to, that teeny bit of hope that perhaps the world is my oyster after all. I was the small girl with big dreams, the go-getter, the one with the “never say die” battle cry. Yet, I had things to prioritize, time to make good use of, and very few options, even a lack thereof at one point. I packed my dreams away and took the road most traveled. That eventually led to, in a figurative sense, my growth-gap years.
I am a millennial, almost in my mid-twenties, living in a black-and-white, slow-paced, and predictable world. My degree is irrelevant to my job, which requires me to sit behind a desk for eight hours. Gone are the days of public speaking and creative writing. My speeches are now limited to random rants during stress-drinking sessions, and my literature to a 140-character tweet. I now sit in a cubicle, with my eyes glued to the monitor and my hands hitting the keys in a boring rhythm, while other people are busy finding their place in the sun.
Cue Paramore and that line from their quarter-life crisis anthem: Ain’t it fun living in the real world?
To say things have been this way forever would be lying. I made use of the first two years wisely and I was pretty much productive, to say the least. I was mentored by great people and I worked hard to get to the position where I am now. It was good while it lasted.
Along came the so-called career plateau or, simply put, the burnout. Doing basically the same thing for four years makes each day a routine, to the point you get so bored you make a bad habit of prematurely looking back at your life and mentally creating an “I should have done this, I shouldn’t have done that” list that would haunt you for the rest of your quarter-life… or worse, your entire life.
And so I ended up taking an okay job, turning in an okay performance, and being okay with it because it adequately supports me financially, which is the real purpose of working anyway. I avoided reunions because I knew that no matter how I try to resist, I will succumb to the dominion of the green-eyed monster before the party’s over. I dreaded the question “What have you been up to after college?” because I knew it would require speaking sugarcoated half-truths like a mantra, hoping that one day, each word will ring true.
I might have disappointed some people who truly care for me as I made wrong turns along the way, but it’s nothing compared to how disappointed I was in myself. I was afraid to leave the workstation that was my comfort zone to test the waters because I thought I might be a little too old for the competition. I doubted if I really knew what I wanted to do in the first place since all I ever did for the past couple of years was second-guessing. I was never one to bail out on her dreams, but for a moment I stood on the verge of accepting that I was indeed my worst nightmare—a washed-up achiever who was never destined for greatness. Self-pity got the better of me and I stopped trying altogether.
It was one Sunday evening in August when I got my wake-up call. Our college dean broke the news that one of my classmates, who was also a good friend of mine, passed away. Not again, I thought. Four years ago, I lost a classmate from grade school; he was 20. Losing someone my age, in my case two of the people I know, made me realize I was living on borrowed time and I’m taking it for granted by simply refusing to do better than okay. It was the much-needed kick in the gut that brought me back to my senses.
My friend’s passing gave me a reason to visit the university and meet my former mentor. We went to the wake together and had dinner before parting ways, ergo, giving us more than enough time to catch up. I let my cynical self do all the talking and when I ran out of sentiments, she gave me a pep talk with a motherly concern that was very familiar to me. She told me I was still young and it’s never too late to get back on track. I asked her if applying for graduate studies on developmental communication would help me get through the motions and she was all for it, not only because it can provide me a distraction but also because it will definitely beef up my résumé. It’s been years since I last saw a test paper, and I told her that the mere thought of an entrance exam scared the hell out of me, but she just shrugged and told me I could do it. She was selfless in giving her two cents to my every dilemma, and at that moment I was brought back to the days of long and meaningful talks with her in the MassComm office. I was back to being a student of life convinced that nothing should hinder me from learning.
That night, I started with the simplest advice she gave me: read. I picked up a book and started flipping the pages. There were idioms which took a while for me to understand and some I had to check on the Internet. There were certain parts I failed to understand, but I’ve no shame to admit that I read these over and over until all made sense. I made a pact with myself that I would read, write, and speak more in an attempt to regain the skills I developed over the years but lost in a matter of four. I vowed to exert more effort in the workplace, no matter how boring it can get, because being mediocre is just equivalent to being lazy, and that’s just lame.
I haven’t figured out what I really want to do for the rest of my life or when I will be ready to redefine my career path. But I know that when life gives me even just a glimpse of my yellow brick road, I should be in better shape. It’s time I stopped cheating on myself and strove to be better, whether in this job or in another, because I know I am better than what I’ve settled for: being okay.
Roxanne Vida Magalong, 24, is a graduate of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila who now works as a quality assurance specialist. She says this is her comeback attempt at writing.
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