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Success (or something like it)

/ 05:02 AM October 21, 2021

I grew up constantly bombarded by notions of success: medals for good grades, a college pedigree, a job promising to change the world and making you the hero nobody asked for; nice clothes, nice bling, nice gadgets; a social media account humble-bragging the wonderful life you live; and then loaning money to buy a sleek new car and low-end housing you’d finish paying for in 20 years. The list goes on and on. In exchange for a goal reached is another goal.

Exhausting.

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The universal quotable quote of my generation when we were kids was: “Believe in your dreams.” Believe I did. But it seems I didn’t get the memo; no one told me what it would cost.

I am nearly out of my 20s. I don’t have much to show for it. I don’t have that much cash in the bank. I don’t think my career plan is working out as I initially planned it would. And I haven’t changed the world—when they said I could and would. I barely make it through the week without wallowing in self-pity.

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I used to chase after every little thing I was passionate about. Believe in your dreams, go for your passions. Let what you love consume you. Everything did consume me, until I became prone to burnouts. Now, I get excited when my muffins turn out all right after spending hours in the kitchen. I have no current-day visions of grandeur outside my experimental baking.

Early in my 20s, I lived alone. I used to rent a dingy bedroom with wooden floors and wooden walls. Its windows directly opened out into the street. It was all I could afford.

Most days, I woke up coughing up the dust from the road outside. At night, I would fall asleep staring at the brightly-lit billboards peeking through my window. All I had were a thin rollout mattress, a plastic table, a rice cooker, and two plastic stools. It was a miserable setup, but I was not miserable in the slightest. I reveled in my hard-earned liberty. I made decisions for myself, by myself. I eventually moved to a rented house with better ventilation and more space. I bought a fridge and a stove, and later on a work desk, a swivel office chair, a couch, an air-conditioning unit, and a real bed.

It took me a while to afford the small comforts I enjoy now. I often look back to those days when I slept in that dingy wooden room, when I used to live paycheck to paycheck and barely paid rent on time.

We often take for granted how far we have come. I used to push myself so hard to feel deserving of my lofty dreams. But then again, dreams can change. You change, and chances are, along the way you have also shifted your priorities. It takes a while before the dreams you once thought you wanted gets replaced by tangible goals: replacing your hard wooden bed and its thin rollout mattress with a spring mattress and a queen-sized bed, your plastic table that doubled as everything into a real work desk, your two plastic stools into a comfy couch, and your dirty one-bedroom into a spacious, clean house.

It takes a while. It takes work and hard-earned money to be able to pay for the comforts of furniture and appliances. It takes financial stability. So, do not take your financial capacity today for granted. Do not downplay how far you have gone.

I used to dream that I would be a successful woman running her own business, going on shopping sprees and fancy vacations, dining in gourmet restaurants, driving her own car. I now scoff at the naivete of my younger self. There was so much that I did not know.

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I love the comfortable and secure life I have now. I was able to pay off my debts and build an emergency fund. I have a better living situation than most people. I am healthy and loved. I am slowly becoming the person my younger self would be proud of.

On that hard bed in that one-bedroom rental, I dreamed of a better life. A life in which I would not be scared to lose my job or be anxious to be hospitalized, I could send my family money, pay my bills on time, and have enough left over to get by before the next paycheck. No one told my generation what real success was. I think this should count as one.

So if you too have dreams of grandeur, give yourself a pat on the back. You are doing okay. This ain’t a race. Take it one day at a time. Work diligently, pay your bills, save up for the rainy days, and live the life you have now. Don’t overglorify the grind. Revel in your small wins.

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Betsy Tulio, 29, was born in Nabunturan, Davao de Oro. She lives in Davao City, works in tech, and writes in between.

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