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Point of no return

/ 05:02 AM December 02, 2021

In a three-act structure, the in-between of the first and second acts are usually the point of no return. This part of the story forces the main characters down a path that would propel them toward an adventure of a lifetime. The only catch is that they will never be able to come back. If they manage to do so, they are no longer the same person they once were.

Take Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit.” Throughout his epic journey, numerous points of no return confronted him. The first threshold was when he agreed to join Gandalf and the dwarves in a journey to reclaim the treasures from Smaug. It was at this point that Bilbo’s life started to change. He had to leave a lifestyle of good food, good ale, and complacency.

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My point of no return came to me most unexpectedly. It arrived when I was spending the night with a few friends, trying to take my mind off the Mechanical Engineering Board Examination. Waiting for the results meant days that seemingly stretched to infinity. It felt like being in an endless dream cycle. When I realized that I had refreshed the web an embarrassing amount of time, I knew I needed to get out and touch some grass.

Coincidentally, it was also the day when the results came. I can still remember the charged air while we scrolled through the list of passers. Unfortunately, I’m a person who wants his privacy at such crucial moments. But surrounded by nearly 20 people, I realized I was in a peculiar situation. Looking through the list, and suddenly hyperaware of the people around me, I somehow lost my ability to read. After a few scans, I thought I had failed, because I couldn’t find my name.

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In the end, I realized that it was a good thing that my friends were there. Not because I needed consolation, but because I needed a fresh pair of eyes. I did pass the exam, and I was now an engineer. Five years of grueling struggle in engineering school had finally paid off.

That was two years ago.

After that night, my life managed to remain the same, but it also drastically changed in many ways. The exam results were equivalent to finally leaving a structured system. The timeline that guaranteed yearly progress no longer applied to me. Suddenly, I was no longer a fourth-year student expecting to be a fifth-year student the next academic year. Instructions were no longer present, and people expected me to navigate life after 20 years of having been told what to do.

What no one tells you about adulting is that the transition is incredibly confusing and alienating. Expectations stack up, and most of the time, you won’t have the vernacular to express your frustrations. Even though it is a universal experience, no words can describe the whirlwind you unexpectedly find yourself in.

You’re losing friends left and right. The people you once had common goals with are now merely people you exchange Facebook reactions with. And no matter how hard you try to keep them in your life, no matter how hard you try to maintain the connection, life has a plan of its own.

Constantly, life subverts most of your expectations. The dream life you had carefully planned out will not come true just yet. The master’s degree you want to take after graduation will have to take a step back. The salary you’ve been aiming for is going to have to wait for a while.

I guess that’s all right. The point of no return is the start of a hero’s journey. Not only is it unavoidable, it’s also an inherent part of life. Bilbo Baggins had to leave the comfort of his hobbit-hole. Even though he regretted leaving a few times throughout the story, he knew that coming back would be impossible.

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Based on what I’ve learned so far, that’s also true with life. No matter how hard we try, it is impossible to go back to the life we once had before that key plot point or transition. We cannot simply go back in time.

However, I’ve also learned that these thresholds are necessary. We have to experience them to realize our character arcs. It is through these that we discover and build our identity. Bilbo discovered his incredible amount of strength and cunning by overcoming his own plot points. If he didn’t leave home, he wouldn’t have found out the heroism lurking inside him.

I’m sure that in our lives, we all have our points of no return. And I’m sure that it won’t happen just once. Life, after all, isn’t simply a three-act structure. It may occur when you become a parent or when you finally pursue a career that you love. It may even be when life pushes you to the edge. And it’ll be confusing and painful, but it will also provide a chance to change. And every change is a chance to improve.

As Bilbo eventually realized, going back was no good at all. Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? The only thing to do! So on we go.

* * *

Michael Roy Brosas, 24, is a registered mechanical engineer who’s trying to figure out life through writing.

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TAGS: Mechanical Engineering Board Examination, Michael Roy Brosas, point of no return, Young Blood
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