Open and closed doors
Back in our freshman year, we asked our English professor if he believed in the afterlife. To this, he replied: “Of course!” We pressed him why he thought so. He responded with the frustration of a true tortured artist: “Well, there has to be something more than this!”
I really hoped there was. It was 33 degrees on a lazy Monday afternoon in one of the most humid classrooms on campus. Back then, English class was a period in which to make devastating statements about humanity, go on to conclude that the universe is a malevolent space, then enjoy siomai after the bell rings.
That is not to say we weren’t fond of our professor, or that we didn’t find the class useful. In that class I came across some of the best books and stories that I wouldn’t have otherwise been cultured enough to discover myself. More importantly, in that class I made some of my most relevant friends, who would turn out really useful to feel a sense of panic with now that we’ve graduated.
At this moment, my batch mates are inundating HR agents with their job applications. I’ve been told that I should dress the part for the job I want. Before an interview, I make sure to wear the white shirt, the black tie and the slacks, and to sport the waxed hair—the whole office superstar look.
But what job do I want? Well, I certainly want a job that will help me “make it.” But then again, what does it mean, to “make it”? I’ve heard stories from older people about what it means to make it in Manila. Many would say it’s when your salary is so high you can afford to retire tomorrow; others would tell me it’s when you have that reserved parking slot in Makati and a shiny new BMW parked in it; still others would claim it’s when you have your own office overlooking the city and in that office, a photo with someone important on display.
But the thing about being 21 is that no matter how many years we’ve spent confined in the world of formulas and research papers, there exists in all of us a hopeful fantasy, a sense of wonder, about what the real world looks like. It isn’t simply a place you can go to the way you can hop over to the nearest McDonald’s; it is a romantic notion of ourselves at that point in our lives when, for the first time, we simply can. We can choose what to learn and not to learn, who to have in our lives and who to cut out. We can make our own decisions, we can firm up our own principles.
And, the most exhilarating of it all is that it is a place where we have yet to know what we’re doing. If, in the past, we saw the same streets day to day from home to school and back, we now expect to find streets the names of which we don’t know; at every turn, we expect to come across something we haven’t seen before. From the blind spots will come crashing an event, a person, or simply a moment that can change our lives in an instant. You don’t get that from being in the same place for 16 years, being told exactly what to do.
The promise of adventure and endless possibilities… It takes being on the verge of that “new world” to realize how much of this is a blessing and a curse.
I once spotted on the street a middle-aged man in his work attire at 2 a.m. He was staring blankly into space, his eyelids sagging from weariness and his face in a wrinkled frown. I’ve always wondered what he saw in those dim lights. I didn’t know it then, but I understand it a little bit now. It was nothingness.
Dreams have existed within us since we were children, but it is only with age that one discovers true fear, as well as the realization that there are such things as passion and dreams, and there is such a thing as cold, empty reality.
The reality is that like in the great films, there are the success stories, the ones that get featured in the Inquirer about people who have made it. And then there are those that are not even notable enough to be called failures, not even worthy enough to learn any lessons from; instead, you become a mere extra in the first five minutes, appearing once and fading into obscurity. And in that future, you convince yourself that this was meant for you, that you’re actually happy—but you know you’re only settling because you have no other recourse than to settle for promises that weren’t kept and a forgettable life.
It is with this that the world becomes smaller, a world that measures and reprimands you ruthlessly like a condescending teacher, shutting you out from the opportunities that you’ve dreamed about since you were a child. It becomes a world where you go through the motions, your spirit broken, your mind restless. You are scared—scared that somehow you will wake up one day with a high-paying job, a stable family life, a beautiful car, and a good reputation, but you are still whispering to yourself: “There has to be something more than this.”
It is with this mix of anxiety and hope that I begin applying for the jobs that I feel would make something of myself. As the days wear on and the rejection in some of them becomes imminent, I can’t help but remember a time when we could still say “When I grow up…” without such pressure and finality. Back then, I also wanted to be a writer. It seemed so within reach then, but that was a long time ago.
Orville Clark Roa Zosa, 21, is newly graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in business management, minor in enterprise development.
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