Category Archives: This is your life.. or my life really. Whatever, pedants.

The joy Luck club..

The Joy Luck Club is the first book which made me cry, or I should say, sob with ugly abandon. Mostly because I really connected with the stories in it, and one thread in particular, that of June.
I grew up with similar pressures, my mother wanted me to be a prodigy, like my cousins. I lived through that story-the crushing disappointment emanating from my mother upon the realisation that I was no prodigy, I wasn’t even above average, I was just average. Unlike the book, I did not have the moment of clarity when June realises she could make her own choices and be strong/good in her own way. I grew up knowing I was average and knowing that it was the worst disappointment I would ever inflict on my mother.
Or was it all in my head? Was I transposing my own disappointment onto my mother? Had I wanted to be a prodigy more than my mother had wanted me to be one? Do I still want to be a prodigy of some sort? 
For so many years, I was bitter and angry about failing. I developed a severe fear of failure which resulted in me never aiming for more than low hanging fruit. I had no idea about my own future, what I wanted; no dreams beyond just having a ‘nice life’. I had no ambition, zero passion for anything. I always took the easy way out…
Taking the easy way out meant that I would never have to try. Taking the road more often travelled meant that I would always be good enough to succeed. It meant never having to disappoint myself or anyone else. It meant never having to think about what my heart desired.
There is no shame in being average, as long as you know your own worth. That’s not me.. I am one of those average people who yearn to be outstanding and yet will do nothing but stamp their feet and complain about how nobody gives them a chance. Because as I’ve said, not giving something a go means I don’t ever have to go through that crushing misery that comes with failure.
Two years ago, I embarked on a career transition. Which has so far, failed to pay any dividends. I thought I would be one of those corporate people, marching along with the besuited crowds in our matching black/blue suits along the road to corporate success (whatever that means). The reality is I am still lost, still have no idea what kind of ‘corporate’ I want to be (again naive me thinking that there was only one kind of corporate) and having to subsist on handouts from my parents and the occasional cleaning work. 
If I knew my own worth, would my story have ended differently? If I accepted my worth, swallowed the fact that I would be nothing more than ordinary, would I be happier? 

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Lessons from a cup of Milo..

When we were kids, I looked up to my eldest cousin a lot. She was tiny, petite she would say, yet she had the confident nature of a white man twice her size. She was the kind of person who would never back down, especially if she believed her rights had been encroached. And she was always not afraid to ask for things, be it an additional free sample, or a free appetiser at a restaurant. 

To some, it might appear that my cousin is demanding. She’s that type of customer which wait staff dread. To me though, her conduct demands respect, even if at times I think she goes to far and that respect turns into condescension. 
My cousin was not always this way-this unafraid to ask for things, this fearless in pursuing her rights. Family lore has it that she was rather timid as a pre-adolescent. The kind who waited for things to be offered instead of asking for them. Rather much like I have been and still am. 
Where did the confidence she had come from? How had she learnt to seize things instead of just waiting for things to blow her way?
There is an apocryphal story in our family lore-about how the shy, timid girl was obliterated and in her place stood the strong woman. 
Once, when she was a young girl, there was a van offering free samples of Milo. What child could resist that? But my cousin was too timid to go and ask for a sample and just stood around, waiting for the nice man to offer her one. Her mother, my aunt was incensed by her behaviour. My aunt then insisted that my cousin go and ask for a sample, if she wanted one. Because nobody was going to give her a free sample if she just waited around. In fact, that went for life as well, my aunt said, “nobody will ever give you anything. If you want something, you have to ask for it! Just waiting around for things to happen is futile.”
It is a life lesson which I wished I’d learnt a lot earlier. But till this day, I still wait for things to happen, I still wait around for the winds of change to buffet me around. I cannot bring myself to ask for things. When will my Milo moment happen? 

In dreams

Dreams can sustain, but paradoxically they can also drain. What having a dream gives, sustaining the hope behind a dream takes away. One can live perpetually in dreams, one can use dreams as a shield, as a mask, and one can be lost in a dream…
I

What did he dream for as a child? Simple, nebulous ideas of an adult life spent surrounded by riches. But then what did he know about wealth? It was a daydreamed future of penthouses and stuff, of first class travel and 5-star hotels. It was a dream formed by an impression of Pretty Woman, in short, he dreamt of becoming a prostitute, whatever that entailed.
II

He dreamt of high powered careers, one requiring expensive Italian bespoke suits and shiny hand-made leather shoes of every possible hue. He dreamt of being able to fly business class to exotic locales, of gold filigree cardholders and power lunches. Where people would call his people and deals were made over caviar, champagne and cognac. Perhaps his dream here was influenced by American Psycho, the movie. Perhaps he desired the life Christian Bale had, with the beautiful body but minus the blood and gore.
III

He never had any ideas about the realities of his future. His dreams were simple-pass this exam, then that one; a life signposted by academic honours. He did everything he was told to do-which was to excel in all things academic. Nothing else mattered, he was told. Do this one thing and all your dreams will come true. He knew that that couldn’t be true. For at some stage, he dreamt of becoming a fashion model, and really what fashion model needed good grades? He dreamt of his face in magazines, the high end ones only of course, on glossy pages carrying the bold monikers of the fashion elite-Prada, Dior, Gucci. He dreamt of hobnobbing with Tom Ford, of meeting Miuccia herself and being a favourite of Karl. 
IV

Of his disparate dreams of his future, perhaps one thing was constant-a life of security, of comfort. A life where money would never be a concern and excess extravagance was possible. He dreamt of the different ways to get to that place never really rooting these dreams in the cold harsh reality of life. 
For what use are dreams if they do not reflect reality? 

Sharp shock

Those jarring events which tear through the soft underbelly of vulnerabilities laid bare.
Perhaps that’s just a little too esoteric. I never claimed that crafting metaphors was my forte.
It’s disappointing that the first entry after such a long disappearance, a prolonged abandonment to writing, is one with such a disheartening theme. But let the previous record show that I’ve never been one for happiness.
Succinctly, a disappointment after what seemed to be a smooth journey. Or rather, the journey was never fully smooth but just enough to lull me into a sense of security. Falsely perhaps, but isn’t good enough sometimes just perfect?
It is the foolishness that gets to me. My own. That foolishness that comes from a belief, finally after all these years, a self belief that someone, something actually saw my qualifications for what they were. Even if I didn’t. 
There were meetings, where I was tested. Again and again. And as each hurdle was passed, I mistakenly believed that I was close. Closer to the thing my heart desired, my hearts desire. 
And then that sharp shock-that abrupt abomination. Ended it. With no recourse, no u-turn. 
After having placed all my hope, all of it into the one thing…. the snatching away of it, is particularly cruel. All the other shocks, though sharp in their own unique ways were nothing compared to the finality of that last sharp shock.
It is the stupidity I feel. How stupid was I to believe I was as good as what they said? How stupid was I to think that I was better than the others? How stupid was I to think that I was special? 
The soft side is scarred. It’s inevitable. But beyond the scarring, beneath the red, raw bloodied screaming wound, is the complete collapse of my belief in my self. Where there once was something there, there is nothing left. 

The long hard road

It isn’t a long shot to call the march towards gainful employment gruelling. In fact, I can think of several more choice terms: humiliating, degrading, daunting, pointless.
There comes a point when doing something repeatedly without any change in outcome becomes insanity. Well call me insane because I must hold the record for number of repeat applications to firms. Where’s my parade?
It isn’t as though I’ve stopped in time, crystallised and stagnant in my life. I’ve done concrete things to add to my CV. With every passing year and with every reiteration of my applications, I have things to add. I’ve taken risks, I’ve taken action, but it seemingly is never good enough.
Let’s see, since my last round of applications, I have: gone through an internship where every person my level was at least 8 years younger. Gone through the humiliation of returning to university where again, everyone is on average at least 5 years younger than I am. Tried to do more entrepreneurial things like joining case competitions and running a business. Nothing seems to make any difference…
The application process currently in place is a particularly cruel one. It’s a multi stage process and prior to interviews is conducted in a bizarrely arbitrary way. One is summarily judged and then rejected based on the words one has written on a cover letter, and through grades. It would be an acceptable process if one also managed to get an answer as to why one was rejected in the first place. What was the screening out process? Was it grades based? CV based? How much of a kiss-ass one can be through words? Or a braggart?
It’s not that I don’t understand-yes, it is time consuming to sift through thousands of applications and yea it will be hugely time consuming to explain to the 90% of people who don’t make it why they weren’t up to scratch. Although really, how hard is it to craft two separate emails; one giving CV reasons for rejection and the other grades reasons? 
I am frustrated. Of course I am. Also dejected and humiliated. Because once again, I had the audacity to hope and once again those hopes were summarily dashed with no explanation. How can I change, do what I need to do if I don’t even know what’s wrong in the first place? 
Of course I wonder, what if I had spent more time crafting a cover letter with more ass kissing, more pointed selling of my attributes? Would that have made any difference? And obviously I don’t have the answer to that question…
The underside of this equation is that the doubts that I have about the risk I’ve taken, attempting the risky procedure of a mid-career change is for nought. The dark doubts of whether or not I made the right decision is ever lingering and it flares up whenever I find yet another rejection in my email inbox.
I weigh up the options I have on a daily basis; almost everyday, I am reminded about my dwindling options, the lessening hope and increasing dread that I was wrong and that at the end of yet another degree, I will find that I am saddled with another useless piece of paper and no means of supporting myself financially. It gets harder to forget, this doubt. It gets harder to remember why I embarked on this journey in the first place.
Do I want to rail against the unfairness of it all? You bet I do. I am, on paper, equally as qualified as the lucky ones who get through. Can I blame luck or fate? I’d love to. But rationally, I can’t blame anyone else but myself. At the end of the day, I was judged as unworthy, whether because I failed to adequately sell myself, or because I wasn’t able to show the requisite amount of enthusiasm. Age does that to you, it saps the youthful enthusiasm and naïveté that one has in the flush of youth. So perhaps it was just my sober approach towards writing out my applications which was the cause of my downfall.
I wonder how to continue onwards… I do. I wonder if this is worth it… And above all things, I wonder what else I can do and how I can actually find the will to carry on.
End rant. 
I am so so aware that I am not the only person who is in this boat. I am so so cognisant that a large, huge percentage of my cohort are facing the same challenge. What is it that we can do about this? Perhaps if we all banded together and boycotted firms which used this cruel application procedure. Although in doing that, we would presumably not apply to 90% of firms.. And in my fantasy, I’d also like my own island with personal 5 star resort attached..
The sad reality is that applications isn’t even the end of the road.. Once that hurdle is surpassed, there’s interviews, there’s more people to impress, higher and higher up the chain. There’s the long road of actually doing the work and impressing bosses so that one does not have to hunt for another job in two years. Up or out, as the firms love to say. 
I am filled with fear; so much fear because the stakes are much much higher for me. Being older does not confer any kind of advantage, it in fact, reduces the amount of time I have left to futz around… As I flounder, drowning in the sea of rejection emails, I am left clutching at whatever straws I can find… Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

Define yourself…

“So what do you do?” 
I get asked this question a lot, as an obvious 30 year old and as the partner of a successful, renowned architect. At dinner parties, at casual drinks, at official functions.. All I can do is stammer, “Ah.. Well.. I used to be a scientist…. And now I am not sure what I am… Unemployed? Poor struggling student?” Neither of which are particularly satisfying nor reflective answers.
My partner, bless his heart would then interject cheerfully, “he cured cancer!!!” 
Which is sweet, but not quite true…
Where do I start when it comes to the topic of my career? What terms can I use to couch it so that it doesn’t sound self pitying and as though I am wallowing in my own sorrows, like the jazz singers of old? 
The facts are; plainly and starkly presented, that I did have a career, once in a previous life. I was a scientist, full of idealistic naïveté, wanting to make a difference, save lives and all that jazz, but the travails of academia soured my youthful enthusiasm and turned me into a bitter crone who just wanted to sell out and go corporate.
I can hear my partner in my head going, “hmmm, perhaps that isn’t the best way to sell yourself… How about you talk about your career highlights!!!”.. In a tone that is all at once chipper and enthusiastic.. He’s so adorable.. 
So here goes, the positive spin: 

I worked in cancer research, starting out in haematological cancers before branching into prostate cancer. I worked on the cancer that Delta Goodrem had* and my work was actually licensed by a pharmaceutical company (!!!!), [sight pause for acclaim from assembled multitudes]. As a prostate cancer researcher, I once pipetted 60 plates in two weeks, [pause again as assembled multitudes’ eyes slightly glaze over], which is close to what a robot can do, which means, I am part robot (!!! And said with a tone of maniacal glee). [longer pause as some of the assembled multitude begin to back away slowly wondering if I am some kind of nutjob]
See what I mean when I say I have issues with my elevator pitch… 
The truth is obviously more mundane: 

I got my PhD, worked for a bit as a post-doctoral researcher, impulsively decided I didn’t like it, took a pay cut and became just a lowly research assistant, and performed robotic tasks for three years before deciding I wanted to be able to wear suits to work and that there was no point wearing a suit to a lab since mice aren’t actually cognisant or appreciative of a good dress sense… So I decided to go back to university; but in my infinite wisdom, decided I could do both full time work and a full course load, which I hasten to add, did work out for a semester, before the strain of trying to do both things concurrently sent me spiralling into a vortex of exhaustion and self pity, whence I would spend my three hour seminars thinking of sad weary songs in my head as the lecturer droned on about bonds and ‘portforio’s’ (she was Asian.. Trouble pronouncing ‘l’s’…)
But wait, there’s more! I then decided that I would give up full time work and the salary that went with it so I could focus on my studies. Which would have been an OK to great decision, except one is not likely to perform well in ones exams if one spends the entirety of the lecture picturing oneself as a down in the doldrums, lip syncing jazz singer.. And of course, with the terrible grades, come the uncertainty of whether or not this particular course is the right one, which leads to more wallowing and soul searching, which leads to a terrible case of the ‘woe is me’s’ [an actual disorder.. Look it up… On Wikipedia.. ]
Here I imagine my partner giving me awesome side eye and muttering “pessimist” under his breath.. 
My partner believes I am amazing. He looks at me and sees this wonderfully gifted gay man who is so smart and so intelligent and so good in bed. His words, not mine.. 
What do I see? I see someone who is average… Who isn’t the worst, but isn’t the best either, (coincidentally what an interviewer said about me). Someone who could be something great, if he could just stop wallowing in the past and look towards the future by doing something concrete, like writing about the Serious Issues of today and getting his name out there. I see potential, in other words. 
But I also see someone who isn’t quite sure what he wants. Who balks and balks like a stubborn horse because he doesn’t quite know what road to choose and in doing so, chooses to let the opportunities that he has wither away, much like Esther in The Bell Jar…
What is special about me? What have I achieved that others haven’t? One time, I modelled for a teen magazine.. It was a contest.. I won a set of the ugliest clothes ever… (Plaid shirt and terrifyingly ugly grey pants which didn’t fit because I lied about my waist size). I have a PhD… What else? I have a very good memory for pop culture and song lyrics.. I learnt the words to the Les Mis song The Docks (Lovely Ladies) in a day… So I could market myself as a PhD, who once modelled ugly clothes and who recalls lots of song lyrics and pop culture trivia… Except, where’s the niche for these skills?
Here’s the thing, I do know, in my heart of hearts, that I am more than capable of succeeding in whatever career I end up getting into. I know that I have the skills, I know I can do the work. The issue is more about whether or not I will enjoy the work. Also, not screwing up job interviews by breezily writing off my past scientific experience as ‘irrelevant’ (I am so good at interviews…). Although, as my mother would say, ‘happiness at work? That’s bullshit. Nobody enjoys working. You just go to work and you do your work well and you get paid and then you come back and put food on the table for your terribly bratty and ungrateful kids who then whine about not having a good childhood because they don’t have toys.’ (Yes, my mother actually said that. Why she never won Parent of The Year, I will never comprehend…) 
Where to from here, one might ask. And if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t be writing this..
Here are the options:

Option 1:

By some miracle, one of my job applications actually works out, I get an interview which I don’t screw up and I get a job as a patent lawyer or a high powered pharmaceutical medical science liaison and I live happily ever after with my knight in shining armour, in our palace with white and brown speckled horses. Oh, and a household staff of 20 and a walk in closet, whilst I am fantasising.. 
Option 2:

I go back to uni, finish the course to the best of my ability, get into a graduate program, (which isn’t looking all that likely, given my poor grades and the fact that all I remember about portforio’s and bonds are the lyrics to sad jazz songs.. ) and then I live happily ever after with my Prince Charming in a penthouse, with a cleaning lady and a closet full of Tom Ford suits.. 
Option 3:

Hmm.. There are less options than I thought..
Yes, yes, I know that both option 1 and 2 can be done concurrently; not exactly a Sophie’s Choice in that I can apply for jobs whilst studying and one of the applications might actually work out.. So essentially, I have inadvertently devised my future plans whilst writing this..
*Not exactly true, but as my dearest partner would say, “who needs to know that?”

Like gold…

It can happen to you, they insisted. The multitude of readers, many who read my tales of woe from the dating front-the ones who relieved their memories vicariously through my written words; they all told me that these things do and will happen. They told me to be patient, that someday, one day, that mysterious man would appear and everything would be like gold..
And then he came into the picture. And then he appeared, like vapour, like mist-an apparition. And I could not quite believe it, he didn’t appear solid; it was hard for me, oh, so hard, to believe, to trust that maybe those readers-all of you who steadfastly shared, stood by me and whispered your words of encouragement and solidarity from so far away; to believe that maybe you were right.. 
But you spoke the truth-the wisdom, all of that precious experience. You were right, these things do happen-a man, a good one, one who thinks the world of me would walk into my life-just like that, a momentous instant; just like that and my life would begin to alter. Just like that-a plain black and white world, shades of grey colouring every perspective-it would turn to gold…
My life is now divided; pre and post. My new life now involves him-it is no longer a selfish one-one where only I mattered, one where there was only me in a sphere, in a bubble. I now have to think about another person’s views, another persons’ life and his choices and his hopes. My life’s course is no longer on that same dreary track.. There will be different priorities, different outcomes. Pre and post; what a difference a day, a second, a moment makes…
It has happened; I have met him. It feels completely right-as he said, there is a feeling of familiarity. It is like coming home. The long journey, the arduous trek, it is the feeling, that indescribable joy of returning home after a long absence. I have come home and it feels like gold…