The following is a draft I wrote in May of 2022, well deep into my unemployment mania. It’s been almost 2 years, and it’s uncanny how much this sentiment still resonates with me now, as an employee contemplating another life transition.

Is this just what a quarter life crisis feels like, or will this last forever?

Well into my unemployment era, I often find myself sinking deeper into a state of total confusion and hopelessness as to what my life is supposed to be. I seem to have lost that zest for a long and successful career that I have yearned for since forever. The career I chose seems flawed and broken; the parts that make up the right career do not fit in this one.

I feel like I’m drifting. Taking up space. Wasting my life. Doing the bare minimum to exist. Yet I’m not. I’m learning, investing, and healing. But all these matter not when I weigh my self-worth.

Like all the self-inflicted wounds I whisper to myself, without a career I am worth nothing.

I am so scared. I am scared of being rejected and handling another blow to my already wounded identity. I am so scared of getting another job and experiencing the loss of control of time that I am so familiar with. I am so scared of taking another route because I don’t really believe I can do it.

This feeling weighs on me daily. It paralyzes me, traps me in a past I can’t forget.

I read somewhere that passion can be categorized into the following: spiritual, neurological, physiological and environmental.

  • Spiritual. You need to do ask yourself what excites you. You need to look back on when work was fulfilling.
  • Neurological. Our brains are wired differently, so we are drawn to different things. What makes your brain tick? Problem-solving, creating, tinkering, etc.
  • Physiological. What kind of work flow do you like? Do you like routine, or being more dynamic? Work 24h on call, or work 1 week on/off? You might like to write, but the way you write might be different; if you pick the wrong physiologic routine, you might be screwing yourself.
  • Environmental. Do you like to work in a team, or work freelance? Do you work best alone, with a manager, or with a group?

Much to the chagrin of my slightly younger self, I have started using TikTok. Yes, the app that I have widely deemed as the most vile for consuming social media has charmed me into creating short form video content.

Earlier today, I opened up the app and found the “Suggested accounts” pop-up. There was a single name on the list, and after a bit of googling, I found out it was a friend from college. I had ensured that my account, just like on all other social media apps, was not connected to anything that could be traced back to people I know. But, alas.

I think it’s common to feel embarrassed when someone you know finds out about your “content creation” platform. To an extent, it feels like stripping down in front of a partner for the first time—except it’s in front of an X number of people that you know (but not really) and with whom you have no desire of sharing an intimate facet of yourself. It’s common to feel this at first, yet I have felt this way for years.

There’s something about others witnessing some part of my identity—whether it’s from attending the same school or simply knowing them on a personal level—that immediately makes their opinion of myself weigh more than a rando online.

I’ve gone to the extent of deactivating personal accounts to prevent them from being further traced back my content creation platforms. It’s as if I’ve had to remove parts of my personal footprints online in order to make space for my online persona.

At one point, l quit all social media platforms but YouTube (which has never impeached on my anonymity, for that matter) because it felt like I was working towards becoming a walking ad for companies. I was convinced that I was doing it for the ethics, but it was mostly just a very personal matter of anonymity.

With the boom of the Web3, we can already see social media transforming into something more autonomous for the individual content creator. There will come a time where creators can monetize their content without depending on ads or middlemen, and I’m excited for that. It won’t be anonymous as all online activity is traceable, but at least I won’t have to worry about the platform spreading informing across my online selves.

I think it’s fine to want to stay anonymous. Lots of people do it for reasons beyond that of just embarrassment. But I think it’s something else when I freak out over a minor incident that causes me exactly zero harm. I still cringe at any of my old content; some days it’s fine, some days I wish I could start all over.

I am inclined to end this post on a high note, but evidently this is not something that I can resolve over the course of a few paragraphs.

I just watched this film about a young woman navigating adulthood through relationships and career transitions. It’s one of those comfort films that makes you feel validated about being an adult without having any of the adult things figured out.

Julie is a top medical student who ends up switching to psychology, and then photography. She ends up working at a bookstore for a few years as she tries to grapple with what she wants in life. She has an estranged relationship with her dad, who has another family of his own, but is unable to confront him about it. She has many flings, and ends up in 2 serious relationships where she wonders Is This It. Her insecurities about her career and her indecisivenes about her future are among the few issues that keep her from moving forward.

We can see that Julie is trying to figure out her life, but nothing seems to really fit. Her relationships are merely hedonistic pursuits where she always ends up feeling like the supporting character. It’s not that she can’t be who she wants to be, it’s that she doesn’t know who that is, or if it’s even worth the pursuit. The film is genius at letting things flow; Julie’s trajectory is unpredictable, with her decisions being neither wrong or right—they just are.

Watching others go through problems that I can identify with helps me see my own issues from the same point of view: as a non-judging, neutral viewer. It’s easy for me to punish myself for not appreciating the life I have; in reality, my problems are relative, far more common that I think, and not that big a deal in the grand scheme of life. Freeing myself from the isolation of my thoughts is what allows me to stop dwelling on them, and look for ways to move forward.

Once I was at a restaurant with my parents. I slipped away to the bathroom and, as I washed my hands, two girls in their 20s came in giddily. I glanced at them applying eye makeup; they wore going-out clothes, clearly anticipating a night of fun. They noticed me and asked how old I was; then they said 10 was the best age ever. I stared at my reflection in the mirror and wondered what part the constraints of my age they referred to.

They say your brain doesn’t become fully developed until 25. I deem this to be the stage where I become an independent entity; where I can distinguish between my thoughts and those influenced by others; my desires, and that of those closest to me. I’ve always been of the sensitive kind, desperate to obey and to please, so maybe I’m just wistful that this milestone will cement this resolution.

At 25, you also become more set in your ways. Your brain’s neuroplasticity is in decline, and you have a life to which you can’t bid goodbye and start fresh. I’ve always wondered why so much attention is placed on children’s learning. Parents fervently watch their children at music recitals and monitor their homework progress at home. Children ask uninhibited questions about life and beyond. Yet when this same child enters the so-called “real world”, both parties lose interest in the child’s learning potentials in favor of their now adulting responsibilities.

As I age each year, I fear losing that youthful curiosity for life. I fear losing my desire to live the world, to learn their languages and cultures, to pursue hobby after hobby like a free-spirited person. I fear losing that, because that seems to be what the world is telling me to do. Settle, work, save.

But if I’m really, really honest with myself, I am just complaining because I feel lost. I’m still getting used to the blank roadmap. My life has always been dictated on pen and paper, and I always knew where I would be years from now–until I graduated college, at least. Now that no one is holding my hand and infinite possibilities present before me, I turn bitterly to the world, asking back my childhood.

As I think about my plans for this year, my mind keeps asking me: What do you want?

A year ago, I had just graduated from college. I had already been away from the college environment and working full-time for a few months, so this marker was just a formality. I spent most of my time working from home, carving out time to read Chinese, figure skate, read, journal, among other hobbies. I moved into another place where I now live with my needy cat. Most recently, I lost my job.

It’s been just a minute, and I’m feeling the career burnout that I expected to feel in my 30s. When I see myself in five years, I imagine the languages I would have learned, the places I would have lived, and the skills I would have garnered. I imagine my career as a set of life experiences that contribute to my overall growth, but it is never the shining star. I am even more sure of this given my (albeit limited) “experience” in the real world.

I wish I were going into this year filled with the hope and ambition I used to have, but as of now, I’m a bit drained on that front. I know what my personal goals are, but they seem pointless when I feel like I’m back to square one with my career. The thing is, I firmly believed I had carved out the perfect and only career path I saw for myself. So how am I supposed to come to terms that it’s not what I see myself doing, years from now?

Then again, I’m not having a good day today. My fears are amplified by a recent string of uncertainties, creating a feeling of unease that I just can’t shake off. It’s January and the weather is chilly; I’ll take a walk outside.