Barrelled Thoughts #42 – What Ifs and If Onlys

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

If I knew just half of the things I know now about university life when I was in my first and second year, things would be so different.

When my life was surrounded by university matters, I never thought about anything “outside the box.” Four years ago, I was just happy to have entered one of Taiwan’s best universities. A university that prides itself in offering the best in a wide range of humanities and its welcoming of dozens of exchange students year after year. I was overwhelmed by life in university, and I wanted to do nothing else but dwell in the atmosphere. My first term was spent largely on campus while acquainting myself with my new surroundings.

In my second term, I met a group of overseas Chinese students, with whom I would spend a fast one and half years. My time was spent attending classes and burying myself with activities that mattered to me at the time. We went to clubs and bars, going for walks and talks. We even managed to squeeze in a five-day getaway to the Philippines. All in all, it was a splendid time. But it wasn’t a time I spent growing up. During those 700-odd days, never once did I think about the future. All was rosy.

Then came India.

India was a life changer for me in such a way that even the large university campus I lived in was too small for me after my return from the land of cricket and Vishnu. I started looking “out” and I never looked back.

The activities, values and “cools” that mattered so much to me in my first two years just disappeared overnight. The things I used to do seemed banal and trivial. They were meaningless and without perspective. After India, for the first time in my life, I started looking forward into the future. There was just one small problem—I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.

I had double-majored in business administration in my second year and crushed myself with credits—31 and 29 academic hours per week across two terms. “Crazy,” they said. What can I say? Maybe I was. However, before I knew what I wanted to do, the decision to take those classes seemed perfectly rational to me. Why turn down any chance that comes your way before you know what you want to do?

Then came the big curve ball—Russia.

The first two months in Russia passed quickly. I took time to adapt to life there as an exchange student, and I started to like the country. That said, after things took an unexpected change in the middle of November, I found myself staring at the reflection in the mirror on my dorm room wall, asking myself, “What the hell do you want to do with your life, John?”

I was, and still am, technically a nobody. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to do business. Become a businessman, earn a truckload of money (potentially) and continue the rest of my life that way? I wasn’t feeling it. And I don’t regret turning down the offers I’ve received, because when you already know what it is you want to do, nothing should get in your way—especially not money.

So there I was in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. Winter had hit and days were getting shorter and shorter. My confidence was shot and my self-esteem, conviction and direction were all found wanting.

“Where do you want to be this time next year?” I asked myself one evening. “Moscow,” I answered.

Ironically, what was meant to be a somewhat scarring experience eventually became a turning point in my life. My lowest point came with a trampoline that allowed me to bounce back and push on. Onwards to what, exactly, I was not yet certain. But then and there I had made up my mind—I had found my conviction—to recreate what my experience in Russia would mean to me and make something of myself. I was not going to let my impression of Russia remain as cold, lonely nights in a dorm room.

In January, after a fair share of ups and downs with my own feelings, I decided to write again. This blog is the result of my lowest point in Russia. I needed an outlet, and I wanted to return to a simpler me.

Four years ago, I wrote miniature memos on Facebook notes just because I read something and wanted to express my opinions. During that particular summer when I started writing, I wrote about everything I read. Classes started; university started, and I never typed another word again. Just as well, because I honestly needed some time to mature. Some of the things I wrote about were plain childish. That said, I still have much maturing to do.

So, to this blog—Quote, Unquote, I “migrated” most (but not all) of my earlier memos, and I ended my four-year hiatus by writing a post for the first time since August 2010.

Writing is a laborious process. It takes concentration, isolation, remoteness. You need to find your inner self, and that requires an experience that becomes your writing source. – David S. Blundell

I do not have the time to read TIME every week like I used to, and so I don’t write article reviews like I did back then. That phase has come and gone. The posts that appear in this blog only do so because of an experience of some sort. It’s become the diary I never had.

Somewhere in-between the John that arrived in Russia at the end of August last year and the John that left at the end of February, there was an inconspicuous crossover. Things I use to say, I now don’t see the need to express; things I previously felt like I needed to share, I now don’t either. There was a shift from talking to writing, and that’s when I decided I wanted to become journalist.

It hit me square in the face. How could I have overlooked it? My old man was a journalist. He even ran his own newspaper company. Is all that time spent running around the editorial room as a kid finally boomeranging back to me? Is everything simply coming full circle? “I guess you just couldn’t escape it,” I was told. Maybe—or maybe this is just what I subconsciously chose.

“A journalist? A reporter?” No. What if I told you that reporters are journalists, too, but not all journalists are reporters? This becomes difficult to justify when no such expression exists in Chinese to adequately interpret this word. It’s commonly translated as 新聞工作者—news worker. I suppose we’ll just have to make do with that.

If I knew four years ago that I would be so happy working in news—in journalism, I would’ve screamed at myself to find an internship then and there. Although there’s a big chance that I wouldn’t have listened.

That’s right. What ifs and if onlys appear in our vocabulary to express some form of regret about a past decision (or indecision), but the truth is that it changes nothing. Put bluntly, if I travelled back in time and slapped myself in the face saying, “Hey! Pull your socks up! Go find yourself an internship and spend all your time there so when you graduate you can find a good job, you nincompoop!” I still wouldn’t have listened.

It’s simply a case of not having been pushed hard enough. I hadn’t been prodded, tried and tested by the events of the last two years, to feel inspired to enter this field and do the internship I’m doing now. Вот так вот.
That’s it.

So where does this leave us? Where does this leave those who realise late on what it is they want to pursue? We charge forward, of course! Push on! If it’s truly what you want, even if you already knew what you wanted five years ago but haven’t fulfilled it yet, now is the time to act! Do everything in your power to make it happen. That’s the path I’m putting myself on now. Go all in. No turning back.

During the two days I spend at university every week, I can never wait to get out of the classroom. Not to go home and idol on the bed, but to head to the office and swim in news. So, this must count for something. This momentum is a wave I must ride, because after the decline brought about by the last three months in Nizhny Novgorod, I have nothing left to lose.

Even if my plans to work in Moscow fall through and I never get to see her beauty ever again, I will at least know what I want from this little magical island I live on. Someone very close to my heart once told me that everything happens for a reason and that there are no such things as coincidences. I guess I’m a believer. So if it’s to be, it will be.

Do I look back?—Yes. Do I bear seemingly unrealisable hopes?—Yes. But, most importantly, I’m on the up and up.

It’s not so much a case of zero or hero, as the prospect of all or nothing. JSF. 

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