So you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed when photos from your friend’s latest travel post pops up. She is obviously happy; a smile stretches over her face as two men resembling Oberyn Martell flank her on both sides. In the background the sun sets in between the majestic peaks of Machu Picchu, and the caption reads “INCA-redible! I LOVE MY JOB!”
Meanwhile, you’re chained to your desk, wondering which email to answer first and which restaurant to order from. Your coffee, and incidentally the only source of your strength and happiness, has gone cold. Like your soul. You’re tired, you’re cranky and you just want to push said Facebook friend off the cliff.
The next thing you know, you’re typing your resignation letter while fighting to keep the nagging fears about The Great Big Future at bay.
Sounds familiar? The same thing happened to me a few months ago. I loved my job; the pay was good, the work was challenging but more importantly, the people were great. But the lure of temporarily lifting the curse of Cain was greater. I wanted to know what it truly meant to say your work is your passion, and these are what I learned:
Before resigning, my cooking skills were limited to frying hotdogs, flipping pancakes and scrambling eggs. I would spin around from the stove with great aplomb, place the dish in front of my then boyfriend and say “tadaaa.” Fast forward to six-months later, andwe would have our first fight (which would eventually lead to a breakup) about why “hotdogs don’t qualify as real food.”
After resigning, I worked for the family business and acquired the rudimentary rules of cooking. I developed an instant, Pavlovian response to flipping a steak after the first side is done; I learned the correct proportions of chopped onions, tomatoes and mangoes when making a salsa, and I could occasionally crack an egg with one hand while heating a pan in the other.
In the kitchen, scale ruled sense and that meant knowing how much salt was necessary without using a spoon. Twelve hours working in the restaurant, three times a week is tough and I have a long way to go before I can master the grace that comes with commanding a stove, but hey, at least now I can say I cook “real food.”
When you’re not stuck in a regular job, you will find yourself walking instead of sitting more, writing down notes on your thick journal instead of typing them on your keyboard, and in general just basically moving a helluva lot more. For me, working freelance meant standing for eight hours straight while taking down orders and handing out menus; it also meant hauling kilos of frozen meat to and from the kitchen during prep time or crunching numbers as a cashier while busing dirty dishes. On my days “off” as a freelance producer, not having a regular job also meant braving the jam-packed MRT and walking to shoot locations because reimbursing my cab fare is no longer an option.
The point I’m driving at is: you can’t possibly do all these things when you subsist on Skyflakes and apples, or if the only exercise you get on a daily basis is refilling your cup of Joe from the coffee machine. Finding your passion goes hand in hand with having the strength to do it; and that requires taking care of your body even if that means being a bit more conscious about what you eat and carving out a few minutes to burn some calories and build muscle.
Prior to resigning I had some considerable savings that kept me from changing my Facebook status from “Senior Account Manager” to “homeless.” But overtime, no matter how much you saved, your funds will eventually dwindle. The bills won’t stop coming even if you’ve stopped working. And that immediately puts you on preservation mode with numbers constantly running through your head: if you’re paying X amount of money for your phone bill, and allocating X amount to pay off your credit bill, you will only have X amount to spend on transportation and communication fees which directly translates to “NO YOU CANNOT HAVE STARBUCKS RIGHT NOW.”
Not having a steady source of income makes you budget savvy, which also keeps your lifestyle choices in check. Splurging on “artisan” donuts and indulging in the occasional retail therapy might have been okay when you had something to expect at the end of the month, but not so much when you’re your own boss.
When I was working full time, there was not a day when I did not complain. I complained about work, I complained about my family, I complained about how life sucked in general. A part of me also knew I liked being a whiny loser. Constantly talking about my problems, gave me sense of self-importance: MY work, MY stress, MY life.
It’s the same selfish trait we oldies like to attribute to millennials when really we’re guilty of the same navel-gazing attitude. Sure we shudder at the thought of posting selfies, but we don’t mind when the main topic of everyday conversations is about us.
In the two months I’ve worked freelance, I met a guy who dropped out of his fourth year in college to work so his brother can finish high school, a girl who ran away from home because she was being forced to marry some retired geriatric twice her age, and a successful screenwriter who returned to his family after he found out his father was sick; even if they rejected him when he first came out of the closet so many years ago.
When we get caught up in our daily routine, it’s easy to fall into that trap where it seems that life is all about us. But when you’re thrown out of the comfort of your office and of your nine to five existence, you realize life becomes infinitely more interesting and beautiful through other peoples’ stories that, most of the time, have greater struggles and significantly more important triumphs than your own.
When not working for my family’s restaurant, I work as freelance producer for a friend. And as anyone who’s ever worked in production will tell you, there will be times when all you’ll be doing for one whole day is wait: wait for the talent, wait for the event to start, wait for the crew and so on. Some days you’ll come really early for a shoot only to realize your interview got bumped off at a later time. But since you’re now “financially-aware” (see lesson #6), you know that staying in a nearby mall or café, instead of going home, would be more cost-efficient.
On one such day, I met someone who made quite an impact on my life. It was a Wednesday afternoon during one of the very rare occasions I would treat myself to a cup of really good coffee (again, Lesson #6). I was minding my own business when a girl I have never met before approached my table and asked (in a very nervous tone) if I was Sam. The last time I checked my name wasn’t Sam nor was I on any dating app for lesbians, so I just smiled and politely said “no.”
The girl, whom we will now refer to as “Searching for Sam,” was visibly upset.
In that moment, it almost seemed like Life took on the form of a fist and sucker punched Searching for Sam so hard, that she slumped on the chair right in front of me and started crying. While I felt bad for her, I was also conscious of the fact that people were starting to stare with a look that said “DO SOMETHING.”
So I sat beside Searching for Sam and patted her on the back while trying to comfort her. Anyone who knows me knows that physical contact freaks me out so this was very challenging. Our conversation went:
“Nyaya” she answered through incoherent sobs.
“Naya?” I asked.
“NYAYA,” she repeated impatiently.
“Yana?” I asked again.
“NYAYAAA!” she screamed.
It seemed rude to ask for her name a third time, so I simply said “There, there.”
After a good 10 minutes, my shoulder was wet with her tears, my coffee was cold and I had barely enough time to walk back to the location of my shoot. Fortunately, Searching for Sam (or Nyana) had already cried all her eyes out, and was ready to move on after what I assume to be yet another Disappointing Date.
Before she left, Searching for Sam gave me a tight hug (the type you give to close friends and relatives), and thanked me, her eyes still wet from crying. It was all sorts of crazy awkward but strangely enough, it also felt good. When I was about to leave (and after checking that I still had my wallet; a fact I still feel guilty about to this day), I noticed Searching for Sam had left her business card on the table. Her name was Lilac.
I slipped the card in my pocket to remind me of how lucky I am: some people get so lonely in this world that they would seek refuge in the arms of a stranger if it meant only a fleeting moment of relief.
Since I graduated, I’ve worked full time and this means always expecting something in the middle and at the end of the month. It was a give and take relationship: I work—you pay me. No questions asked. Working freelance on the other hand is a whole different story. You have to constantly ask for what you want, whether it’s negotiating your fee, requesting for an interview or simply convincing a customer to try something different because the restaurant ran out of his usual.
At the end of two months, I was ready to give up my quest to find my passion when I noticed a massive dip in my savings; I was about to throw in the towel and embrace regular employment once again. It was only when I talked to a friend, who literally took hold of me and shook me by the shoulders, that I realized I wasn’t getting what I needed because I didn’t ask for it. “If you just needed the money, why didn’t you just ask for it?” I argued that it seemed simple but it rarely is. He retorted, “It is simple, you just don’t want to ask the question.”
And this got me thinking, how many times have we chosen not to ask the question because we were afraid of the answer? How many relationships have prematurely ended because we weren’t brave enough to say “I want you back, can I have you back?” or “Can you just tell me hotdog is real food, and I swear we can work this out!” How many job opportunities or pay raises have we lost? How many times have we sold ourselves short by the simple act of not asking?
In life, you will rarely get the answer you’re hoping for but until you ask, you’ll never know.
On days when I can’t even treat myself to a Cinnabon, I would marvel at how much my parents were able to achieve. At my age, they had already bought a house, a car and were sending four kids to private school. We also had two dogs, a cat and a rabbit. How they were able to provide for all of us, I can’t even begin to imagine.
Naturally, when you’re working part-time, you hang out with your parents more. You would think this would please them, but the more you spend time with them, the more you realize they actually want you the hell out. And it’s not because they hate you, it’s precisely the opposite. Also, they really want to have grandchildren, and that can’t possibly happen when you’re stuck at home, not meeting people.
You also learn that your parents continue to care and worry for their kids long after they’ve retired. Because caring for your children doesn’t stop once they’ve finished school and started (or in my case, stopped) working. Being a parent means understanding the choices they make and trusting that you’ve raised them well enough to know that they’ll make it through. It also means standing by the sideline and watching them make mistakes and being there to help them pick up the pieces.
At a very young age, I already knew that I was lucky. Being born with a complete set of limbs to a family that loves you is not the norm in a third world country—it’s the exception.
At eight years old, I struck a bargain with God and told him I will pray every night, go to church every Sunday and never ask for anything more—not a new Barbie, not a new dress, not a new anything—provided He would keep my family safe and healthy. Of course, this was a child’s perception of God and as I grew older, I broke this truce more times than I can count—God please help me pass this class, God please help me have this job, please, please, forever and ever. Amen—all while not regularly attending mass.
These days, my prayers are less about getting what I want and more about doing what He wants. I know that sounds a lot like the same Sunday School crap they feed you as a child, but when you’re nearing your thirties and you’re still not sure where you’re going even when you’ve checked all the right boxes in Life (i.e. finish school and not be a drug addict), all you can really do is trust and have faith that, in the end, everything will be alright. I’m not saying you leave it all up to prayer; you still have to keep moving and you have to keep working until you find what you’re looking for.
When things get too tiring or confusing, the simple act of praying and having faith, no matter how cheesy that sounds,can do a lot more good than trying to figure everything out on your own.