Earlier in May this year, I found myself once again in transit at Terminal 3 of the Dubai International Airport, awaiting my next flight bound for Paris. As I sat in the same row of reclining chairs I once did, watching the passing of passengers appearing as quickly as they were disappearing from this particular scene in my life, I felt overwhelmed with a sudden surge of nostalgia and penned these words down in my notebook:
It fills me with an ineffable sense of nostalgia how nearly exactly three years and three months ago, I was right here, waiting in transit, about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime to Europe. The same airport now beckons, yet I of the present time am no longer the same. We are all but passing through.
We are all but passing through.
A single place stands, seemingly impervious to the emotions and developments of man. And yet, just how infinitely many memories and stories do these places possess, furtively, unknown to us? We could walk past the same tree, or concrete building, day after day, month after month, year after year, and give no particular notice to it. It is only when we take a sporadic pause to contemplate the myriad of inevitable changes that have since occurred in our lives in juxtaposition to the apparent fundamental immutability and calmness of objects and spaces over time do we begin to realise the transience of time, the brevity of life, and the inconsequentiality of our everyday stresses, worries, and sorrows in the larger schema of things, and the vast universe in which we take our insignificant places.
We then begin to question: what truly matters, to us?
It has been a little over two years since I first stepped into the corporate world as a young, idealistic, starry-eyed individual – open, inquisitive, and eager, sometimes perhaps naively so, with enormous hopes and colossal dreams to make a positive difference and to change the world for the betterment of humanity. At the beginning, I had been absolutely delighted to go to work each day. I awoke every morning with a joy and excitement that seemed almost inconceivable to me and my peers, the kind of happiness you knew was too good to be true, too great to last – alas, it turned out to be so.
Perhaps, there is some truth to the saying that what you read reveals what your inner turmoils are. A few months later, I found myself headed to the National Library during lunch one afternoon. My choice of intellectual solace that night was Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. Since that point, it has been a tumultuous journey replete with the full spectrum of challenges that corporate life brings, condensed within a considerably short span of time, though not without its little joys and accomplishments, too. The possibility of leaving and travelling the world appeared incredibly enticing at one juncture, with its allure further intensified as I witnessed several of my peers actualising such plans, or others, leaving their existing jobs in pursuit of alternative dreams.
In seeking to understand the reasons behind their respective choices, I discovered a common theme underlying each of their stories: at some point in their lives, everyone pauses to connect the dots in order to create the compelling narrative of their lives. At the end of the day, we are creatures ravenous for meaning, with a voracious hunger for a single, coherent narrative that encapsulates the synthesis of the medley of choices we have made thus far in our lives, thereby making sense of our sometimes seemingly illogical decisions and pathways and, in turn, warranting their existence if not purely for the fact that they have contributed in part to enabling us to become the respective individuals we are today. A single, coherent narrative that serves to propel us forward as we embark on the next phase of our journeys.
In the same vein, I have come to realise that the answer to the question of what my raison d’être is can never quite fully be known or determined in exact detail. With the perspicacious gift of hindsight, creating a cogent narrative of my life could and would indeed come intuitively. Yet, to set forth the narrative for the next decades of my life at this point is, by contrast, possibly an insurmountable task. At best, we can lay out our personal, self-defined visions at each stage of our lives – be it to change the world, to design and construct a building from scratch, or to fall in love – and allow it to manifest in our minds in the form of a mountaintop towards which we now, slowly but surely, chart our paths from our respective starting points.
It is in this notion that I now take comfort and gain assurance, from the knowledge that each choice that I consciously make today is leading me one step forward, and towards, the very mountaintop that I have defined for myself, and that each difficult decision in the present moment is in fact bringing me closer to my ultimate desired outcomes in life.
As Steve Jobs eloquently expressed:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.
Most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Nearly two years and three months have passed since that first day. In retrospect, I am thankful to my self from a year ago for choosing to persevere when everyone else urged her to quit, for displaying the grit, tenacity, and antifragility at levels I have never before witnessed in all our years together. Looking back, it all made sense now. Despite others incessantly encouraging me to leave, I did not. I did not because the core of me still believed in the cause. I did not because I still believed in the one vision that I had set out for myself since that very first day. Most of all, I did not because I knew that leaving would take me a step further away from, instead of towards, the mountaintop representing my vision and dreams. However incredulous it seemed, somehow, a little part of me believed that were I to persevere, the iridescent light at the tunnel would appear one day – and it now has.
On 1 October 2014, I will be embarking on a new, exciting, and long anticipated phase in my career. As I prepare to depart from my existing place, I am filled with a strange, inexplicable sense of ambivalence, almost akin to bidding farewell to a first romance in which I have learned so much and grew so much, through which strong relationships have been forged with mentors and friends each of whom are so remarkable in their own ways and to whom I am immensely grateful. It is a place and phase that have taught me to hurt, to heal, and to love; it is where I truly learned to perceive all the inevitable sufferings, sorrows, and challenges in life as masked offerings of wisdom waiting only to be uncovered in all of its beauty and purity. Most of all, I have learned never to give up even in the face of the meanest of adversities, for so long I remain true to myself and my dreams, the sacrifices would one day prove worthwhile.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl succinctly articulated:
What is to give light must endure burning.
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
We are all but passing through.
A single place stands, and its people come and go. It is but an ineluctable way of life. Ultimately, it is what we have achieved in our brief presence, the light cast from our contributions and creations in congruence with the essence of our beings that would have mattered. I would like to believe that I have cast even a minimal glow in my past 2¼ years here, and I now look forward to new ways through which I can contribute and create in my upcoming journey ahead.
As my dreams once again take flight, I shall continue to have faith in that one day in the not-so-distant future, the dots would somehow all connect in retrospect.
– Agnes Chew