Life Experience ·6.5·

The uncertainty of finding your own path and following your passions

The Pursuit of happiness in a profit driven society

When we tell people that we want to chase our dreams, most of the times we are told to stop being ridiculous and be more realistic. It has been drilled into our brains that the ultimate career goal is to be employed, move up in a big name company and make good money, while chasing dreams is something for people who don’t know anything about the real world.
To be honest, I feel guilty towards my parents that I am not interested in anything STEM-related, something that can generate money more easily, at least by society’s standards. In school there was a classmate of mine who seemed to know the answer to everything. She was really smart and was good at all the science subjects. She always complimented my drawings and said she wished she could draw as well, but I wished I could be like her instead of being good at drawing. I feel like a complete failure for quitting the business major I started. Even though I now have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree, with a very good grade, after studying abroad at a Japanese university with two scholarships, I don’t feel like I have achieved anything. I feel lost, unskilled and unsuccessful. My parents say that they are happy that I managed to graduate with such a good grade, but I can’t help but think that they would have been happier if I graduated in the business major. It has been like this my whole life. When I brought back a very good score for my art projects in school, my parents didn’t seem as happy as they were when I brought back an A in math. They say that it isn’t true, that they are happy about any A, no matter what the subject is.
When I was younger, I was allowed to choose something from the toy store when I brought back home an A in math. When I got older and brought home an A in math, physics or chemistry, I got monetary rewards and praise. When I got an A in the other subjects, I got praised. I don’t want to seem like the money was important to me, but they always seemed so much more proud and happy when I got As in science subjects, which reflected in the way of how they chose to reward me. That showed me, that they deemed those subjects much more important than my other subjects. The STEM subjects were never my strong points. Maybe I could get good grades if I really put effort into studying them, but I never enjoyed it. At that time I only really cared about how my parents would react to my grades. Every time I got an A, I was looking forward to their praise and happy faces, but every time I got something worse than an A, I was afraid of going home.
There was a time in middle school, when my grades in the „important subjects“ dropped. I was spending a lot of time drawing and upon seeing my grades, my parents prohibited me from drawing. I tried to draw in secret, but one time they caught me doing it and proceeded to scold me severely, asking why I was doing that to them, while they were working so hard to make sure that I can have an education. They ripped apart my drawing pad that was gifted to me by a dear friend and pretended to throw away all my drawing materials (at that time I didn’t know they only pretended). I was a disappointment to them and I betrayed their trust. I still remember it to this day. It was only acceptable for me to do art, if it was necessary for school. However, whenever I spent a lot of time on an art project for school, I was scolded, because I was neglecting house chores and my other subjects. When I spent my time on math problems, I was praised and told that I don’t have to worry about the chores, but should concentrate on studying. When I fail at something in school or university, they would ask me whether I’ve been drawing again. Somewhere along the way, I stopped drawing like I used to. As much as I love drawing and as happy as it makes me feel, it also makes me feel guilty. I used to draw every single day. But now, it might happen once or twice a year. If I do, I make sure to hide it. I stopped talking about it, I stopped showing it to my family. Even after all these years, it has become a habit to hide everything before I leave my room. Before, when I finished a drawing, I would put it into a folder. Sometimes my mother would look through it and asked whether a drawing was a new one, which made me feel uneasy. Now I only draw in my sketch book that I take with me everywhere I go. All of this probably has contributed to my anxiety in some way. All in all, you could probably say that I  have given up on drawing.
Then I picked up photography. It was still okay, when it was an occasional hobby, something I was doing every now and then. When I started to take it more seriously and spend more time on it, I stopped talking about it.
I was editing some photos in the living room once, when it was still a fairly new hobby and my mother commented that it probably takes a lot of time editing photos. She asked whether I was spending my time at university editing photos as well. I stopped editing photos when someone else was present. I don’t talk about the projects I’m doing. I stopped talking about anything specific with my family, about my hobbies, what I’m doing. Now I feel guilty when I spend too much time on my hobbies. I often avoid doing any of it, because I know I will be too absorbed to stop and then I will feel guilty because of it. I can’t get rid of the feeling that what I’m doing is useless, worthless. Because I don’t earn money with it and because it probably will be difficult to make a living with that in the future. Something that does not generate money is not worth the time. That is what I learnt and I think that is what many of us learnt. I think that most of us will have some kind of passion, something that we can spend all day doing without realizing how many hours have passed. Something that makes us happy. However, as we get older, we go to school and slowly the responsibilities in our lives increase. We choose to prioritize other things that we deem more important. Especially being a teenager or a young adult, when we have to choose our career paths, most of us have to think about what would be wise to pursue, which path would be the most secure, the most rational. We concentrate on school to get the best grades in order to have, what we assume to be, a stable career and future. However, what I have noticed that not many of us know what to do with our lives, not even after graduating university. We think we should do what’s best for our lives and therefore go for a field of study we think is needed on the job market. The years I studied Modern Japanese Studies and Information Science were great years. There were great teachers and friends that I got to know along the way and I felt like I belong. However, after getting my Bachelor’s degree, I had this feeling of being lost again. I still didn’t know what I really wanted to do. Would I be content with a simple 9-5 office job? I decided to continue studying, because I didn’t want to leave the city just yet. I felt like it still had something to offer. 

At the beginning of 2019 I told myself that I want to do more photoshoots and advance in the area. I especially wanted to do more fantasy photoshoots. I made the effort to get out of my comfort zone and said yes to things I was sure would make me uncomfortable. It was worth it. I met new people who also love creating as much as me. A friend who I only had classes with and who I mainly spoke to in university before, became a close friend of mine in the last two years, who I can share ideas with and with whom I have already done many projects together. I also got to meet her friend and her friend’s boyfriend who are really lovely people as well and I really enjoy chatting with them and exchanging ideas. When I talk to them about new projects, when they send pictures of their DIY projects, I feel very happy and fulfilled. We lift each other up and encourage each other. I have always wanted a little group of friends to do creative things together on a regularly basis like this and I hope that we can keep this up for a long time. I think that it is very important to have friends you can thrive with and with whom you can advance to the next level of life. This year was the first year in a long time I was very active creatively and I realized once again how right it feels, how content I feel while creating. Before I was not sure what I really want to do in my life. I had so many doubts and I still do. The reasonable thing would be getting a traditional office job or something similar, have a place to live a financially stable life and try to increase your standing in society. But would that make me happy? The truth is that I am afraid of falling into a routine, trying to make a living and then being too busy and tired to pursue any of my passions.  I am afraid of working a job just to survive and then realizing that ten years have passed without doing anything that is meaningful to me. I gave up on something once, something I really loved, something that made me forget my worries, and I regret it deeply. I am scared that I will give up on what I really want a second time. I don’t want to live a life full of regrets, full of „what if“-questions. I prioritized everything else, making money, doing my homework, my assignments. I was always told „You can do what you want, when you graduate high school“. I graduated high school with a good grade and then I had to find a part-time job. There wasn’t time to do anything else. I had more money and I could buy the things I wanted. When I couldn’t spend my time creating, I spent my money to make up for it. However, looking back at it now, was I truly happy at that time? No. Then there was the pressure to find a university to attend, so I enrolled in a university to study business, because that’s the reasonable thing to do. Study something decent, is what they say. Did that make me happy? No. I was told „You can do what you want after graduating university“. Then I changed major to something I thought would suit me more. Did that make me happy? Yes, in a way. However, I think the people I got to know during that time played a huge role in that part. I thought that when I finally graduate university and got my Bachelor’s degree, I would feel more confident and at ease about the future, but that is not the case at all. After starting my master’s, I got even more anxious and felt more lost than ever. Nevertheless, thanks to me actually setting a creative goal, during these past months I have realized what I really want to do with my life and that is creating. Of course, photography plays a huge part, but I also like writing, videography, drawing and storytelling. I would love to venture more into those directions and I know doing those things would make me happy and help me live a fulfilling life. I don’t have the means to save the world. I can’t save humanity. I can’t change society. But maybe I will be able to create something, that will make people think and question the current state we are living in. Even if it is just one person. If I can stir up some kind of emotion, I think that will be enough for me. I have shared my thoughts online and got a few messages from people I know. I am always so thankful for the people reaching out to me to share their thoughts, making me realize that we are not alone with this feeling of being lost and desperately longing for a meaningful and happy life. What struck me is, that many have told me that the job they are working in, or the path that they thought is the most reasonable, is not the thing they really wanted. They are unhappy or feel less fulfilled, while there was actually a creative passion that they have pursued before, but gave up on for the sake of a traditional education and career. It does make me sad to hear similar stories to mine. We do everything society tells us to do, because there is this belief that if we go the traditional paths, we will be able to live a secure and rich life. Yet, what does that entail? Getting an education in an area you think a company will profit from the most? So you will have a higher chance of getting hired and then working in a capitalistic industry who could care less about their workers? Who only care about making the most profit? Who won’t hesitate to replace you any time, no matter how much you have contributed? To whom you will become a liability, once you fall sick? Companies nowadays say that their workplace is like a family. Why? Because they want you to treat them like one, meaning that you are supposed to be loyal to them and will offer everything thing you have. Your time, your energy, your skills. However, they will never treat you like family. They won’t care when you fall sick. They won’t care when someone close to you needs your time. People are selfish. In a corporate setting, it’s rare to truly find someone who cares. The co-workers who laugh with you during work, will talk about you behind your back, if you dare to take some time off. You are just a replaceable component of their company. I can’t see any purpose in such a way of living. Maybe it is a privilege to be able to even question this state of affairs. Many of us do what we do, because it is necessary, not because we wanted to. 

I want to tell you the story of a friend I got to know at my workplace. She shared it with me and allowed me to share her story with you. She was a student just as me, studying Modern Japanese studies as a major and actually got a job offer at a major Japanese airline, after getting her Bachelor’s degree. It is a very well-known company and many would probably consider working there a desirable goal. To get that job offer, she spent the time and energy to fill in the applications and to go through the whole process of interviews and job searching until she finally got the job. I think she is a very hard-working and ambitious person. She signed the contract and I envied her for getting a job at such a huge company. She was always flying back and forth from Japan to Germany, even before her contract started, because she needed to participate in trainings and other things for her job. She was going to move to Japan for her job. It seemed like such an exciting life. People would probably say that a stable working place and a stable future was waiting for her, in another country at that and I envied her for that, hoping that I would find something like that as well. A few months later, I don’t remember whether I spoke to her personally or online, she told me that she withdrew from her contract. Of course, I was taken aback. How could she give up on such a workplace? She told me that her relatives were shocked and couldn’t believe that she was doing that. However, the decision was not easy for her. Before that, she spent days agonizing over that decision, questioning herself whether she was doing the right thing and I know that the decision was not easy in any way. Even though flying back and forth between two countries regularly would seem like a dream for some people, it was stressful for her, especially when she fell sick one time and couldn’t go on the flight. The company didn’t care about that and bought her a ticket to Japan anyway. She felt pressured and on top of that, later on the company caused her to cancel a vacation she has already paid for and looked forward to, so that she lost all of the money she had already spent on the tickets and reservations. Note that this all happened before her working contract even started. Of course I am just telling you her story from my memory, but basically she realized that she didn’t want to work for a company who didn’t care about their workers at all, even after landing the contract. She felt restricted by the company and knew that it would make her unhappy long-term if she chose to work there, so she terminated the contract, despite what her family was saying and chose to do a 6-month internship in Japan instead. I really admire her for that. I think that that is incredibly courageous. I don’t know whether I would have had the guts to do that. She is a strong-willed woman, going against what would seem rational, against all odds, to follow her heart and to find her happiness, no matter how rocky that road is going to be. I wish her all the best in the world and I hope she will find what she is searching for.

We only have this one life on earth. It might be extreme to say, but what is the purpose of living if we spend that time to slave away for a small number of people, so that they can buy their third house or tenth car, instead of spending it with the people we love and doing what we love? The only thing I want in life is  happiness. I don’t want luxurious houses, cars or expensive jewelry. My happiness entails good health, time and a space to create, financial stability and being surrounded by people who are dear to me. It might seem so simple, but why does it seem so difficult to achieve? Some people might say „If you pursue a decent career, you can achieve that“. Financial stability, maybe. But not happiness. Think again. Why does it even matter what I am pursuing? So, because I am not aiming for a CEO position or whatever position in a big company, I don’t deserve financial stability? Why is one way of making money more respected than another way? Maybe we should ask ourselves, why other professions such as artists, cashiers, teachers, care workers etc. are deemed less valuable. Why are they paid so much less that many of them need a second or a third job, just to survive? Yes, we say we need teachers, we say we need care workers, but nobody is willing to pay them a living wage, so that the number of people willing to pursue those professions are decreasing. Can we survive in a society with big name companies only? The workers are the only ones holding these companies together. Think about what would happen if one day those people decide to stop working altogether. Companies are nothing without their employees. The society is nothing without its blue-collar workers. So the least thing they can do is paying people a living wage. Everyone deserves happiness and financial stability. Not only the rich and powerful. We don’t have to justify the way of pursuing our happiness. We don’t owe anyone anything.

I’m doing what I’m doing, because it gives me a sense of happiness. Isn’t that enough? Why do I have to justify my way of living? I tried to listen to my head once and followed what seemed like the reasonable path, to me or to the outsiders, I don’t know. What I do know is that I felt miserable during that time. When I decided to follow my heart, it felt like I was putting my worth and my usefulness on the job market at risk, but at the same time I felt happy and content doing what I loved. I don’t want fear to stop me from pursuing what I truly want. I don’t want a profit-driven corporation to rip me of my time and energy until there is nothing left, just for them to declare me as useless, when I can’t offer them any more. I just want to be happy and live my life peacefully with the people that are important to me. Is that so wrong? Why should the society get the right to dictate how we are supposed to live our lives? What do we owe society? What has society given to us? What people have achieved is thanks to their hard work. We don’t ever get anything for free. We owe the world nothing. If we already have to live in this godforsaken world, in this rotten society, then don’t we have every right to make it more bearable? It is our life, the only life we have and it’s our right to live it the way we want to.

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