“If Heaven made him, Earth can find some use for him.” – Chinese Proverb
I recently came across this translation of a Chinese proverb and it touched on a rather sore spot in my heart. Much like many of my peers in their mid-to-late twenties I feel like I am searching for a reason for being, and I feel like I need my career to fulfil or enhance that life purpose.
Not too long ago when I expressed this to my mother, she suggested that my feelings were a result of a generational difference, saying that my problem was a very “millennial” one. She said that at my age she did not struggle as much with the desire to find an emotionally or even spiritually fulfilling job. A job was just that – a job. You got a set of tasks to accomplish and it was simply your duty to do them well.
For many urban dwellers in developed economies, we live in a world filled with platforms and technologies which encourage individual expression as well as offer avenues to monetise interests and passions. We also live in an environment where entrepreneurship is lauded. Just look at the number of Insta-preneurs and YouTube celebrities making a living off of or through these social media platforms. Perhaps this contributes to a social/economic environment which allows us young people to feel as though we have the option do whatever we want to do. We can identify our passions and make a living off of them because the available technologies and new markets give us this choice.
With opportunities abound it seems as though young people are freer than the generation before them. They have a fundamental freedom – choice. Choice can be seen as a form of empowerment, a luxury even. But choice can also be debilitating.
The thing about a world filled with apparent options is that the choices may be accessible, but not all of us necessarily have real means to make successful decisions. This world of choice is also an unequal one, and not all of us have access to the capital (social or otherwise) to successfully live out and off our dreams. There exists a gap between people’s goals/expectations, and the structural realities in their way – despite recent innovations.
As a young person I know what some of my dreams are and understand that I can make use of the platforms around me to achieve them. And yet, I hesitate. Fear of failure stops me from making certain decisions about my career, and the road out of my twenties seems pretty hazy. I want a real reason for being, and dreams are not enough. I am driven by a desire to leave a helpful mark, however small, in my community or perhaps others before my time here is up.
And yet, I hesitate.