this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on March 26, 2015.
PEOPLE WHO know me always described me as the boy who achieved. To them, I was the boy who was born a leader, who exceeded expectations, who made his parents proud, who had his whole life ahead of him.
For the most part their assumptions have held true, and I’m thankful for that. At one point in my life I was the happiest because I did not have a single reason not to be. I graduated valedictorian in grade school while serving as the Student Council president prior to graduation. Once I hit high school, I knew which college I would eventually attend, what career path I would pursue after graduation, and where I would live. I even devised a framework on how I would get there.
Everyone who talked about me always did so with such high regard, most especially due to the fact that at such a young age I seemingly had my whole life figured out. And I thought I did. I knew that I still wanted to be a student leader in my university, just like when I was in high school. And I was given the chance to be one in my first year.
These achievements made me feel great about myself, much more so because I knew I had a lot of eyes on me, waiting to be pleased. Often I would burn out because I had a lot going on. I had to balance the rigor of academics, student government work, my social life, and, of course, time with my family. My rants about my struggles would last only a day or two, and then I would be right back on track. It was a way for me to release stress and tension; after all, I thought to myself, the benefits I would reap were going to be worth it. One of my favorite teachers would tell me that I was just suffering from ennui, a French term for boredom or discontent from a lack of interest.
I had that disposition that maybe she was right, that hopefully it would just go away without me having to confront it. This ennui seemed like an elephant in the room, one that only I could see. I tried to fight it and found out that the best way to overcome the feeling was to stop acknowledging its existence. In fact, ignoring it seemed like the best idea because after a while, I would go back to whatever I was doing before. I was completely wrong.
All that time, I had been living my life the only way I knew how: as the boy who achieved. However, this elephant in the room attacked me when I least expected it. After my first semester in college, I started to struggle with it again. How was ennui even possible? First of all, I was accepted into all the universities I applied to. I was enrolled in the school of my dreams, with a degree program of my choice, and I was even part of the student government. I finally decided that I had had enough of not acknowledging what I felt, and it crippled me. It crippled me because I was the boy who achieved, and I was quite comfortable with that. In truth, everyone would be completely fine with being known as that person. I finally asked myself the question I had been avoiding ever since I felt the feeling for the first time: Was I truly happy? A usual answer would be: Yes, of course. This time it was different.
Realizations started to fill me, and then I thought that maybe I felt that there was nothing wrong because I had refused to acknowledge it for a very long time. I knew there was something off with the way I felt because it refused to go away. Despite having almost everything I dreamed of, I’ve come to the conclusion that it did not give me genuine happiness. This frightened me because it was the first time that I confronted my emotions. I was the boy who achieved, the boy who knew exactly what to do. I knew I always had people to please, and it would shatter them to know that I had no idea if I was truly satisfied with what I had done in life so far.
Maybe it was the fact that I’m the youngest of 10 siblings who have succeeded in their respective career paths. After all, being a sibling of a beauty queen, a topnotch media executive, a category buyer of an international fashion chain, a rock star who has taken part in international music festivals—all of them being academic achievers, among others—is not an easy thing to be. Maybe that was my driving force: to embark on so many journeys without asking myself if that was what I really wanted. I have come to realize that this was my biggest regret.
My happiness was dependent on whether or not people still saw me as the boy who achieved. I set my true interests aside for other people. To a certain extent that is not wrong, but realizing that I had never done something to make myself genuinely happy was a big slap on my face. It was as if I had invested so much time in something that did not even give me a sense of happiness and fulfillment. I had mirrored the emotions that the people around me manifested to me, in the hope that these mirrored emotions would actualize into reality.
I never acknowledged the fact that I had been lost for the longest time. I refused to believe that I was lost; it was a concept that was taboo to me. It bothered me so much that I zoned out for several days. I was in denial. I felt it was impossible for me to have been feeling that way for quite a while.
It took a conversation with a best friend to slap some sense back into me. He told me that he was wondering why I had been bothered about being lost, when in fact things were totally fine. He said people often think of life as a road one travels, when in fact it is a plane that one traverses. It does not matter whether you go forward, backward, left, right, or diagonally, because at the end of the day it is about you and the choices that you make. All this time I had been continuously and carefully walking forward to get to my plan A with no contingency plan, because I thought I knew exactly what I wanted and it was a plan everyone had expected from me. It took a while for me to realize that there was nothing wrong with feeling lost, that it was an opportunity to be able to discover much more about myself.
The word “lost” usually has a negative connotation because a loss is not something good. In school and at home, we are taught that when we lose something it is because we are irresponsible, or not careful enough. This is not exactly the case for everything that we experience in life. Despite realizing it the hard way, I am still glad that it had happened to me. At the end of the day, all those years were not wasted because the experiences and lessons I learned are unforgettable.
People who know me always loved to describe me as the boy who achieved. But for now, I think I am content with being a boy still trying to look for his place in the world.