Dragging on, feet of clay


Around this time last year, I was struggling with the final essay of my last academic course. Finish that, and I could put an end to my exhausting 9 years in college. That essay was on the uncertainty of teaching career. Even reading its references would consume my whole week, which indicates how certain the educators are about the uncertainty of their profession.

Of course after graduation, I never glanced back at that essay even once basically because I decided not to pursue the teaching career. I simply don’t find myself adequate in terms of the skills and the necessary mental attributes to become the teacher as I expected.  

But the more experienced I am with non-teaching jobs, the more certain I feel that it is totally naive to regard teaching as the only uncertain job. Uncertainty exists in every domain. In fact, it is the inevitable part of life, or, at least, my personal life.

Ten years ago, when I had to choose between two majors from two different universities, I had no idea how things were going to be like, yet I had to make decision anyway. After two years studying biomedical engineering, I dropped, since I thought it was not my passion. As I remember, that was the time when people were obsessed with the idea of “passion”. “Follow your passion, and success will follow you”, such a mantra became the favorite saying of a lot of people and was overtly abused by many notorious multi-level marketing enterprises at the time. I subsequently retook the entrance examination and won a place at Ho Chi Minh University of Pedagogy. But then again, during my sophomore year, I realized that this was not what I wanted, either, so I spent the next gap year going to work, with the assumption that it might help me find a way around in the dead end of “passion”. Four months working as a waiter in a nightclub came after 3 months doing tedious chores for a coffee house. Without any lessons learned, I eventually got back to school to finish off the bachelor’s degree. 

And in the middle of 2017, while still having some incomplete courses, I ended up falling into a corporate job as a stopgap to pay my bills and have been stuck with this typical path to this day. I started my career with the position of internal communications officer for a top-tier company in the English language training industry. Then I got an offer to work as content writer for a Korean-owned company, and then, as video editor for an interior design agency. Now, I’m back to content writing, working for a software outsourcing company.

One afternoon, I talked to two colleagues of my age, a guy who has been working as Business Analyst for three years, and an HR girl who graduated with majors in French Literature. Talking with them, I could feel the depth of the professions which content writing could not match up to. The scope of content writing seems to be too narrow to be taught as a decent program in college. Or maybe I’m not informed enough to see how it fits the big picture of the market. But practically speaking, what is laid out before my eyes are meagre incomes, the lack of a body of knowledge and my occasional feelings of inferiority, albeit somewhat senseless, in front of the professionals of other occupations. Above all, I sometimes feel how vulnerable my career is in the tide of change, especially when people talk so much about new technologies bringing the once prevalent jobs to the verge of extinction. 

And if I am to change my career, meaning starting everything from scratch again at the age of 27, would it be too late? Probably not to a 27-year-old me, but obviously yes to my sixty-something parents. Last October, my mom suddenly had cataracts. Although she had surgery, the previous visual acuity could not be preserved. Also, mom told me that my aunt has had the early symptoms of dementia. Wasn’t that the ticking sounds of time?

Through idle chatters with acquaintances, I came to realize the defects of my personality: the stiff and pompous manner, the intolerability with others’ minor mistakes, the tendency of passive aggressiveness, and so on.

Waking up every morning, scrolling down the news feed, I feel the emotional complexity in the presence of countless events in this ever-changing world of billion human beings. The collapse of powerful figures. The accidental deaths. The old haunts abruptly closed for good. Strangers become friends, and good friends become strangers. Things spin through 180 degrees within only one week. The long-standing relationships reveal the unsolvable problems out of nowhere. Those are the undeniable proofs of life’s absurdity and insecurity, ain’t they?

It seems to me that the feeling of uncertainty has never left after all these years? At some point, it reached the climax and turned out to be one of the most stressful moments of my life, just like that morning three years ago when I was so intensely anxious that I attempted to make up a reasonable excuse for one urgent day off by taking 12 weight loss pills. My heart was shaking as a fish taken out of water. After 5 or 10 minutes, fear consumed me. I stuck a finger down the throat to make myself throw up, but nothing came out. Then I thought about death. I wondered what if I died? There were still so many things that I hadn’t finished and so many mornings I hadn’t seen. But conversely, to die could probably be a big favor to a man under pressure.

And I thought I got to know what Murakami Haruki meant by “survive” when he answered The Guardian: “I was 20 or 21. I didn’t know anything of the world. I was stupid. Innocent. It’s a kind of a gamble. With my life. But I survived. Anyway”. He had such a simple but gripping word choice: “survive”. Of course, to turn 30 years old implies that we have been through so many ups and downs that life has to offer, through those darkest hours that we almost commit suicide, through all the stupid decisions, and most importantly, as for me, through an atheistic youth filled with disillusionment and broken dreams. 

But the thing is, even those who are on top of the new wave of the labor market, specifically those IT geeks, must be not so sure about what they are doing from time to time. The industry changes every second, and it is becoming fiercely competitive over time.

And yet, maybe three years ago, that BA guy also had to face the difficulties taking the very first steps on his career path; and that HR girl, the moment she held her bachelor’s degree at the graduation ceremony, she might question herself “now what”. Still, they survived their moments of uncertainty.

Interestingly, now I recall what a friend of mine, who is a barista, told me about the joy of drinking a bottle of good wine. He said the value of wine is characterized by time. At the age of 25 or so, we drink a bottle of 10-year-old whisky and think of what has been happening over the past 10 years. What has been gone? What has stayed still? And will we appreciate what is still there for us? Such a thought reminds me of a Vietnamese popular rap song: “In a lifetime, how many 10 years do we have?”

During the last 10 years, I have been messing around with lots of confusing thoughts, and at the end of the day, the uncertainty is still there as it used to be 10 years ago. But at least, if there is any lesson I could learn from my experience, it must be the outlook that all the fears and disappointments, no matter how severe they are, will ultimately come to an end. And when we look back, they become as light as a feather. So the moral of the story is, if you choose not to end your life in a painful moment, apparently you will have the chance to live many more cheerful days.

Now, on the very last days of 2020, a sort of abysmal year I can tell, I’m picturing myself holding the bottle of wine of 10 years later, when the old song is played, reminding us of the timeless bittersweet message:

Seems to me now,
All the dreams we had before are all dead, 
Nothing more than confetti on the floor

It’s the end of the decade, 
In another 10 years time, who can say what we’ll find
What lies waiting down the line
In the end of eighty nine

Happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of the world where every neighbor is a friend

Happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down…

and die.

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