Lately I’ve been feeling rather contemplative. I am suddenly acutely aware of the fact that I am now a 21 year old going on 22, on the verge of wrapping up 2 decades of formal education and embarking on the rest of my life.

That is a very intimidating thought.

What’s worse is that it cannot help running and re-running through my head, especially because it is the easiest subject to converse about when I run into fellow finalists. A typical conversation would go like this:

“Heeeyyy! I haven’t seen you in ages. How are you?”

“I’m great, I’m great! And you?”

“Good, good!” *awkward pause*

“Wow, I can’t believe we are graduating so soon! We’re actually growing up! Oh, and you’re going home aren’t you? Oh no…” etc. etc. etc.

So imagine many, many repetitions of that, with slight variations. They tend to become slightly mechanical after a while, so much so that the ability to genuinely talk about any other subject becomes the distinguishing factor that separates friends from mere acquaintances.

But, as mechanical as they are, every repetition still pinches ever so lightly, because much as I prefer not to dwell on it, it is the truth. It is like how cliches become cliches only because they are generally the truth.

So I got to thinking about things like -What kind of person am I? How different am I from three years, five years, 10 years ago? How far have I come? How have I grown as a person? Am I more responsible, more mature? Am I a good person? What have I achieved? Am I a successful person? Do people see me as a good/successful/mature/exemplary specimen of a human being (slight exaggeration)? Do I really care what people think? Does it not matter as long as I know what I am doing and what I want?…

…What do I want?

That’s a tough one.

My mind draws a blank. It wanders briefly to the book ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’, albeit in different context (i.e. nothing to do with religion). It continues on to Aristotle, about how maybe we all ultimately want to be happy.

Happy? Sure. But if I don’t even know exactly what I want to do with my life, how can I even start to think about wanting to be happy? I.e. you can’t be happy if you don’t know what makes you happy!

Back to the subject at hand.

What do I want?

I guess I always knew this moment would come, so I’ve been doing some vague soul-searching all (academic) year long. Fortunately, third year provided quite a bit of food for thought, as I’ve been dabbling (or made to dabble) in quite a diverse load of crap, and much of it also happened to be pretty relevant. So with each new venture, I made myself think about whether I liked it and whether I would want to be doing this in the future.

Prior to term 1 I did a month plus of volunteering at a school for kids with learning disabilities in Malaysia and then a week-ish of learning experience in Wigmore Hall in London. At the end of this I got the grand idea that this might be my calling; perhaps music therapy was something I could do? While at Wigmore Hall, a report I read on a music workshop they conducted with some senior citizens with dementia kind of evoked pretty powerful emotions, and recalling that I’ve always had a soft spot for the really young and the elderly (I can never watch scenes in movies where children or old people get hurt; as a child I watched an old man pass away on TV and I cried myself to sleep), it seemed right. Sort of.

In Term 1 I was tragically broke, so I became a gallery and performance steward at the Warwick Arts Centre. I don’t deny my motivation was to fill my pockets (one needs to shop… uh eat!), but I did observe many interesting little moments along the way, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In the heat of the experience, I thought, hey, maybe I could contribute to the music scene in Malaysia – start a concert hall (don’t laugh), conduct workshops, provide a venue and avenue for the exploration of classical music… (don’t scoff!!). Maybe?

In Term 2, in line with my ‘noble newfound passions’ I started volunteering at the Tiverton school. Term 2 was also presentation term, so I invested copious amounts of effort into researching stuff about the financial crisis and risk management and policies to prevent a repeat of the credit crunch. The very relevant nature of the presentation topic brought me back down to earth, to my real-life, actual pre-determined career plans for the next 6 years – serving my bond at Malaysia’s central bank. Again I drew conclusions about what I liked and didn’t liked. I figured I would enjoy policymaking, so I made a decision about what department I intended to join.

At that point, I felt satisfied that at least I knew what I enjoyed and what I didn’t and had perhaps an inkling of what direction I might want to take in the next few years.

Then Term 3 came calling, and I lost myself in my books and revision…what followed was weeks of relentless slogging, I forgot about all my little secret goals and ambitions. Exams. Revisions. Formulae. Essays. Ethical theories. Tax rates. Accounting procedures. Blah. All that kept me occupied, and I kept going, going, going, going…


…screeeeech. Step on the brakes! All that has ended, and I came to another pitstop.

And I started contemplating and questioning myself again.

What do I want? Do I still want the things I thought I wanted? Was I wrong? Am I being ridiculous or idealistic or self-righteous or shallow or stupid?

How do I know for sure, anyway? Is there some sort of signal? Is my heart supposed to feel a special tug in any direction? Am I supposed to just know what I want??

Of course, if I were a dutiful Christian I would pray for a signal from the all-powerful, omnipresent celestial being that resides somewhere up there. But I am not, so I have no idea what I am supposed to rely on in this state of limbo and uncertainty.

So because all these things have been playing in my mind, I have been constantly bringing it up with close friends over the past week.

One reminded me that perhaps it is not so important to know exactly what you want. Maybe it is easy to envy people who do and know exactly what to do to achieve it, people who have already achieved it and are sitting happily in their high-flying, well-deserved seats and watching the rest of us pitifully moan about growing up and our non-existent goals in life. But it doesn’t mean that we won’t go as far in life. It doesn’t mean that we won’t be happy.

As another reminded me: we have time.

There is no necessity to have the rest of our lives mapped out at this point.

Knowing what you want is not the single most important thing that one must take away from a university education. It is a good thing, obviously, but even ambitions can be transient, right? They change. Or you might even find that you have made a mistake later on in life.

Knowing what you want might make you feel more complete as a graduate, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are a complete person. And likewise not knowing what you want doesn’t make you an incomplete person. It doesn’t make you any less ready to face the world and adulthood.

If one were in a movie, one might typically continue by saying…”instead, all that comes from knowing who you are inside” *gesture to the heart*, but come on, even that is, ahem, bollocks (paying a bit of homage to the country that gave me the best 3 years of my life here). You can never know exactly what you are.

In retrospect, if there is one thing university has taught me –

You are always more than what you think you are.

You can always do more than what you think you can do.

You can never stop discovering new things to learn, new roads to go down, new passions to immerse yourself in, new things you want in life.

So if you are uncertain about your goals, don’t be afraid.

Just keep looking. And remember, you have to be always, always open enough to see something and be ready to give it a shot, and then be brave enough to self-evaluate and face your weaknesses and kick the shit out of it.

And at the end of it all, you will see how far you’ve come.

P.s. Okay, I lied, so technically that was more than one thing, but it sounds more dramatic starting with ‘if there is one thing…’ (: