“What do you want to be?”
As a fickle-minded dreamer, I had several answers to that question. In kindergarten, I wanted to be a doctor. But early on, I realized how much I hated blood and injection so I changed my mind. Every year I would write down a different ambition when asked to sign slam books in grade school and high school. I dreamt of becoming the country’s first lady to a dashing president, an actress, a rock star, a journalist, a shoemaker, a novelist, a painter and a lot more.
Growing up watching Disney shows and movies made me believe that I can be anything I want to be. Hannah Montana portrayed by Miley Cyrus, for instance, lived “the best of both worlds” as a normal schoolgirl by day and a recording star by night. This “follow your dreams” mantra is reiterated in televised concerts where former Disney stars like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears tell fans: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
But we, Millenials born between 1982 and 2004, are stereotyped as “lazy, delusional and narcissistic.” A 2013 Time magazine cover story dubbed our generation as the “Me Me Me Generation.” Most of us may flood Facebook news feeds and fill Instagram with selfies. But not everyone in this generation is as self-obsessed as Kim Kardashian who makes millions by simply showing off her ass. A lot of youth work their ass off in establishing social enterprises to help disadvantaged communities. Some think beyond their own success for the greater good like the group of University of the Philippines (UP) alumni in their twenties who formed Sinag Microfunds Inc. to help finance the education of underprivileged students and young Harvard graduates who went back to the country and established Habi Education Lab to reform the public education system here.
According to a 2012 United Nations report, “Millenials are increasingly acting as agents of change in society.” Howe and Strauss (2000) forecasted that Millenials are the next “hero generation.” The hero of our generation did not wear a mask or take off his glasses to make a difference. He’s not a hunk like Batman or Superman but a boy who has a scar on his forehead and wears nerdy glasses. We could easily identify with Harry Potter and his friends Hermoine Granger and Ron Weasley because they looked like us. They were kids when we were kids. We grew up watching actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint portray them on the big screen. J.K. Rowling created characters that helped us celebrate our individuality and respect our differences. Harry was the champion of stigmatized groups such as half-bloods and muggle-born wizards and witches.
The series taught us to fight for the rights of the marginalized. Today, we use Twitter and Facebook to support these groups and instigate change. Even those who do not belong to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community rejoiced when the Supreme Court of the United Sates legalized same-sex unions. The rainbow-colored profile pictures and trending hashtags pertaining to the landmark decision not only showed tolerance but oneness with the sector. And while it may seem impossible to push for the same law in the country because of the strong influence of the Catholic Church, young lawyer Jesus Falcis III, who submitted a similar petition to the country’s Supreme Court, is trying to beat the odds and gaining wide support online. When overseas Filipino worker Mary Jane Veloso was about to be executed for smuggling illegal drugs in Indonesia, we prayed, joined movements and wrote long Facebook posts on why she should be spared. But sometimes we tend to go overboard in saving the “oppressed.” Ms. Universe 2012 first runner-up Janine Tugonon was bashed online for breaking up with his not-so-cute boyfriend Jaypee Santos to allegedly flirt with The Script frontman Danny O’Donoghue. It was a hot topic and some of my guy friends even posted blogs expressing sympathy for her ex-boyfriend.
The Internet has given us voice and power beyond imagination. We feel like heroes in our own virtual sphere. Helping others or tweeting for a cause feeds our ego and makes us feel good about ourselves. Proud, self-righteous and entitled are among the words used by mainstream media to describe us. Perhaps most of us believe we are special and that there’s so much more we can do beyond the confines of office walls.
We have witnessed how Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg changed the world with Apple and Facebook. These college dropouts redefined success and stressed the importance of passion. “If you just work on the stuff that you like and you’re passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out,” Zuckerberg said. According to Jobs, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, don’t settle. As with all the matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
How do you know what you are passionate about? How long should one search for passion? Should job hunting be like “love at first sight” as Jobs advised? My Mama told me “love at first sight” is not real. “You learn to love and develop passion for work or for Mr. Right,” she said. When I told her I fell in love the first time I saw Korean superstar Lee Min Ho, she brutally told that he will never reciprocate my love. “Find someone within your reach or you’ll be a spinster,” she added. Ouch! My parents abide by a life manual: study hard, get a job, reach the top, build a family and save enough money so you can live life to the fullest at 60.
It would have been easier to follow my parents’ path. I could stick to a job that pays the bills and forget about my delusions. However, the pressure and promise to be happy and great exist. We take risks and move toward a different direction because of fears that someday when we’re old and grey, we might look back and ask what if? Death may also come too soon.
This year, one of my closest friends and I decided to resign. We left the jobs we’ve had for five years to go on a soul-searching sojourn and find out what we really want to do with our lives. Before quitting, we took to heart the to-do-lists and advices on Elite Daily, Thought Catalog and other blogs created by “twentysomethings.” The proliferation of these sites proved that we were not alone in the search for meaning. Like Mace played by Angelica Panganiban in “That Thing Called Tadhana,” we travelled to find clarity. It was not the love story or the beauty of Sagada that grabbed me but the honesty and frustrations that the characters shared. This was highlighted in the scene where Mace, who wanted to be a novelist and frustrated artist Anthony (JM de Guzman) expressed their hopes and disappointments:
“Aren’t we supposed to be great by this time?-Mace
“To the great people we could have been.”-Mace
“Parang ayaw ko naman yatang mag-cheers dyan.” – Anthony
“To the great people we are today.” – Mace
“Sinungaling.” – Anthony
“To the great people we will be?-Mace
“To the great people we will be.” – Anthony
Leaving one’s old life to form a new one is among the ways to cope with the so-called “quarter-life crisis” or QLC. Similar to mid-life crisis, it is characterized by depression, insecurities and disappointments caused primarily by the failure to meet one’s expectations. Growing up, we were fed with the notion that we have all it takes to be anyone we want to be. Who says I can’t be Beyonce Knowles? We both have 24 hours in a day, right? Youtube and all other social media platforms can launch our way to stardom. We have seen how lives were instantly transformed by the Internet. Can I become all that I have written on slam books when I was younger? Solenn Heussaff is an actress, a painter, a model, a singer, a dancer, an entrepreneur and so on and so forth. She has so many titles attached to her name. They’re celebrities, I get it. But Facebook has turned our friends and peers into somewhat celebrities. They post every milestone and even minute details of their lives online. We know when they land a new job, volunteered for an organization, travelled somewhere, get married and have babies. Those Facebook updates made me feel worthless and insecure because I had nothing new to share.
We live in the era of oblivion. Everything is fleeting. What is popular today could easily be forgotten tomorrow. Remember how even grandmas and little kids would dance to “Nae Nae” and upload their videos a month ago or how Taylor Swift shocked us with “Shake it off” and “Bad Blood?” Try dancing or singing these songs today and your friends will say, “That is so last year!” They quickly become viral and swiftly disappear. QLC is a byproduct of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, iPhone, iPads, tablets and other gadgets. I can’t help but ask myself: “Change is happening so fast, can you keep up?” Zuckerberg made us believe that we can change the world in our twenties. We feel old and unaccomplished at 25.
I’m a grown-up now but I still can’t answer the question my nursery teacher asked: “What do you want to be?” Perhaps there is not a single answer to the question. Who knows where “destiny” will take me? What matters is the “narrative” keeps going. As sociologist Anthony Giddens puts it, “The individual’s biography, if she is to maintain regular interaction with others in the day-to-day world, cannot be wholly fictive. It must continually integrate events which occur in the external world, and sort them into the ongoing ‘story’ about the self.” (cited in David, 2002).
We take risks for a happier life because as Meghan Trainor’s song goes, “We are not promised tomorrow.”