The road most traveled
I am what many people today call a “corporate slave.” It’s a term that refers to a guy who practically lives in front of his computer and drowns himself in work, sometimes even on weekends. I’m a guy who’s been voted “Office King” and “Mr. Homeless” for three straight reunions since graduating from college.
It was amusing the first time I won such a mock award. It became somewhat embarrassing the second time around, and on the third, it’s just downright sad. It has made me think about my whole life again.
It’s not that I hate how my life has turned out thus far—in fact I feel exactly the opposite. But I imagine that if the world were different, I might have ended up as a wandering musician, instead of a management consultant. I once imagined a life of traveling around the world with my suitcase and my guitar, living for the moment, loudly and freely, and playing my music wherever there would be people to listen to it. Today, I work in a business wherein getting on a plane one moment and making a presentation before an important audience the next is a normal part of the job. The difference is that I carry around a laptop instead of a guitar, and the audiences I have are serious-minded business people, who don’t really care about melodies or notes, but bottom-line figures and savings.
Indeed, we live in a world where we don’t always end up doing the things we think we were meant to do in life. Like I said, I always thought I would be a musician. Heck, I might even have been a filmmaker or an actor. People who knew me 10 years ago would never have pictured me doing analyses and problem solving, but ironically that’s pretty much all that I do these days.
I have a good friend who I sincerely believe was born for the outdoors. He is an adventurer, and a warrior at heart. In another time and place, I imagine, he could have been something like a lion hunter or perhaps the leader of an army. In this universe, however, he is a graphic artist in a multimedia agency, a career which I believe he has grown somewhat tired of though it does pay the bills and helps support his siblings.
In a generation wherein mottos such as “Live out your dreams” or “Follow your passion” are celebrated nearly to the point of becoming clichés, the road most traveled, for me and countless other youths today, often runs in the opposite direction of our dreams. We go to school, discover our innermost talents and passions, and yet many of us graduate to find ourselves leading very predictable, ordinary lives. For some it’s an 8-to-5 office job in a BPO or a bank; for others it’s the life of a nurse or a contract worker abroad. We seldom end up as the artists or adventurers we dreamed ourselves to be as children.
Those of us who go against the flow are the courageous few. With luck, some actually turn out to be rock stars, but unfortunately making a living remains a struggle for many others. I believe, however, that it is a price they pay willingly to remain true to themselves.
I sometimes wonder what my friends say about me, now that we’ve all grown up and taken separate paths in life. “Whatever happened to Pao?” they might ask. Some are probably saying that I dumped my guitar to become a boring corporate slave for an American company. Some might even say that I’ve sold out.
Yeah, that’s probably what they call guys like me these days, but I don’t mind. The truth is, this life and the choices I’ve made thus far have served me well. I admit it isn’t exactly the most exciting, out-of-the-box lifestyle. I doubt if you could score much with girls at a bar by introducing yourself as a management consultant (a colleague of mine tried this in Hawaii and was dumped promptly). But through my hard work and sacrifices, I manage to earn enough to take care of myself and, to a certain extent, help support my family and loved ones. I was able to use my savings to help pay for my aunt’s hospitalization when she had cancer. I was able to buy my mom the home entertainment set she had always wanted. I am able to lend my dad money every now and then to balance our farm’s irregular cash
Martin Heidegger once said that our lives are characterized by a certain “throwness,” that we are beings thrown into this world, into a here and now, into a time and place that define the kind of lives we lead. I believe we are thrown into a time in history and into a part of the world wherein social and economic conditions simply call us to become BPO agents instead of poets, or nurses instead of ballerinas. It’s just the way things are, and I believe we must neither curse nor reject these circumstances, but rather embrace them as a part of our lives. In the end, it is not the path that you walk that matters, but how you walk on it.
If there is something I could say to Filipino youths like myself today, who tread the road most traveled, who fight for their existence day after day and who fight to build a better future for themselves and for their loved ones, it would be this: Walk on. Work hard, but never let go of your dreams. Strive to earn the freedom to pursue them one day. And never be ashamed of yourself, even if you are branded as ordinary, or dry or unexciting. Be proud of who you are. Be proud of what you do. Fight on. Walk on.
(Paolo Bonifacio, 26, works for a consulting firm based in New York.)