“What are you going to do?”

After six years of undergraduate and postgraduate education in Malaysia, I moved back to Sri Lanka last month, and everyone wants to know what I’m going to do next. I have been asked this question approximately 27 times in the three weeks since I came home. Yes, I’m counting.

It’s the typical auntie questions: “so now what are you going to do?” Translation: now that you’re almost done with your fancy foreign BSc and PhD in Psychology that cost millions, and your years of independent living are at an end since you’re once again living at home with your mother like a good Sri Lankan girl, how are you going to live up to the expectations of everyone who knows you, up to and including the most distant of acquaintances of your sister-in-law’s late great-grandfather?

Unnecessary to be said: how much I dislike this question and the tone in which it is usually put to me. Necessary, however: an answer.

This is the Grand Ten Year Plan I made when I was just out of school, with revisions:

  1. Get into university on a ̶f̶u̶l̶l̶ partial scholarship.
  2. Get a degree in ̶m̶e̶d̶i̶c̶i̶n̶e̶ psychology.
  3. Graduate with a First.
  4. Get into a PhD program in ̶c̶l̶i̶n̶i̶c̶a̶l̶ ̶p̶s̶y̶c̶h̶o̶l̶i̶n̶g̶u̶i̶s̶t̶i̶c̶s̶ social psychology.
  5. Work on a ̶w̶o̶r̶l̶d̶-̶c̶h̶a̶n̶g̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶g̶l̶o̶b̶a̶l̶l̶y̶ ̶s̶i̶g̶n̶i̶f̶i̶c̶a̶n̶t̶ personally important project.
  6. Complete writing up my thesis and pass with ̶n̶o̶ minor corrections.
  7. Graduate with a PhD.
  8. Do a post-doc.
  9. Do another post-doc, maybe?
  10. Get an academic post in a globally respected university.

I’m at number six on the list. It’s going to be a while before I cross that one off, based on my current rate of progress. And that’s what I’ve been telling people: I’m working on my thesis. Yes, still. Yes, until next year. Yes.

But this, apparently, is not a satisfactory answer. You must be doing things, you see. You must be visibly and ostentatiously succeeding at life, because while writing a thesis feels like (and is) difficult work in terms of the mental effort involved, it looks like sitting at home and fucking around on your computer, and that’s not what most people think of as productive, you see.

So I’ve started telling people I want to get married, instead. While this does cause something of an uproar along the lines of what why do you want to get married why are you in a hurry you have so much potential how can you marry a non-Muslim think of your mother and her suffering soul you have plenty of time no you’re so young, it does stop them from asking again.

I think that’s a win.