Recently, I made a trip back home to Singapore and met up with my friends.
As usual, I had to consider my budget when we meet up for meals. When we’re ordering, I did as I’d always done, choosing what to eat based on the price. And no drinks for me, thank you.
My friends, on the other hand, ordered what they like.
Even though my friends are humble and considerate, I feel a little inferior. They’re all established in their careers and financially secure. A few of them even have their own homes.
Me? I’m still lost in what seems like a stubborn youthful daydream, living off my savings.
At home in the US, my husband shields me from these feelings. He’s an artist-in-training and my partner in crime. It’s thanks to him that I’m taking writing seriously. We’re two eccentric hermits egging each other on to do what we truly want to do in life. Two broke outliers.
In Singapore, among my friends in a society that puts practicality above all else, my anxiety is sharpened.
I could’ve been like them if I hadn’t made the choices I made. But the feelings came, the feelings passed. I know what I did, and I know I did it right.
I’ve always been the one who fusses about what made life meaningful. The one who can’t just ignore everything that’s going on beneath the surface of things.
When we indulged in our trendy drinks in disposable cups, I worried about the plastic waste it creates. When we’re out buying clothes, I thought about the true cost behind that piece of clothing, and whether I want to bring another item into my minimalistic life.
At work, I questioned if this is how I wanted to live my life. Basically, I’m a pain in the neck.
For more than 10 years, I tried to live the way most people live. I had a stable job. I went out with friends and spent the money I made from my stable job.
Every few years, I’ll get episodes of debilitating depression that either resulted in unemployment or extended medical leave.
Something just didn’t feel right. To be fair, I also had social anxiety so it could just be anxiety. I know, what fun it is to be mentally unwell.
Unsurprisingly, when we got to the age where everyone was planning their career paths and choosing insurance plans, I was at the bottom of my life, wondering if job security and stability were all there is to life, ready to give it all up if they were.
I decided that they weren’t. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have survived. I made a conscious decision to put my life and mental well being first and security second. That’s how I embarked on this alternate path.
Now my friends are accumulating possessions and squirreling money towards retirement, but I’ve been reducing my possessions and living frugally as I figured things out.
It seems risky and unwise to still be figuring things out at 34 years old, but it’s how my life has unfolded. I’m not going to lie and say I’m not afraid at all. I’m scared as hell and I have many moments of uncertainties. I’ve wondered if I should stop this nonsense and be more like my peers.
And I’d have done that if it wasn’t for this — for once in my life, I think my priorities are correct even though friends and family feel bad enough for me to want to give me treats. Haha. (Jokes aside, I know I’m lucky to have them.)
Life is tougher, but I haven’t gotten a serious episode of depression in 4 years. So I must be doing something right, right?
It still baffles me that friends and family aren’t concerned about what I’m concerned about. Do they not feel like something in life needs to be figured out, and it’s not just about jobs, marriage or money? Why don’t people care more about what’s happening in our environment?
Then I remember that we all have different perspectives, we simply don’t have the same priorities. Or maybe they do think about it but other priorities captured their attention.
They probably found it just as strange that I’m endangering my future by not working on a career path and my old-age fund. I hear it in the suggestions they throw my way with good intentions. Except I am working on a career path, it’s just different from theirs.
We were once similar, but that time has passed.
What I Learned
I used to think I’ve been left behind, but I was the one who left. It happened so gradually I didn’t realize it. One day, I looked up from my path and discovered I had drifted away from the people I was walking with.
It makes me sad. It makes me feel a little lonely. But, looking at where I am now, I couldn’t have done it any other way.
Rather than changing my ways to become more like my peers and more societally-successful, I’m accepting that we’re not on the same path.
I don’t need to explain myself or convince anyone to come with me. The only thing I need to do is focus on where I’ve been going, trust that it’s the right direction, and keep going.
The people whose path I was once on will always be on my mind, in my hearts, and I will always drop by to visit them. But my days of walking beside them have ended.
On the path less traveled, one has to be brave, and have faith, especially if one isn’t strong.
I’ve learned that certainty and confidence will always be fleeting in a society that stresses wealth and success. But having faith based on an understanding of who you are and what you want in life — that’s what will keep you focused on your journey towards true fulfillment.