What My Quarter Life Crisis Taught Me
“I am on the verge of graduating with a degree with NUS –the Holy Grail of Singapore Education is just within reach – but why do I feel so unfulfilled, lost and confused? What do you do when you seem to have been equipped with all the necessary qualifications and skills but have no idea where to head? I know that my future is bright, but for now, the light blinds me momentarily, I have nowhere to go.”
I distinctively remember scribbling this insecure rant 6 months ago in the dog ears of my crumpled Sociology of Religion notes. I sat at Starbucks with notes askew, tired eyes and a sick sense of aimlessness and weariness sitting heavy in the pit of my stomach. I was pulling the fourth all-nighter in a week, trying to find the motivation to clear the final stack of readings in preparation for my paper the very next day.
Needless to say, I was soul-weary and exhausted: from the lack of sleep, from the stale grind of lectures, tutorials, essays, tests, essays and exams, the pressure of having to do well, and above all, the nagging question that what to do with myself once I leave the comparatively comfortable embrace of university.
I suppose all undergraduates will have to go through this momentary existentialist crisis of sorts at some point in their life. The question of the pathway of your future is a terrifying one now that there is no standardized formula or route map to follow. After years of being told what to do and where to go (You need to get to Junior College! You need to score As! You need to go to NUS/NTU/SMU! You need to get your degree!), the startling feel of the rein in your very own hands is three parts thrilling and seven parts terrifying.
To be honest I had wanted to do everything, yet I didn’t know what I want to do at the same time. (No, I am not trying to confuse you. ) I was attracted to the promise of the glitz and glamour that the public relations sector seem to offer; at the same time I knew I found a sense of satisfaction in organizing events big and small. Then there is the childhood dream of the excitement of being a journalist in the newsroom: being at the frontline of breaking news, chasing down the stories that matter to me.
I had too many flighty dreams within reach, but nothing concrete.
The very next week I applied for a Leave of Absence from NUS to go on an internship for six months.
I think the common merits of doing internships is that it is
a constructive, fulfilling way to spend your 3 month summer break, or it would be an excellent way to enhance your portfolio or it is the best way to gain hands-on experience that you would be hard-pressed to find in school. All the above are excellent reasons to take on an internship, and my experience working in the real world did provide me with a fantastic portfolio, and had enriched me tremendously.
As cheesy as it sounded, the main purpose I took on an internship was to embark on a journey to find myself. In the rabid rat race we’ve immersed ourselves in, we often work without truly knowing what we are
working for. We focus on the milestones that society has dictated for us (get your As, get your degree, get a job, get married, get a house, start a family) without truly understanding what we need for ourselves, what our souls need, and what truly makes us happy. Whilst I still had the time and the excuse of youth to make mistakes, I had wanted to take a chance and see what 6 months away from school could offer me. (Yes, if you really must know, I was tired of mugging as well. )
The first internship I landed was as a marketing and events management intern at TAB Singapore. A mid-sized music venue at Orchard Hotel, my main job scope was to be in charge of artist management, to coordinate and promote international guest performances, resident acts and upcoming performances. Whilst I had the opportunity to liaise with popular Singapore indie artistes like Inch Chua, Tay Kexin, Brandon Lee and The Sam Willows, I quickly got bored of the whole affair. Perhaps it was the lack of guidance and training from my superiors, perhaps it was the lack of a coherent communication structure within the organization, and perhaps it was the often repetitive and uninspiring job scope: eventually I found myself dragging my feet to work daily.
My growing ambivalence to my work left me discouraged and pessimistic about my future path. Was this how it feels like to step into the work force eventually? The daily countdown to 6.30pm in the afternoon was the only thing that kept me going from the moment I stepped into the office. At the same time, I was angry and dismayed at myself for making a seemingly rash and unwise decision (I had to delay graduation for a semester because of Leave of Absence). I was equally, if not more lost than where I had been when I first started out.
After one extremely slow day of replying emails, running down to Lucky Plaza to print posters and buying Koi for my colleagues and generally staring in blank space wishing for more constructive things to do, I was officially at the lowest point of my internship with TAB. Right when I was about to suffocate from boredom, a friend who knew I had an interest in editorial work pointed me to a new lifestyle paper that was looking for an editorial intern for 3 months. By some stroke of miraculous luck, Weekender Pte Ltd, with a circulation of 230,000 households, accepted me as their editorial intern despite having little prior editorial experience.
If I had clairvoyant abilities, I would have probably flagged that chance recommendation as a momentous event with champagne and fireworks.
I did more during my first day of work at Weekender than I had ever done at TAB. The moment I sat down, I was immediately tasked to reword press releases, follow up with possible leads and stories and proofread the content for the upcoming issue. Just as I was settling from the shock of the lightning pace of work in the newsroom, my editorial director tasked me to interview a scale-modelling enthusiast for a story for the Hobbies section of the paper that was due to be published the very same week.
There wasn’t even a moment where I could stop to breathe, so as the days wore on, my love for writing eventually became my air.
The overwrought cliché that experience is the best teacher is most definitely true in journalism. Throughout my eight weeks of work with the publication, I had interviewed countless of vibrant and interesting people, went for lip-smackingly delicious food tastings, visited places like the Southeast Asian Aquarium before the crowds descended in droves upon it, went for various concerts and film screenings – there were so many windows of opportunities opened that I wouldn’t trade the world for the time of learning and experience in these short months.
Of course, my stint as an editorial intern in a lifestyle publication was definitely not a walk in the park. The perks of the job may be extremely rewarding, but writing is dirty, gritty hard work too. Many a times, you will encounter the writer’s block, the story on the tip of your tongues but the words dance around, eluding you. Unlike essay writing, where you can add in filler text, journalistic writing demands that you say the most in as little words as possible. It takes a fair bit of talent and finesse to make a boring topic sexy to readers, as well as to balance your individual voice with the demands of the editors and advertisers.
Despite the challenges, for me, nothing gives a more thrilling kick than seeing my name on the byline beside an article that I have worked my heart out for.
Looking back, I would have never guessed that a moment’s frustration with
the inertia in my life could lead me on a carousel-like journey to fall in love in a fresh way with what I have always instinctively done in my life. Sometimes, you need to question your motivations for the pursuits in your life in order to know if you will be really happy. If you do not like your answer, don’t hesitate to leave the safe enclave that you have wrapped yourself in. Go explore a little: for not all who wander are lost, and those who seek shall find.
By: Lee Li Ying
Editor: Cherie Anne Lian