Because real life doesn’t come with a manual
When I graduated from college, I thought to myself, ‘This is it. The moment I (and the rest of my blockmates and friends) have been waiting for—adulthood.’ I thought I had it all figured out; I would land my dream job on the first try, move in to my own place before my mid 20s and make a part of my fortune at 25. Young, ambitious and with absolutely no experience in the real world, I had but a surface-level idea of life. But as hopeful and eager as I was, I never got the job I wanted—a creative at one of the top advertising agencies in Manila. Nine months later I did get a job, but as a contractual segment producer/writer for TV. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t a regular post or that I was paid below minimum and without benefits.
WTH, I was in it for the experience.
As for that dream of having my own place so I could basically walk around naked? My mom died, dad moved out and so being an only child (not technically), I was left alone in an empty house with two dogs and a cat to look after. Meanwhile, the fortune I was hoping to make on my own merit came in the form of inheritance that is apparently and sadly, taxable (estate tax anyone?).
At 22, I kept a decent job, had a house all to my self and some money. But I was grief-stricken, depressed and on my own. I ate dinners by the kitchen sink, watched Under The Tuscan Sun (or Eat, Pray, Love depending on the intensity of my loneliness) on DVD every night with a bottle of wine to keep me company and cried myself to sleep.
Things only started to look up when I got a job at a fashion magazine; it was one of the local magazines I read growing up. Finally, something new and exciting to distract me from my woes. I worked late nights, on holidays, on birthdays and all other days even when I wasn’t required to work. Loneliness was buried deep into my subconscious; the void I felt was filled with fancy job titles, material things, fake friends and empty relationships. I became angry, too, but at the system, social injustices, conformity and the world. It felt like I had finally overcome the grief of losing my mother. I was succeeding despite the circumstances but getting unreasonably angrier, too.
I was winning at life, or so I thought I was.
At 25, I thought I would take up my master’s degree in journalism abroad or pursue a job at Conde Nast or Hearst Magazines. I would be living the dream. Whose dream exactly, I wasn’t sure (maybe Carrie Bradshaw’s or Andrea Sachs’?). But what I was certain of was that I didn’t want to slow down, get married or have kids because everybody on Facebook was doing exactly that—settling down. I was so used to being alone that I consciously chose to be on my own.
“The void I felt was filled with fancy job titles, material things, fake friends and empty relationships”
And then plot twist: I get pregnant! A visual of my dreams literally going down the drain subsequently followed that afternoon I got a transvaginal ultrasound. I was awash with fear; fear of what was to come and finding out the answer to ‘am I
capable of raising another human being in this sad, sad world?’ Also, what the fuck would other people—workmates, relatives, enemies— say? For sure I would be hypercriticized, slut-shamed behind my back. But I tried to live as normal as
possible (hid my bump until I eventually showed), got off Facebook and went through pregnancy with a lot of help from an app and a friend turned life partner.
“I was in labor for 15 hours, which felt like God's punishment for all the bad things I've done in this life”
Flash-forward to the day I was in labor for 15 hours, which felt like God's punishment for all the terrible things I've done in this life. They said the epidural would help but it didn't; my body was in so much pain. So much so that I'm sure I passed
out every few hours until the doctors had to cut me open for safer delivery. Nothing about that experience was by the book, magical or stereotypically beautiful. But it was…What To Expect When You’re Expecting (the movie not the book) level of real. So thank you Elizabeth Banks for telling it like it is.
At 26, I was in an unconventional relationship and technically a single mom to a baby boy. Life would finally go back to normal, I thought, and my job would still be a top priority right next to babies and family. But truth be told, I struggled with post partum depression, could not live up to my idea of what work/life balance was and was often unable to get out of bed due to either lack of sleep or the will to live. But somehow, I got past through it unscathed albeit a different person.
My career had taken a backseat, I became a hands-on mom and realized shit, I need a more sustainable job because I have a family of my own now and I need to be able to afford myself. So I learned to budget, invest in life insurance and manage a household—laba, linis, you name it—without help.
“[I] was often unable to get out of bed due to either lack of sleep or the will to live”
I quit and left a career I worked over six years to build because I needed better pay and benefits for my dependent. And just like that, I was a “starving artist” no more. But it wasn’t easy; I missed my old life (my old self), cried on my way home everyday for nearly two months and found it hard to fit in. Starting over at 28 for someone averse to change felt like the first day of high school. Exciting but mostly shell shocking. I was suddenly unsure of who I was, what I had become and what I wanted in this life. It’s quarter life crisis confirms Google or the cosmic rite of passage that is Saturn Return.
A new me
Now just weeks away from turning 30, I could say I’ve done the best I could to live through my 20s with barely any regret. Though there were moments when I wish someone had told me what to do because truth? Adulting is really, really hard.
Nobody will tell you that death costs so much, taxes are a bitch or that preparing for the future is more practical than it is morbid.
I still don’t have all the answers, age is catching up with me as evidenced by nasty hangover-like vibes induced by sleepless nights without alcohol and being in noisy bars now hurts my ears.
But here’s what I learned so far: you won’t always get what you want, but if and when you do, it’s almost never how you imagined it to be, people will let you down but some are worthy of forgiveness, success should never be measured through social media/others, you are now fully responsible for your own actions and the consequences they come with, and finally, you will, as a human being, keep evolving whether you like it or not, so constant self-exploration is a must.
“People will let you down but some are worthy of forgiveness”
At almost-30, I realized there’s no benchmark or manual for real life; just similar experiences of people living in certain decades that we can learn from. So stop fighting the tides of change and just surrender to it; embrace the chaos that ensues and accept the person you will become. Because if you don’t, then who else will?
Art Alexandra Lara