the word ‘future’ hurts my brain.

So I suppose I have reached the age where adulthood and the future seem rather imminent. I used to have an idea of what I wanted to do with my life, where I wanted to go, where I wanted to end up, what work I would spend the rest of my life slaving over. I was meticulous at planning, pinpointing it down to the very last detail. In order to achieve whatever plan I had for my life, I strove to be an overachiever so that I could set every single cog in the machine the correct way to make sure nothing would ever interrupt this ambitious grand plan of mine. So a year has passed, and now I attend a different school. I have been exposed to new, exciting things. The people I meet tell me about a whole world out there that I have yet to explore. They criticise the education system that we so readily endorse, a system that we unconsciously encourage by submitting to it, not resisting. I like to think that I have matured. As people grow, they also develop new perspectives or reflect on and revise their old ones. I like to say to I do not think the same way anymore.

But now I really do need to start thinking about my life, college, work, and all I have been pulling up are blanks. Ask me where I want to apply to for college, and my reply would probably be, “Um… Everywhere?”. I used to dream of Ivy Leagues in my sleep. Thinking back, those dreams were all in black and white. Was it a healthy existence? I would forego sleep (and I still do) to perfect my assignments, make sure I had every last word of those wretched Biology definitions memorised only to forget them all right after the exam, pore over ten years of past exam papers. Just who was I trying to please? Society? Perhaps. Somehow, the only way I felt I could validate my existence to the world was through the numbers that were written on the top right corners of my exam papers, the numbers and letters written on the report cards my parents so eagerly opened, achievements that were acquired through grit and misery. We no longer get an education for the sake of learning. We go to school so parents can shove their children’s stellar report cards and certificates in other parents’ faces. I go to school so my report card can be one less thing I have disappointed them in. This pathetic little me still exists, though I like to separate her from the me that would like to punch the entire system in its ugly, leering face. Does my higher score make me any more intelligent than the student who is standing next to me, despairing in his ‘just-average’ score? Probably not. I have a tendency to do very poorly on IQ and aptitude tests (flashback to year nine insight tests), so yes, I am proud of the diligence that bestowed achievements upon me that exceeded what individuals of my reasoning ability would normally be able to achieve. But I regret my negligence of everything else, myself, my well-being, whatever relationships I might have had, and everyone around me. I do not want to see others in the same position I was in, struggling to prove to the world that they are of at least some worth, forsaking everything else and proving nothing at all. Just how screwed up would the world be if our worth was measured by the results on some exam, or how famous the name of our alma mater is?

I pity employers who judge the competency of their employees by the name of the college they went to, but nevertheless, that is apparently how our miserable world functions.

No, mother. I do not want to get into Harvard. Yes, I know Harvard has the ‘best’ law school, but no, I do not want to be a lawyer. Yes, I know Harvard has a great name, and it would look fantastic on my resume, but I do not think I am cut out for Harvard. I do not think I will be happy there. Why is that so ridiculous? Potential? Please. I think another decent liberal arts college would suit me far better. Highly ranked? How about William’s? Or Wellesley? No? Why not? Are you saying employers do not hear of these schools? You think going to ‘small’ liberal arts colleges will ruin my prospects of employment because they are not as famous as Harvard? I thought we were discussing the best kind of education for me, not the best name. Wait. This is my life, and my future. No mother, I do not take for granted the money you ‘invested’ in my education. I am not throwing away the opportunities you gave me, but I just want to live simply and decently. I do not need to be some hotshot lawyer to make a living for myself. Provide for my family? Wait. When the hell did I ever say I wanted children?

There is something inherently wrong in using the words ‘investment’ and ‘education’ synonymously, or when ‘wasted opportunities’ are a bigger loss than trading away happiness and well-being, or when ‘potential’ to be somebody society values more is more important than what you actually want to be. If you have children, please do not be that parent.

As much as I want to rip apart the education system, if I resist it now, society will tear my life apart because that is just how cruel the world is. Let whatever divine entity up there help me use whatever grit I have left to change the way education is now as a cog in the machine.



4 thoughts on “the word ‘future’ hurts my brain.

  1. Hi,

    I do apologize for intruding into your privacy, I honestly just happened to be passing by and impulsively decided to submit my opinion. I hope you don’t find the act of me posting my opinion here overly rude and insensitive. I’ll just post some random ideas, feel free to read if you’re interested, if not I’ll fk off 🙂

    First, a little background. I’m an English studies and comp lit double major, and am studying for a masters in cultural studies.

    Having said that, a few years back I had no idea what to do with my life (I still don’t). I experienced a very similar predicament: what to do with my life? My father went by the age-old routine, telling me “doctors save lives, lawyers save lives, therefore they are valuable and rich. Be your own boss, you will enjoy life more. However (I’m trying not to be long-winded, it’s a bad habit when I talk about myself), I loved literature since Darren Shan. I wanted to be a writer.

    I happened to have a great English teacher, let’s call him Mr M, and he encouraged me in English. During my choice of whether to choose science or the arts, my mother told me it really doesn’t matter, as long as it makes me happy, it makes her happy. And so I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts, and that has made all the difference. The trail of memories above really shows how much you define yourself from or against influential people in your lives. “No man is an island”, right? Quoting from the oft-quoted poem, I think it doesn’t really matter whether or not you take the “road less travelled”. (I’m doing really bad on quotes here, but remember not to plagiarize in uni!)

    To be honest, every step in life is made by sacrificing something else. You don’t really need to regret anything, because it’s a choice you have made. This includes the degree you start off with.

    In secondary school I hated being what you call a “Cog in a machine”; as a result I chose the most liberal degree I could find, encapsulating my love for literature. Currently, having attended a few cultural studies courses, I would have to depressingly declare that every aspect of existence remains a cog in a machine (I recommend reading the Handmaid’s Tale, Silence of the Lambs, One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest. Yeah i watched the films too :). Humans have imposed subjective order on a state of disorder. My point -if it exists at all- is that education systems will never be perfect, nor will they be democratic if they use any form of measurement for excellence. To be able to criticize an education system (like you have) means that you possess the ability to exceed it (I don’t care about the practicality of changing it).

    Man, I hate writing badly in such a disorganized manner. My apologies.

    So, it really doesn’t matter what numerical metaphors people (including your parents) define you with. There will always be such value systems in place.You should define yourself in your reaction towards and knowledge of such systems of hierarchy. Even when working within a system’s boundaries you are possibly fighting against it. What you call “diligence” and “negligence” are both sides of the same coin, an attempt to validate yourself.

    When I was young (I apologize again from writing from supposed moral superiority) I also hated big corporations and money, creating a value system for different jobs. But now, I think a bit differently.

    When I see this line:

    “But I regret my negligence of everything else, myself, my well-being, whatever relationships I might have had, and everyone around me. I do not want to see others in the same position I was in, struggling to prove to the world that they are of at least some worth”

    I think that there are two important (perhaps irrelevant) points to consider.

    Point 1: importance of family. That they are mixing the terms ‘investment’ and education is hardly surprising. Now that I have a job and paying my own school fees (very proud of myself to be paying for my own education jahaha), I begin to realize how difficult it is to sustain myself, let alone a family. OF COURSE some parents would like their children to suffer less in this world! OF COURSE some would call you immature or spoilt to choose the ‘wrong’ degree! It’s very difficult to define, but your parents really do deserve a certain extent of influence on your education.

    I’m personally very proud that I’ve chosen this difficult road of studying Arts, it defines me. I was also lucky to have my mom supporting my choice. So, I think the most important point is to maintain good relations with your family, despite any disagreements. 10/20 years from now, relationships will be 10x more important than job offers or degrees. Treasure it please.

    Point 2: Treasure yourself. You will be a uni student soon. That gives you privileged access to tertiary education that most people in the world don’t have, all the more so if you went for a specialist degree. That’s why some parents think you throw away your education by going for ‘useless’ degrees. From their perspective: Some kid is REFUSING to use his/her skills to be wealthy even though there are poor people around the world suffering. This is a grey moral area. Personally, I feel guilty whenever I lament to my cousins (who haven’t been to uni and are older my age) about my job, as they have less access to socioeconomic opportunities than I do, merely because of a degree. My point is that you are one of the privileged in this unfair education system, treasure it please 🙂

    Perhaps the point is, for some people wasted skills means wasted resources. For others, like my best friend, think “parents who send their kids to esf schools should put less pressure on grades and encourage them to pursue their interests and ambitions”. I think it’s a mixture of the two. If you have talent, good for you! Don’t abuse it. With less talent or no talent, even better. “Blank slates” work harder and learn more in the process. A “made man” as they would say (excuse the gender bias).

    Tl;dr Treasure yourself, family, society. Don’t regret choices that you have considered carefully, as you can only think about it so much. Taking care of your life and happiness in the form of hobbies is much more important. They often say to ponder upon the matter, make your decision by sunrise.

    Please send my regards to your brother 🙂 I hope he is doing well. And your songs are great! I’m not stalking or anything hahaha scout’s honor. I make a habit of concluding messages with vague/personal messages.

    I hate writing so much, so badly.

    1. Thank you for your comment and your advice. 😀 I read all the way to the end. It would be awesome to have some kind of open discussion on education at some point. Despite the inevitability of imperfection in the education system (or the world as a whole), I feel like there still is a very warped understanding of education in Hong Kong society that we should address, among many other things. And yes, I’ll send my brother your regards. 🙂

  2. This post of yours touched a chord in me just now Jess, as I just sat looking at this Self Report 2 from Vernicia. It’s lovely! – Camille (

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