A friend of mine posted on social media that the notion “Things don’t always go according to plan” is one truth he finds it hard to accept. I don’t think he’s alone in this. As we get older, we think we should be better at planning and making things happen. During job interviews, we are often asked where do we see ourselves in the next five to ten years. Having a vision of the future is great – but what happens when things don’t fall into place just as we want them to? Just as we think we are getting better at this, the matter of fact is we probably experience more “detours” than we think.
When we missed that golden opportunity by an inch.
When the best relationships don’t work out.
When we don’t get the promotion we’ve been waiting for.
When financial setbacks happen despite our prudence.
When things break – hearts, promises, and trust.
We often wonder what went wrong when those things happen. If we could have done something to prevent it, or if it was sheer bad luck. But I don’t believe in luck or mulling over things we cannot control – I believe detours are the very moments that shape who we are, and what we become.
This is an old story, but one that has not seen its end yet. I used to tell others that I did not choose engineering – engineering chose me because I landed a scholarship back then for my undergraduate studies. In fact, I wanted to do something related to journalism or creative design. I struggled to come to terms with it during the early semesters, and at one point I even told my parents I wanted to quit. It was one of those rare moments that I saw their heart-broken faces, as they tried to console me and encourage me to give it another shot, because the truth was if I didn’t carry on, they wouldn’t have enough to fund my tertiary studies independently as their own finances also took a turn at that time. As if to come to a compromise with myself, I took up freelance design jobs and interned at creative companies during my semester breaks just to keep myself sane.
That detour, taught a 20-year old me that if we want something badly enough, we will create our own opportunities, big or small.
And even though engineering wasn’t my first choice, it wasn’t my last either. I did not hate it – in fact, I love science. As each semester progressed, I came to realise that it wasn’t my “dislike” for engineering that held me back – it was my sense of entitlement that the world owed me something. If I wanted to move on, I had to grow up and stop putting the blame on every living thing. Resentment, is an extremely heavy load to carry. I am glad that I got over it just in time to enjoy (and improve my grades) in my final undergraduate year.
Of course, then I became a working adult as an engineer in one of the biggest companies in the country. It was a decent-paying job that came with equally decent perks, but it was also tiring and stressful at the same time. Just before I left university, I had a plan to start my own label in web design and making T-shirts that contribute to charity. At the same time, my mother was making delectable cookies from our humble kitchen and we thought we could make a business out of it too. The Kooky Jar was born, but it didn’t last very long. Mom’s cookies were a sensation and orders were pouring in – but so did reality. My day job took a lot out of me, and my mother could not be slaving in the kitchen all on her own as the rest of us were living in different cities.
To be honest, I felt like I was a big disappointment with this one. Many had high hopes for our little venture, and I still think (which some might agree with me) that things might have turned out differently if I had gone into it full-time. At one point, my mom and I could not see eye-to-eye anymore in our decisions related to this gig. That was when I knew, it was time to take a step back.
Today, mom bakes exclusively for her loved ones, and I still run and maintain a design project or two as favours for close friends, when I have the luxury of spare time. These little projects remind me (just as baking does for my mom) that there are some things in life that are more important – meaningful relationships.
This detour allowed me to fully focus on being better at work, which eventually gave rise to a bigger, and more important question – what’s next? I was becoming quite comfortable with the routine, and while I was making positive progress in my career, I wondered if I could use my skill set for something bigger than just my monthly pay check. Or even if I might be earning a monthly pay check for the rest of my life, what work would I want it to be attributed for?
And before I knew it, this time, I was creating my own detour. What’s funny is that the day I left university, I told myself I would never go back to studying again. About a year ago, all that changed and I decided that it was time to go back to school to give myself a well-needed upgrade and began to apply for scholarships. It did not make a lot of sense to many others – the industry wasn’t doing well and I was actually finally due for a promotion that I had worked very hard for – and I was risking the fact that I may not have a job to come back to once my “unpaid study leave” ends.
But you want something bad enough – you’re more afraid of not being able to get it than losing some of the things you already have. If you play chess, you know the end goal is to check mate your opponent, even if that costs you that precious knight. In life, as long as you’re not hurting someone else or compromising your own self-worth – some roads are worth taking.
I like what I do now. I like pouring over text books and feeling like an idiot so that I can learn something new (or old) and trying to make sense of all my failed experiments at the lab. I wouldn’t have been able to say the same years ago, but what matters is now. I feel a sense of achievement when I’m able to feed myself (and sometimes others) with good home-cooked food even though my budget is a lot more limited than what it used to be. I have learned to let go, rekindle and establish relationships that don’t/do matter. I am grateful that my parents did their best to equip me with “tools” that I need to survive in this foreign land, such as wisdom, kindness, and how to not burn down the kitchen, to name a few.
Will there be more detours in the future? I am pretty sure there will be. In fact, my time here in London – short as it may be – have already presented a few detours of their own. It’s not easy, some detours can be downright painful. But we get to choose how we want to react – to wallow in self-pity and negativity when things don’t work out the way we want to, or to simply take one step forward at a time until we rise above.
And not all detours are bad. I’ve met some pretty incredible individuals and heard amazing stories along the way. I have not been more inspired by others than I am now.
The truth is, the world does not owe us love, kindness, compassion, adventures and all the right or wrong decisions we make.
We owe them to ourselves.