His fingers moved rhythmically across the keyboards, tapping on the different keys, like how they did countless times before. They produced long sentences and churned out numbers across the white screen in front of him, which stared boringly back at him. Like how it has always did. Yesterday. The day before yesterday. Last week. Three months ago. It felt that he had always been doing this. It felt like he was going to continue to do this for eternity too.
The typing of reports. The meetings he attend. The clients that he meet. The quota that he is endlessly chasing. The money that he cannot seem to finish earning.
Unable to focus on the endless columns and rows anymore, he heaved a sigh and rolled his chair into the center of the cubicle. There, he spun his chair around a few times, losing himself in the motion. The dizziness cheered him up somewhat, as it was a break from the dreary routine that he was caught in.
He stole another stare back at the white screen of him computer and wondered why he was feeling so unhappy. Unmotivated. Bored. He felt like a pedestrian standing at the road side, watching uninterestingly as the traffic moved in front of him. His life. Since when he became a spectator of his own life, watching it slowly flow past, day by day, instead of being the person behind the wheel.
He sighed another time, wondering why he was even thinking about this again in the first place, instead of working. All around him, keyboards continued to clatter, the printers busily churned out different papers, while the air-conditioner hummed boringly in the background. Periodic chatter would occasionally break the cycle, but it was not of his colleagues talking to each other, but rather into their phone, arranging with clients on the next meeting, or trying to source for new business.
As he sat there in his black office chair, swaying it back and forth this time, he allowed his thoughts to wander. He tried to remember about a time when he felt much more happier. Much more fulfilled. A time when he didn’t questioned about the purpose of his existence. Where he didn’t dreaded waking up every morning. When he enjoyed his days.
“You’re having a quarter life crisis,” his buddy would casually say when he told him about his feelings. Is this really so much of a crisis that he’s feeling? Of being unsure of what he wants? Or how to deal with this glaringly obvious void that now sits at the center of his being, sucking away all his energy and motivation.
He thought back about his high school and university time. When he was constantly surrounded by friends. The time when they would hang out together after school everyday, chatting happily together about school and their future plans in life. Where everyday was a new day, because it brought to them new knowledge. A place where he participated in tons of different activities, dancing, singing, drama and sports. Even to the extent of travelling for his interests as well. A time when he organized activities and came out with a whole load of crazy ideas for camps, events and performances.
He did what he wanted during those times, without a single worry in his soul. He explored his interests, his loves. He followed his own heart in the things he do. Nowadays, he just follows the directions of his boss and his clients, seldom being able to voice his own opinions. Is this the reason why he missed his pre-work life so much? Because he was able to be himself? Why isn’t he able to be himself right now?
Then he thought about the biggest difference between then and now. Money. He realized that he was much happier last time because money was already provided for him. Someone was looking after his daily expenses. Even though he had to work part time to help pay for some of his meals, he did not have to slog for almost 10 hours daily
He almost felt sad thinking about his life right now. About how it has boiled down to waiting for his paycheck to arrive at the end of every month and to waiting for the weekends every week. It doesn’t feel as fun anymore. It felt as if life has been drained out of all it’s colour, leaving it in only shades of grey.
His attention turned towards the framed picture that was lying next to his computer, a picture of him in bright orange jacket, arms around his sherpa guide, with white snowy mountains behind him. They say that they key to happiness is to travel constantly around, which was exactly what he tried to do. Backpacking.
The idea itself, where you carry almost all of your belongings in one huge back and just plant yourself in a foreign place, letting life lead you on, was an idea that is constantly being sold around. Take up a bag, leave everything behind and just travel. What a romantic and idealistic suggestion. It was like the one destination or purpose in life that many has, often glorified to way more than it should be.
He knows. From all the Facebook posts, discussion among his friends and from writings in the media, it would seem that travelling is like the pinnacle achievement of life. Those who travel are worshipped or looked up upon, seen as more cultured and classy, while those who do not are not viewed as favorably. Which was why he tried. And decided subsequently that travelling was not romantic as people made it sound. Or just not the the sort of long term thing for him.
He started of his trip in Nepal, wanting to climb the Himalayas after climbing different mountains back when he was back in university. He remembered being awestruck by the sheer beauty of the mountain, the whiteness of it, and never has he experienced such a chill before, even under several layers of clothing. It was an experience unlike any other before. It made him feel alive for the first time, being alone on the mountain, cut off from the rest of the world.
It was during his journey afterwards that shook his faith in travelling. He was travelling past Mumbai, on foot, a few weeks after his ascend to the highest point of the world. The sun was fast setting that evening, and he found himself caught uncomfortably near the shady part of town, having earlier lost his way. A tourist with a huge navy blue backpack and eyes covered with sunglasses was a peculiar sight in that part of the neighbourhood, and before long, he felt unwanted stares burning into his back.
By the end of the day, he was sitting in a badly lit police station, with disinterested police officers filling up his report. He was bruised and scared, not only on the outside, and that day was the day he learned about the dark side of travelling no one talks about. The robbery, the killings and the rape. The big bullseye that is painted on you when you're in a foreign land Until today he would still have nightmares about being dragged into a filth filled alley by three burly men, their rough arms firmly gripping on his. Take the belongings, he pleaded, but they wanted more than that.
The policemen told him that he was lucky to be alive, in fact everyone told him that he was lucky to be alive, but a part of him wished that he didn't. A part of him wished that they had just slit his throat after they were done with him. A part of him had already died in that alley that day. He never again wanted to backpack after that.
Happiness. Purpose. Meaning. How do we actually find that? He certainly didn't find it in the recommendation of others. And he was not the only one The chair gave a final creak, before he pull it back to the table, where the monitor still stood. His phone gave a beep, with a message from his friend. He looked at it, lazily typed "Yes", and turned his attention back to his work With a reluctant sigh, he closed his eyes, and began moving his fingers across the keyboard again.
A few familiar voices awoken him from his daydream, and he spotted faces that he has not seen in ages. Work has a way of separating friends, and theirs was no different. But after weeks of planning, they finally decided to meet up, in a chic cafe overlooking the river. They shared stories, laughed, and updated each other. It has been too long since he last felt this way. It has been too long since any of them felt this way. They felt happy, just like the old times.
At the end of the day, they promised to meet up again, to not let their friendship break apart. Each of them swore a solemn oath to keep to the promise. And keep it they did. They met for board games, for laser tag and for anything under the sun. It became something that he looked forward to. Different people find meaning in different places. Some find theirs in friendships.
"I heard you're looking for a church," a friend asked when he was shuffling between different friends, getting ready to take their group picture. He nodded in response, and the friend told him that he knew just the answer. He smiled in returned, before turning back to the front. The stranger in front of them counted to three, and the bright flash from the Polaroid camera blinded his eyes for a while.
"Let us welcome the newest member to our group!" a cherry voice announced. He opened his eyes, and looked around him. People like him were sitting in a circle, smiles all upon him. In their hands each held a bible, or a smartphone containing their Bible. He smiled shyly back, before proceeding to introduce himself. They clapped for him after that, before switching their eyes to cheerful looking girl at the front of the group. People clapping to him, that's something that he has not experienced in a long time. They discussed about a chapter in the bible, something about loving your neighbours as yourself.
"How do you love your neighbours?" the girl asked. The people around said a lot of things. One mentioned that we should do good whenever we can. Yes, the girl said, but she also added that in addition to that, we must love those who do not share the same beliefs as us too. People that we would normally hate. The foreign construction workers, people of a different faith, the transgenders, anyone. Some in the group flinched uncomfortably. After two hours of discussion, the girl asked them to pray and he bowed his head down, closed his eyes. Different people find meaning in different places. Some find theirs in religion.
The sound of monkey calling to its friends startled him. He opened his eyes, still panting away, breathing in the fresh air above him. A few meters in front above him, standing above some concrete made steps amidst the lush greenery, stood a girl. She was dressed in white, in a black FBT shorts. Realizing that he was still far away, she turned towards him, flashing him her signature charming smile. The one that greeted him during one group meeting a few weeks ago.
"Come on faster, you slowpoke!" she teased him. He smiled back, before proceeding to run after her. Different people find meaning in different places. Some find theirs in love.
Is there a definite answer to happiness, to purpose? He found himself thinking again, swiveling on his chair. His thumb and index finger touched the ring on his hand, and twirled it playfully. It was a different chair this time, a different office, and a different computer that faced him. Even amidst all the mundaneness of life, once can always find meaning and purpose, if one looks hard enough.
Some in their hobbies, some in their pursuit of knowledge, some in books, and a whole load more of different reasons. The possibilities are endless, provided if you keep searching. That was what he found out, sitting boringly in his office one day, pressing yes to a invitation. And right now, he was embarking on a new journey, this time with a new path: family.
We can find meaning anywhere. The only things is whether you want it to be found. Or rather would you lose yourself in the endless flow of nothingness? The rat race?
What's your meaning in life?