I am 50 this year, and in some ways, I haven’t been unkind to myself, and can be honest to say that I have lived my life to the fullest I can. If I were 22 right now, what would I have done differently?
When I was 22 in 1986, I was a small floating rag doll in the big sea of the worst economic recession in our region, and I managed to finally land a job first as a laboratory assistant earning around US$300 a month, and then as a children’s book editor in a small publisher earning just a little more. I was elated at landing those jobs after grueling months and months of job searching as a high school dropout. From that point onwards, I drifted further and further away from my inner self, and deeper and deeper into materialism and ambition. I have made tremendous progress in my career, although on hindsight, I wished I had made less mistakes in life.
Only when I turned forty in 2004, did I wake up and gain my footing, and found myself again.
Fast forward to today in the 21st century in 2014, the economy is again in some rather uncharted and turbulent waters for already quite sometime, and job prospects aren’t exactly rosy.
What would I do today, in 2014, if I am 22 again, assuming that I have not gone into college?
I would have served national service by this age, which means spending 2 years in the armed forces, learning some degree of humility and discipline, values that are important and fast disappearing today.
The first thing I would do is to persuade my parents that I would like to hone my human skills further, to be better prepared for the long haul of life itself, before diving into the thick tomes of college.
For me, I would stay with a monastery. A monastery is a serious place of contemplative prayer and manual labor, and there would be no secular fun or entertainment, especially of the digital or gaming variety. If an abbot can allow me to stay (usually at the guesthouse if it is available), it would be a distinct privilege to learn the ways of monasticism, and to labor alongside the monks in the fields. Through some of my relationships with clergy in monasteries, I know that it would be a humbling and yet gratifying experience where I would dutifully and humbly accept work and to get my hands dirty with earth, develop my ability to be silent when required, and to develop my sense of punctuality and other important disciplines. From a deeply distracting world we live in today with neon billboards, noisy shopping malls, computer gaming systems, and the Internet, the monastery presents a way for me to find myself, to discern my purpose in life silently and slowly.
If I cannot find a monastery to stay with, perhaps a farm is just as well, in my opinion. I would again find that I have to make myself useful with labors in the fields, learn discipline, humility and punctuality, and to accept that I am not a bystander or a master, but a servant. The notion of servant leadership cannot be developed through reading, but a slow and steady acceptance of our lot, to be ready with honest labor, to accept mentorship and collaboration, and most of all, to have a genuine humility and respect for others. And in the dim hours of the night, a flickering candle flame, the sound of quiet nature, and the occasional breeze, all herald a sufficient silence that helps me settle down and find myself. As with a monastery, there will be no excess, and meals will be simple, and I can learn to be contented with whatever I have.
As most people in their fifties or sixties would say in hindsight, when we are young, it is alright to pace ourselves, smell the roses along the meandering foot paths, before finding our purpose of life and what we intend to do for the long haul. Ambition is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be better served with purpose. There is no certainty in life, and everything is transient and fleeting.
And, if you, like me, are not 22, but whatever tenure, remember that age is just a number, and we can live life to the fullest and be fulfilling, no matter how gray our hairs get.