As I sit at the window seat of my favorite cafe in the world, writing this, I am on the cusp of the greatest opportunity of my life. I haven’t lived that long, but it’s still a pretty big deal: I’m moving to Munich, Germany, in about a month, permanently. I was offered a job on the editorial team of a media startup based there, and I gladly accepted.
As you can imagine, the four-ish weeks leading up to this point have been quite a shit show. It’s been a tumble of excitement (and constant tempering of that excitement to avoid disappointment), last-minute purchases, last-minute packing, quick decisions, new people, new places, new feelings, and new schedules. Forget about the past nineteen years, this is probably going to end up being one of the biggest successes in my life. The doors that will open, the rooms I will find myself in, the experience I will gain — they’re going to be priceless.
However, as cliche as it may sound, I find that I’m the most unhappy I’ve been in months.
We all hear of artists who catapult through the stratosphere, gaining obscene fame and wealth along the way, only to end up on the receiving end of a noose or a loaded gun. Waking up the morning after your life’s crowning achievement only to discover you’ve lost the will to go on is normal. We’ve all heard of it.
I had known about this too, but I never thought it would be me. Yet here I am, taking steps in the same direction.
It makes no sense to me: on one hand, I’ve got this huge opportunity, one I didn’t even expect, knocking on my door, coming up real soon. On the other hand, I was happier when I thought I would be going home to Malaysia in a few months, dropping out of college with no paying job to live off $400 a month, drawn from what little freelancing income I could scrape together and savings. I would live in a friend’s spare room, estranged from my family, who would be furious that I quit college, with no money and no chance at getting anywhere, basically forever.
And I was happier when my near future was that, compared to now, when my near future is German bread and a 9–5 that pays a guaranteed salary.
I know what you’re thinking — I ask myself the same thing twice every twenty minutes these days.
Risk runs in my blood.
That’s not even super metaphorical, because my family has been risky for a long, long time. As a kid, I never felt much security. I knew that the happy Sunday afternoons playing with my toys, the late school nights staying up past my bedtime to watch TV, and all the fun goofy things I could do as a kid, they could all evaporate in an instant.
All it took was my mom to flip out about some random thing my dad did. Then she would announce that she was leaving, again.
Days would go by, days filled with dead-silent family meals and tense car rides. I was normally super outgoing and expressive, but I quickly learned that I couldn’t say anything or be anything but lifeless in times like these, when one parent (or both) would take their unhappiness with each other out on their kids.
I learned to picture living on the street every time my mom screamed those same words at my dad, yet again. I learned to shatter inside thinking about never seeing the four of us together again when my mom threatened to leave with one of her kids in the night. I learned to live with possibly losing everything, all the time.
And so you can probably see that being in my family wasn’t particularly happy. Such an environment does little to instill a sense of security in your home or your life, even in a child who knows nothing. So I’ve learned to live with risk hanging around, so much so that I’m incredibly afraid of a non-risky life, to the point where I surround myself with risk unnecessarily, to this day. I don’t know any other kind of life.
Therein lies the problem.
I’m incredibly averse to safety, so I deliberately put myself in danger.
I don’t know how to live any other way.
I legitimately cannot remember a day I have lived without fearing for my safety, my home, or my family. Things have never felt okay to me. Maybe I’ve got anxiety, maybe I’ve got a rough environment, maybe I’ve got both. All that matters is that right now, when things are objectively okay (or at least the most okay they’ve ever been) I’m still wishing for risk.
That’s why I’m unhappy deep down, despite being at the turning point of my career and my life: it’s not risky enough.
I went from expecting to live a life of near-poverty, even by Malaysian national standards, with no family and no plan, to securing a job in a beautiful city with wonderful people and a steady pay check.
Because all that security comes with restrictions. I can’t take Tuesdays off anymore, if I wake up wanting to just make music all day. I can’t say what I want to say about the things that matter to me anymore, because I’m not my boss anymore. I’m not working by myself at home anymore, so I can’t jump out of my desk three times an hour to do handstands in the middle of the floor anymore. I’ve got things to do, rules to follow, and people to please. I’m not free.
I’ve always associated security/ comfort with rules. Sure, I get to live in a cool place and I get paid a decent salary, but I’m stuck in a box for forty hours a week. Granted, it’s a very, very nice box — but you’re talking to someone who is used to having nothing to lose.
I was faced with losing my home, my family, and my life as I knew it so often as a child that I eventually felt like I never had any of it at all. I had nothing, so I had nothing to lose.
When you have nothing to lose, you can do whatever the hell you want.
That’s why I could decide to drop out of college on my second day there. That’s why I could spend all my money on an iPad Pro, then a DSLR, then other things I couldn’t afford. That’s why I could live with myself while lying to my family for so long about what I’m doing in Canada while ‘in college’.
I never felt like I had the opportunity of a college education, even when I was there. I never felt like I had any money, even though the numbers in my bank account were once triple the numbers in every other student’s. I never felt like I had a family to let down, so I have no problem conveying false information in order to avoid conflict.
When you have nothing to lose, you don’t really think about the risk of your decisions. There are none, because you have nothing that can be negatively impacted by your mistakes (except your motivation, I suppose).
That’s why I’m unhappy with the massive opportunity I have — suddenly, I have something to lose.
It’s going to sound weird, but I can tell you for certain that I was a happier person in general when I thought I was going to drop out of college to go home to Malaysia and live a life of poverty, with no foreseeable point of escape. I’m happier just imagining being that man, instead of the man who’s about to go to Munich.
I miss being the man who had nothing.
No money, no job, no home, no family, and no opportunities except the ones he can create for himself every day. That man would be smiling at everything. That was the man who got delayed twenty-five hours on his first solo international journey, got stuck in crammed basic economy for the whole trip, endured missed flights and overpriced last-minute hotel bookings while sleep-deprived, starving, and exhausted. That man was running on nothing but a will to kick ass, every day for a week, in a foreign land for the first time.
And he did a good enough job that week to get a job offer. What a legend, that guy. Nineteen, no college degree, no work experience. No sleep, even, and he got himself a job.
I miss that man. I was that man.
Now, I’ve got a security deposit down for an apartment in Munich, I’ve got shit to pack and deadlines to meet, I’ve got resumes to write and people to keep up with professionally, I’ve got responsibilities and commitments, and fuck, I’ve even got a fixed workplace and a time I have to show up.
What have I done? What have I turned my limitless opportunities into? Next thing I know, I’ll be going out with a group of fat men one Sunday afternoon to drink craft beer at the golf club after brunch.
Fuck you, Mika, you disgusting piece of complacent crap. What have you become?
I crave the freedom of not knowing where my next pay check is coming from, and that’s something I just gave up.
For that, I’m sad. Incredibly so. I have things to lose now, if I’m spontaneous in the wrong way or outgoing about the wrong things. I feel trapped. I feel chained.
I never imagined ‘success’ would feel this way. If I had known from the start, I would’ve quit worrying about not being here, a long time ago.
Oh well, it’s better to learn sooner rather than later. Now, I can’t wait to see how far these opportunities will go when I throw them away, this time.