We’re at this point in our lives where people around us like to ask this peculiar question, that is, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I think people treat this more as an ice breaker question; no one really cares about what you want to be (except maybe your parents but sometimes their concern takes a trajectory independent of your passions). Perhaps we’re too caught up with our own lives to really care.
But what do you know? After a while, this question does get annoying. It creeps into your head and before you know it, you’re asking yourself the very same question. Except, for this once, you actually care. What do I want to be when I grow up? Geez, get your act together, you how old already?
It was on a cool, quiet night when this question presented itself. I was walking with my friends, down a secluded street in Potong Pasir in the dead of night. It was so quiet that I swore I heard the traffic light click as the light changed from green to red. It was then that one of my friends turned to me when we were lagging behind, and asked the question. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was as abrupt as a dense cloud on a sunny day.
I wouldn’t tell most people what I want to be when I grow up. But you can sort of infer what kind of job suits me, as have I. I didn’t do all this writing for fun, and I’ve decided I sort of love it. And with that little passion arose certain dreams and what not. But look, lets be realistic. We’re in Singapore, and every Chinese New Year I’m rudely reminded of the harsh reality of what the future holds. My relatives are very realistic people. Money and success is as scarce as colourful butterflies and being mediocre as common as the soldier ant.
But strangely enough, on that cool night, I told him. I could have made up something like editor, or teacher, and those aren’t bad jobs. It just wasn’t something I really wanted to be. So in the end I just told him what I truly dreamed to be, along with all the doubts that surrounded such a dream. He looked at me, a large, indian fella probably twice my girth and maybe twice my weight as well. He has been through a lot in his life, I grant you that. But then at that moment his gaze softened up, and he spoke in absolute sincerity, “never underestimate yourself.”
Now I’m not the kind that’s easily inspired. It takes a lot to inspire me and run of the mill stock phrases like “don’t give up” and “every failure is a lesson” inadvertently makes me feel uncomfortable. But at that moment, with the cool night air and the absolute quiet, those words really meant a lot. It was like a thick blanket on a cold day. Never underestimate yourself. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Ultimately, it was a reminder to have courage. Perhaps we don’t like risks. We’d rather take a safer path than bash through the bushes for a shortcut. We plot everything out predictably and sensibly. But look. This is the rest of our lives! We owe it to ourselves to have a shot at greatness, and we owe it to ourselves, especially, to do things with a big heart and approach every challenge with oomph and sincerity. That’s what it means to do what you love, to know deep within yourself that it’s worth fighting for. And yes, it makes sense. In the pursuit of this ideal image, you cannot, for one moment, underestimate yourself.
And at the same time, it reminded me of the beauty of words. It was uncanny that three simple words like that could draw out such vivid, coherent thoughts given the right situation and delivered with the right emotion.
It was like a baseball bat striking the baseball dead centre. It’s the same sort of feeling. Those words really hit home.
If I ever end up doing what I love as a living, I’d think back to that cool night walking through the quiet streets of Potong Pasir and the words that were given to me. I will think back to that time when it was so quiet you could swear you heard the click of the traffic light as it turned from red to green. You can bet I will.