The Third Path

It is almost impossible to describe the trials and tribulations that occurred during the past few months. In the past, I could only understand the word “burnout” intellectually, like a medical term that could come up in a random conversation between my parents and then got overheard by their distracted son. But throughout the course of the past few weeks, I could feel nothing except the presence of this word throughout every interaction I have with another human being, as if I was just going through the motion of listening and speaking without leaving any marks on my existence.

You could say that it began on the last day of May when our team was invited to a WeWork in Berlin to meet up with a member of the senior management team from France, which was an odd arrangement in a remote-first work environment. Upon hearing the news of the entire German team being dissolved for business operation reasons in a small but modern room with another member of the HR team, I was not entirely shocked. It was strange how my first impulse was to soothe them and make them feel less uncomfortable since they traveled all the way to Berlin to deliver the news in person. I told them how it must be so very hard to be the messenger of bad news and I hope they are doing well. The nice but sad-looking HR lady said, with a stress-induced frown between her eyebrows: “Thank you for being so professional.” My other three team members all had different reactions. One seemed to have known that this day was coming but knew in her heart that she did everything she could and gave this venture everything she had. She also told me how proud she was of me and everything I have done in the past two months. I wish that I complimented her back for being such a great manager and for giving me a chance in the first place, but I didn’t. Probably because every time when someone gives me a compliment my mind would just black out. I do remember feeling a bit superior about myself when my other team member got visibly upset after the news and did not handle the situation with the same “composure” that I exhibited towards the two bearers of bad news from corporate. But she had every reason to be upset because she would have to deliver the news to her client. We all went out for a drink afterward. I still tried to appear cheerful. But later when I was alone, waiting for my burger in a restaurant while scrolling job openings on LinkedIn, the weight of the whole situation finally hit me. I could feel my heart tensing up, a tightness in my chest evolving into a pulsing form of pain. “Boy, here we go again.” I thought. It took me six months to find this job after graduation. Will I survive another excruciating job search in this economy?

For the next few weeks, I had many interviews scheduled while finishing up my work during my last month of employment. The most important thing, of course, was to tell my parents nothing until I have found my next job. I simply did not have the energy to bare their insecurity as well, since they would only worry for me and ask fear-inducing questions when I all want to hear from them is a simple “everything will be okay.” It is in moments like this that I finally realized how I always comfort myself in the face of uncertainty, and how despite my every effort to stop craving emotional support from my parents in the face of a crisis, I still want solace from them, like a hopeless child.

When I told them three weeks later that I have accepted another offer with a better pay and a better title at another company, they responded with confusion instead of feeling happy for me. They thought my old job suited my background better. Upon hearing the entire backstory of how our department was dissolved, they were still sad that I chose an industry that no longer utilizes my creative background as if it was a violent attack on their investment in putting me through film school. They eventually acknowledged how hard it must have been for me to find a new job under such a short timeframe, but my heart seemed frozen in time, unable to feel anything anymore. For one thing, it confirmed my suspicion that they could never be happy for me the way I want them to be. For another, the grief and suffering of the past few weeks seemed stuck, unable to be released even though the crisis had already been averted. I was no longer jobless, yet I was still lost. Does it really matter who my newest exploiter in this capitalism machine is when all I ever want is to feel love and comfort in times of uncertainty and despair? Why do I still feel that “love” is something to be earned rather than a free concert with no hidden fees for all living things? I thought I was playing by the rules. If I have good grades, then I will get their love. If I have a good job, then I will have their love. Turns out I can never get them to love me the way I want them to. I knew that already. So why does it still hurt? The need for their love is so deep inside me that it almost feels like it is beyond the realm of my control. Am I doomed to suffer forever, if this need is always going to be there and beyond my control? Could it be that the key to my liberation is to let go of my expectations of their love and choose to look into the dark abyss of nothingness instead? Like everything I have done in the past, I am probably asking the wrong questions, posing the conflicts in a dualism format, an “either…or” scenario where I only get to choose one way and not the other. But life is more complicated than that. Perhaps the key to my freedom is somewhere between the combination of both options and neither option. A third option beyond my conscious understanding. A path beyond yin and yang. A divine way that is neither and both.

In times like these, a sense of longing seemed to be the only thing holding me together. Longing for a better future. Longing for love and meaning. I believe our old friend Schopenhauer said it better himself:

Der Mensch kann tun was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will.

― Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

Translation in plain English:

Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.

If this longing is ultimately beyond my control, how can I say with good conscience that I am a free man with free will? Then again, perhaps freedom is overrated anyway. Why not be a slave to love and follow its reign when living for yourself is proving to be too painful and meaningless?

For now, let’s carry on. The reason we think too much on unnecessary things is because we don’t spend enough time on necessary ones. So let’s recalibrate and start over. Embrace the unknown. Forge your future.

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