Growing up is a strange thing.
When I was younger, I always imagined myself as a grown-up: successful, having all of the freedom I wanted, and traveling around the world. Little Nam was very imaginative––she enjoyed fantasizing about the future, or an imaginary world she would never be able to visit but still chose to immerse in; it was her energy tank, where she stored her dreams, hopes, and subverted realities. A fair amount of the visions contained repressed desires and yearning for adventures far away from home, but mostly just having her name on Google. Had it not been for those fantasies, Nam couldn’t have made it through her challenging teenage life––the hectic school system, the unfairness around her, peer pressure, and all of those insecurities that haunted her in her sleep.
“It’s Baggage no. 1. Why is your skin so dark compared to your friends and family?”
“Because I bike a lot under the sun, but I like how I’ve been this way. I look healthy.”
“Oh yeah? How about sweatiness, and not just when you bike? Nam, you’re like, really really sweaty, especially your hands. Deep down inside, don’t you always want to have radiantly light skin and lower body temperature like those cute teenage girls at school?”
“Ehhh…Maybe. Sometimes. I don’t know. I can’t really do anything about it so I’d better accept it.”
“Oh and your lips. They’re so dry and ugly. Haven’t you tried so much lipstick already?”
“… Your hunched back”
“… Your fat legs”
“… You’re like, sooo bad at Maths”
“… You suck at testing”
Alright, shut up insecurities. You don’t know shit about me. And so little Nam mind-traveled to her future self to find comfort and encouragement, in a place where none of those insecurities mattered anymore.
As I grew older, I no longer spend much time on fantasies. I choose to uproot the imaginary world and start building upon my presence. I’ve achieved my biggest teenage dream: study abroad in the U.S. College life allows me to have my own adventures, both in academia and the real world. Now, if I search my name on Google, something will pop up, at least my Linked In account for sure. I have new goals every year and I do enjoy thinking about them, but I don’t really have time and energy to fantasize.
Looking back, immersing in fantasies was a way for me to daydream about power, to establish a self-sustained, hidden language that made me, “the powerless,” more vocal, behind the back of “the authority”––parents, school, society, the friends whom your parents claimed to be better than you at everything, the “too cool for you” siblings, the great aunt that didn’t stop asking you about the boyfriend you never had, etc. For example, if my teacher was unfair to me, I would think about how I became so successful and rich in the future, spoke five languages, came back to school looking all fantastic, and he wouldn’t even dare to look at me. In extreme situations, I would just envision how regretful and heartbroken people would feel when I no longer lived (admit it, y’all once had that vision).
Enough with the conditional tense. The point is, as I grew up, I realized I shouldn’t run away and hide from unpleasant situations. Instead of daydreaming about power, I curate my own. I build up my capitals––knowledge, experience, manner, skills, stories, network, and earnings. I give myself a voice. Yes, people treat you differently when they see you differently, but the most real and powerful treatment is your own self-respect. I’m more confident and I believe in myself more when I see how much I can grow and how far I can go. A lot of times, the growing is not that visible––that’s when I need to trust. I understand that I’m a work in progress, and sometimes it’s the best to be patient and dance with the universe.
Something I’m still struggling with is confrontation. I don’t want to hurt anyone. And because I always convince myself that “it’s not that bad,” I end up being hurt. Although speaking truth is challenging, it is the right thing. I’ve trained myself to have the hard conversation, whether with my parents or friends (only through writing though, but hey, be patient!) The most important thing is to understand what I want and how I feel. Before making a decision on pursuing, confronting, or letting go, I ask myself some questions, such as “how do I see this person in my life?,” “what would be different if I take this job?,” “will I feel better if I stop doing this?” This is when my teenage imagination comes in handy. For example, I learned from Michelle, a dear friend of mine, that before jumping into a relationship, she normally imagined how that person would fit into her life realistically, before any romantic fantasies that could affect her decision kicked in.
“You’re gonna meet a lot of soulmates, like movie soulmate, music soulmate, brunch soulmate and all that. You’re gonna like them a lot but that doesn’t mean you’re gonna end up with them. Be smart about it.”
Of course, not everyone can be realistic right away when she meets someone, or something (like a house), that is so damn interesting and makes her feel butterflies in her stomach. Yet, when her next move involves energy, time, and the next slide of her life, she gotta be brave and smart about it. Her fantasies and imagination can be hired to do a more fantastic job: better her decision-making. For a visual person like me, it has been working quite well.
Growing up is a strange thing because I no longer do things I enjoyed very much when I was a kid. But sometimes, one of those things comes back in a different form and fits perfectly into my life. Now, the next goal is to find a job that allows me to utilize my imagination, and along the way, bump into someone that treasures it too, perhaps? 🙂
(Image: Dreaming about juggling, Pablo Montes)