LIVING IN A BOARDING HOUSE is not always fun. Yes, it brings a number of adventures you can’t buy, including having to take a bath with bottled mineral water when the boarding house’s water pump is broken ( because the superintendent was not there to help us fix it). Sometimes, I also have access to exciting real-life drama of adultery and casual intimate relationships (my boarding house is unisex) simply by leaving my bedroom door ajar.
But being a spoiled brat who grew up in a comfortable 1,000-square-meter house with family members who looked after me, having to squeeze myself into a threeby-three bedroom is quite an ordeal in itself — not to mention the fact that in this place, anonymity is the only acceptable social currency. In short, no one gives a damn about whether you’re happy or sad, dead or alive. Because of this, I often feel lonely and uncomfortable. I often detest having to come straight to my shoebox after work, despite how tired I feel from completing my daily tasks.
These past few days, however, I can’t wait to get back to my little shoebox straight from the office. I have started reading a classic American novel called Stoner by John Williams. Being frustrated after spending few months of reading a number of lackluster literary works, I finally discovered a novel that is so powerful it sucked me into its own black hole of a story.
Its central premise revolves around an English literature academic called Stoner who, despite the misfortunes that befall him, attempts to be a good person and find happiness in both his professional and personal life. He, unfortunately, cannot seem to find the happiness that he wants. His cruel wife, who subsequently uses their daughter to make him suffer, treats him coldly; his career path isn’t as good as it seems and when he does find true love at the age of 40-something, he doesn’t have the courage to end his marriage and pursue what he truly desires (this book was written in the early 20th century, though, a time when the dissolution of a marriage was considered a shameful failure). Life is what happens to you while you’re
busy making other plans, so went the song John Lennon wrote for his son, Julian, in “Beautiful Boy”. That’s very true. While Stoner never planned to become an academic and initially wanted to work in his parents’ farm, I used to want to be an academic. I knew this to be true during my first days at university, nine years ago. When I graduated in 2010, unfortunately, the campus shifted its policy: instead of hiring academics with bachelor’s degrees and sending them to postgraduate courses, they wanted people who already had master’s degrees instead.
I didn’t have money to continue my studies at the time and since I didn’t have a plan B, I was confused as to what vocation I should take. So I became an assistant lecturer and researcher for quite a while, because I thought research would be a good field for me. I got a taste for it and disagreed with the rigid corporate life. I left after two months. Then I taught Indonesian literature and psychology for grade 11 and 12 students at Gandhi Memorial International School. I was happy and stayed there for a year and a half, but then, in an impulsive decision upon discovering a job vacancy at The
Jakarta Post, I decided to become a journalist. This vocation seemed to agree quite nicely with me and, nearly four years later, I’m still here. As the years went past, I began to love what I do immensely.
I spent almost two years looking for the right fit before I finally got the job I really love. It doesn’t always work that way for everybody, though. My friend’s father, for example, already knew the job he wanted at the tender age of 10. He has been working hard to pursue that ambition. He was enrolled at the right school, got his first job at the age of 18 and remained faithful at his job for almost 40 years. He did a great job and expanded to other related fields as well.
His high intelligence and unchecked self-confidence, however, can collide and morph into arrogance sometimes. A few years ago, during a dinner party with his glitzy and successful friends, desperate to charm them, I foolishly told them of my sporadic work experiences. Then he, the Alpha Male of them all, mocked me: “Wow, am-aaa-zing, how many types of work have you d-ooone?” The remark was greeted by laughter at the dinner table. Thin-skinned and insecure as I was at that time, I felt furious and embarrassed by the display of mockery. I had become a joke at the dinner table.
This was why, when I interviewed an ahli minat bakat, or a psychologist specializing in guiding children’s vocation according to their talents and interests for an educational advertorial a year ago, I went into a discussion with my editor, which then became a curhat
colongan (heart-to-heart) moment. “It’s amazing when one already knows what he wants to do at the age of 10. I can’t do that. I spent too much time finding the right job, not having a plan B, wasting so many years of my life. Had I started earlier at journalism, I’d probably have been more successful at this job now,” I told him, referring to my friend’s cool Dad.
“Yeah, but knowing what you want at the age of 10 and having a lifelong obsession for it may also be a doubleedged sword. Your friend’s father was lucky; his was a rare case. But what if you can’t achieve your ambition? You’ll be crushed,” he replied.
Then he told me to look around: “How many people ended up where they thought they were going to be?”
He’s right. My colleagues at the Post have diverse career backgrounds: some starting out as factory supervisors, bank customer service officers, nurses, teachers, priests, etc. before swerving into the media industry. This diversity in professional and educational backgrounds is what makes journalism a fascinating world. My editor then instructed me to forget my friend’s father guffaw over my inability to make up my mind.
What Stoner, my own life experiences and the experiences of those around me have taught me is this: we don’t always have Plan B or Plan C ready in our pockets and it’s OK to take detours. Like what my friend Ira Wulandari tells me all the time: human destiny is never linear.
BY SEBASTIAN PARTOGI