Going Nowhere Fast


I’ve been taught my whole life to have a plan, to think about my future. Each stage in my life is a stepping block to the next. It’s like a dog chasing its tail. You know that the future exists, and you want to try so hard to see it so you end up doing whatever you’re doing in the present for the future. The motivation for really doing anything is for this invisible future. So as I’m looking towards the horizon, I miss all the landscape that’s before it.

The idea that the first half of your life exists in your 20s and that “80% of life’s most defining moments take place by about age 35” cannot be more true. I’m going to get all theoretical and psychological now so bear with me. Your mind is constantly making new connections when you experience something for the first time, but it goes on autopilot when you’re in a routine. Your first 30 or so years of your life is spent making all these new connections (much of it happening as an infant/toddler) that time feels much slower. Once you get into a routine, your mind filters through the things that are beyond familiar to you. Time moves faster. For example, that’s why watching that same episode of How I Met Your Mother for the seventh time feels much quicker than the first. This is also why middle school felt like forever (for other reasons as well) and college a blink of an eye. Before you know it, you’re 20 and another blink, 40 (and so on). It’s quite a depressing thought actually. To think that “middle aged” is not actually the middle of your life because all the supposedly exciting things that happen in life have already occurred (i.e. first kiss, learning how to drive, going to college, getting married, etc.).

With all that being said, I promise you this is not a post about carpe diem or that godforsaken tween motto “YOLO.” I will apologize if this is going to sound a little preachy and propagandaish.

As an introvert, I hate small talk. It ensures awkwardness, pretending like I care, and way too much thinking about what to ask someone next. But one thing that I’ve learned from introductions and small talk is that the guaranteed question asked is “what’s your major (or for those not in college, what do you do?)” and “what do you wish to do in the future?”

I have my default answer and I have my truthful answer in which I rarely tell people. Default goes a little something like this:

“I’m an advertising major and I wish to become an art director and eventually a creative director for a huge ad agency.”

It’s not a lie, it’s generally what I would like to do, but truth of the matter is that it’s not only what I want to do. It’s hard to think that all the work that I’ve been doing and will continue to be doing for the first twenty-one years of my life is leading to this default answer which I only sort of want to do. Don’t get me wrong, I love advertising and everything about it, but I look at everything and can’t help but think that there’s got to be more. I mean, in the end of the day, the bottom line of my chosen profession is trying to make people buy things they don’t need to buy. It’s a fun and powerful industry, it’s creative and exciting, it can be inspirational, but it shouldn’t be the finishing line.

I’ve talked to many younger students seeking advice about where to go to college, what to study, etc. The common issue that comes up is, “I want to do this, but my parents want me to do that.” Honestly, I hate dealing with this problem because it is such a common question that it should be on a FAQ page, but it’s so personal. There’s no default answer for this situation, but if you want to live life with purpose you must look at the bottom line. It’s your life and think about what you value most. Is it your parent’s approval? Is it money, popularity, fun, happiness? What memory would you want years down from now?

I go to a very competitive college where people judge you based on what you did this summer and love when you fail and hate when you succeed. Ok, that’s a little harsh and exaggerated, but I’m trying to paint a picture here. People are constantly talking about internships, jobs, professors, blah blah blah. Everyone’s wound up tighter than a hipster’s jorts. And I’m not denying the feeling, there is merit for all that. The pressure to stand out among a pool of equally talented people trying to make it in a cutthroat industry manifests itself in the form of over caffeinated man-children with extremely bloated CEO-egos. I mean, I have conversations with first semester freshmen freaking out about trying to get an internship at a top agency. Hate to break it to you honey, you’re not getting it.

Everyone just needs to overdose on some chill pills.

It could be the fact that I’m a twenty something year old who thinks the world is mine to grab. Maybe I don’t see it or call me naïve, but I’ve never genuinely freaked out or cried about a bad grade or a rejected job. I definitely do feel the pressure and stress of the future, but the thought that everything always works out in the end, whether or not in my favor is what keeps me going. Life will happen, the world will keep spinning (not around you, I know, shocker). So please, stop worrying, take a deep breath from your nose and out your mouth, and actually smell that fifth cup of coffee. It’s good to have direction in your life, but don’t let it consume you. If you have a life plan that includes the eye-color (smokey grey with a tint of forest green) of the spouse you’re going to marry written down somewhere, that’s as good as single-ply toilet paper. Your plans will change. I’m not trying to discredit being self-driven, because we all need motivation, but once the thought of a possible indefinite future starts consuming your actual life, that’s when you’ve crossed the line. If you’re too busy worrying about what’s next how do you expect to enjoy the present? It’s like going into your wedding thinking about your next spouse. You’re setting yourself up for failure in an unforeseeable future. Because failure will happen. When you waste all that time thinking about this ideal future and doing everything you can for this over-glorified and idolized prospect, the failure that will happen will crush you. I’m not necessarily saying it’s a big failure, it can be as small as being in a two-hour slump. But what I’m trying to get at is during that two-hour slump you’ll start questioning why you do what you do. This doubt will reveal regrets from wasted time and yield a desire to change your life and do things out of the ordinary. And as quickly as the thought entered, rapidly it will leave and life will go back to normal.

But I’m saying don’t forget about that two-hour slump epiphany. That moment reveals what your heart truly desires, and if you keep doing life like you’ve been doing in-between those two-hour slumps then you really will be watching life pass by in a blink of an eye. Let the past mold you, live in the present, and know that the future exists, but don’t let it consume and swallow you whole. Don’t waste your precious brain cells on being anxious. Don’t let the first twenty or so years be a wasted half of your life, in fact, don’t even let it be half your life.

If I’m being real here, I’m still trying to take my own advice. Much like every other word of wisdom, easier said than done. But who am I to tell you about any of this, I’m only in my second decade of life.

We live in such a temporary world. Everything we know will fade away eventually. No, this is not an excuse to drink until you vomit your organs out nor is it an excuse to “live it up,” but it is a reason to do something valuable and meaningful with your life (but don’t stress about what that “valuable and meaningful” thing is). Don’t let your life be a drifting plastic bag in the wind (I’ll admit, you win Katy Perry, sometimes I do feel like a plastic bag).

So what do I want to do with my life in the future? Truth is, I don’t know, I have a glimpse at what it might be like, but I’m not going to worry about it. Tomorrow has enough of its own worries.


  1. November 17, 2013 by Colin Philbert Chau

    As I read this I couldn’t help but think that maybe this isn’t some wisdom you’re trying to pass on but rather you’re doing it more for your own sake rather than out if an arrogantsense to duty to others. If it wasn’t a problem you were dealing with it wouldn’t come out like this.

    I think that living for the sake of no one else and expecting others to live accordingly leaves no room for disappointments and no need to really have to care about anything other than what you want. So then this apparent issue becomes in reality, a non-issue.

    • November 17, 2013 by Connie Zhou

      I’m not sure you read this at all if this is the conclusion you have come to. I didn’t say that you’re not living for anyone else, in fact I said that what you do is equivalent to what you value. I also did mention that not constantly living in the future allows you to do something relevant and meaning with your life, and relevance and meaning only exists if it leaves an impression on others. I’m just trying to say stop worrying too much about what you can’t control and focus on what you do know, what’s happening right in front of you.

      • November 17, 2013 by Colin Philbert Chau

        Agreed completely Connie! I wanted to acknowledge that this is what I felt from you rather than to correct.

  2. November 17, 2013 by Sylvia Jiang

    I just want to say you have a well developed writing style that is so enjoyable to read, Connie! Subtle humor, wisdom and really valid points! Miss you!

  3. November 18, 2013 by kimberly

    I must admit that I was a late bloomer, but I have to disagree with you on your statement that “80% of life’s most defining moments take place by about age 35” cannot be more true.” It is false. It takes a person (at least it took me) a long time to get beyond themselves.

    My life in my 20s was about me, traveling, skiing, nice cars, looking good, having fun and making money. I did not want to be married as my life of fun would end! So I put it off.

    After I was 35 I hiked the Inca Trail, went on a safari, slept on the Great Wall, ran a marathon and did a tri. I had a lot of first after 35 years on earth and I cheerish everyone, even the bad ones. The first that mean the most are the first time you see your daughter, the first time you hold your daughter, the first time your daughter smiles, says your name, is sick. When your children are hurt and and out of everyone on the planet they want you to make them feel better.

    I stayed up with my daughter night after night as she grieved for her foster family, and she does not remember crying at all. Not even the next morning, but I do. I was the one that could comfort her.

    I have cheered at all my daughter’s games and held them after surgeries. I have taken them back to China to their hometowns and shared with them their heritage. I have studied Chinese and helped my girls study Chinese. I have raced a dragonboat and now am teaching my daughters. I have taught my daughters the many things my mother has taught me.

    I watch my father grow frail, and I have grieved his death. I am still grieving. I have learned from others how my father inspired them and helped them grow as a person from the countless hours of community service that he did, his acts of kindness, and his friendship. When I die I hope that my daughters admire me as I do my parents, and I know it will not be because of what I did in my first 30 years.

    I am 51 years old now and I must say that the most life defining moments have happened to me in the past 10 years not the first 30 years. Now that I am older I realize that I get so much more in life from giving to others. Life is so much more meaningful the older you get! I promise!!!!

    • November 18, 2013 by Connie Zhou

      thanks for the insight! I’m glad that you’re experiencing life constantly throughout, I think that’s whats most important. Making sure every stage of life has meaning. I won’t discredit the “80%” theory because psychologically it holds value for most people in the world, but it’s not to say that you won’t experience new firsts later on in life.

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