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I am merely a means, not an end

untangling my ongoing existential crisis

· Iris

I remember when I was still in school, visiting Taiwan on holiday, I came across a talk show on TV. It was the beginning of social media, when marketing and branding were hot topics. I can't remember the topic of that particular segment I watched, but I still remember one of the panelists giving some advice on personal branding - 'you should treat yourself as a brand. Find your USP (unique selling point) and market it well'. For some reason, those words have stayed with me for better or for worse.

For a couple of years now, I've been troubled by my existential crisis like many millennials. Growing up in an era where everything needs to grow, to be more profitable, to be more successful, to be better, to be more more more. I kept on asking myself, 'how can I be successful?' 'how can I be more?' 'what are my values'...to the most puzzling 'who am I?'. 

Ever since graduating from university, I have been constantly learning how to sell myself in the job market, how to be noticed in a competitive professional environment... . The formula always seemed to be 'understand your market needs and try to appeal to that' (e.g. companies look for these skills and they like things told in a certain way, so try to sell yourself that way). Of course, I never explicitly thought that, but looking back, I realize that I learned to do just that.

On the surface it all seemed to work out okay. I lived a perfectly normal life. But within, I was struggling. Almost every day I was bugging Joey with the same depressive question 'what should I do next?', even until now. To be honest, I should have had seen it coming. The very first sign came as early as when I was applying for a graduate job. For one of the applications, I had to fill out a 'personality test'. It's a test designed to see if you have the right characters, the right 'personality' for the role. Me being the idealistic young graduate that I was, I answered the test truthfully, so truthful that I didn't get past the personality test! When I told my peers that I failed the test, they laughed and found it hilarious that I answered it so honestly.

In need of a job, I decided to listen to their advice and packed my truths into a tiny pill and swallowed it. I picked up the right 'personalities' and got in line for the career ladder. Along the way, things just got even more confusing. Without my personal truths, I was directionless, so I followed the herd. But again, I didn't realize that's what I was doing.

Yesterday, I finally began to solve this puzzle. 

I went to see a contemporary dance performance in Taichung:

I can't say I understand much about contemporary dance, but in the first 5 minutes I was moved to tears by the beauty of the dance.

After the show, I walked past a park on the way home. As I stared empty-mindedly at the field of grass, noticing the different greenness - the lighter apple green glistening under the sun and the darker brownish green in the shadow of trees; a thought came to me: 'This beauty I'm sensing right now from the field of grass, I ought to convey it somehow. Like the dance I just watched, the dancers were trying to convey the beauty that they had experienced. However, neither me nor the dancers would ever be able to fully present the beauty of our sources of inspiration. Instead, we would be reinterpreting and redelivering that sense of beauty we experienced'.

I turned to look back at the theatre. In front of it were countless visitors posing alone or together, taking pictures with the building (Taichung opera house is somewhat famous in Taiwan for its architectural design). I watched them posing, checking their images, retaking the photos, rechecking how they look in the photos to putting their cameras/phones away and leaving, all without actually pausing to really take in the architecture. 

And there, the juxtaposition of the re-expression of beauty by the dancers versus the cloning of oneself and a building, I suddenly realized why my way of thinking wasn't working out for me. I was living my life like I was taking a selfie with Taichung opera house - 'it's a famous building, everyone's been there and got the photo, so I must do it and I must take a better photo with me looking good in it'. When in reality, I should be using my breath to discern and re-express goodness from this world. I am not an end product to be marketed, I'm just a means, a channel for the world to spread its beauty.

This means that instead of asking myself 'what should I do with my life?', I really should be asking:

What is good in this world? 

Am I taking it all in through all my senses or am I just taking a selfie in front of it? 

How can I re-express this goodness through my life?'

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