New songs, same loop

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Annual Soundtracks

This series might be the longest-running commitment in my life right now. Ha. That’s probably because it doesn’t feel like a chore or an obligation, just something that comes into being over time.

It’s funny: there are only three playlists so far, but they span three years, which is too long and too short a timeframe at once. A lot can happen in three years — a lot did happen — but so much also stays the same.

Just reliving all these tracks again, 2019 feels almost as tumultuous as the years that came before. In some ways, the facts agree: leaving a job designed for somebody much older than I was; moving to a different country by myself; navigating a new programme and new expectations and new people in an entirely foreign environment. I took on a lot, and the enormity of these changes is jarring in retrospect. As much as I fretted about everything at the time, in the end, it was a matter of getting through each day, and that didn’t feel quite so huge in practice.

At the same time, though, not a lot has changed.

I got by mostly thanks to the openness, generosity, and kindness of different people. From G and his family to my classmates to professors and school staff, plus my friends (who put up with so many late-night calls and lengthy messages) and even, surprisingly, my parents — there was an outpouring of help, far more than I deserved, and that’s the sole reason I’m around to type this.

Which is to say, there was no point when it felt like I’d undergone some kind of massive personal upgrade. I don’t feel that much different as a person, not significantly more skilled or competent than I was before. Objectively speaking, I know more about various topics like media relations, behavioural science, data science. But that all feels external, or at least removed from my fundamental qualities as a person, if that makes any sense.

I feel, at the most basic level, the same as I have ever been.

Is that sad? All the changes of 2019 came about because I thought things would be better if I just tried to do something else. As though my life would improve if I could just capture whatever it was I was chasing after — even if I was never clear on what it was beyond just more space, I guess, and change.

In retrospect, this is a persistent pattern: I keep asking for change, terrified and thrilled by it at the same time; and some part of me expects that change to wipe the board clean and that act of resetting to automatically translate to something better.

It doesn’t, of course. If there’s any lesson that I hope will stick after this whirlwind Singapore experience, it’s that: the recognition that no big endeavor or event will ever be enough to give me all the answers, and certainly not in one go.

There’s a track in this playlist that I don’t even remember adding. But it sums up 2019 pretty well:

And I used to think that when I was grown up
I’d have my life figured out
I’d know exactly who I was
I’d be set in my ways, not needing to change
But now that I’m here, I feel more like a child
Still learning my lessons and needing direction
Still needing direction