Introduction: A Broken Promise

Like many others, as a kid I imagined a good life as one where you got good grades in school, went to a good college, graduated with a good degree, got a well-paying job such that finances were no longer a worry, got married, bought a house, and had kids. It was a no-frills path. It was a commendable path. It was a path that the entire existences of humanity had worked towards building. Yet, I’ve come to believe it’s false.

Doubts began to bubble after graduating college, in the years I began working. Thus far, I checked most of the boxes: got good grades, went to a good college, graduated with a good degree, and got a well-enough paying job that I didn’t worry about paying the bills. Living with my parents and not paying rent, I had the opposite problem: I had no clue what to do with the money I wasn’t spending. Yet, following this path hadn’t led me to a fulfilling life. More-so, looking towards the future, imagining myself with a wife, kids, a home, and a job similar to one I had at the time didn’t seem to be enough. At that point life was safe, routine, easy, and without immediate worries. It was a life my parents’ wished to have had. Still, I wanted more. But nothing on the life checklist promised to provide what I sought.

Looking back, I attribute my dissatisfaction to following the path provided and believing that it would lead me to a life worth living. I spent my youth focused on two things: school and tennis. The rest of the time was filler, filled with TV and movies and only meant to keep me busy until I was back in school or playing tennis. I felt like there was nothing else I needed to do. Nothing on the life checklist pushed me to do anything else. Nothing said: pursue your own interests, build lasting friendships, try new things. Nothing told me to direct my own life.

When I think about what it means to Grow Up, I think of a set of realizations that, once discovered, shifts your perspective so much that life changes forever. One of these realizations is that any path is riddled with uncertainty. The only certainty is uncertainty. Nothing is guaranteed. Perhaps it’s highly likely, but not guaranteed. Any promise of guarantee is an illusion.

The Feeling

Once I started working, it felt like realized that this path I followed led me to a life that didn’t feel like my own. All my interests felt thrust upon me. I felt like I’d been sleeping for the past 23 years and I’d finally awakened. It felt like life had just begun and I was starting from scratch. It was terrifying, difficult to accept, and I felt helpless.

I had officially entered what some would call the quarter-life crisis. To self-define what the quarter-life crisis is I’d say it is the time in one’s life — somewhere in the mid- to late-twenties — when one sees that the life we aspired to have growing-up — the one with a well-paying job, tons of leisure time, vacations, and few responsibilities — isn’t as worthwhile as we were made to believe.

To describe what my quarter-life crisis felt like, it felt like I had just awaken from a dream only to find myself stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no idea where to swim towards. I felt like I could swim towards any destination, but no destination was promised. And, in each direction I could only see it as a faint blur, distant and without any guarantee that I’d get there. And finally, there was no guarantee I’d like any destination I reached. In combination, these concerns felt paralyzing.

Eventually, I came to summarize these three concerns into a single general feeling: uncertainty. Growing up, you’re told that if you hit all these marks and work hard you’re guaranteed a good life. If you check each of these boxes, you’re guaranteed a life you love. In that time of my life, I slowly realized that nothing is guaranteed. I learned that my own uncertainty would never go away and I had to learn how to live with it.



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Timothy Tan

Timothy Tan


Collector of Thoughts. This is my attempt to digest, organize, and expand on the daily thoughts that run through my mind.