Maybe it was when I was seven, when I realized that age meant slowly inching towards a gloomier and emptier perception of the world. Maybe it was when I was 12, when I first realized that I had not accomplished enough to be the person I wanted to be. Or maybe it was 17, when I started to realize that the doors of opportunities to change my future were closing one by one. I don’t want to ruminate.
I remember the birthday party I had in second grade. It was the only birthday party I ever had. I invited about 10 friends from a school I had just transferred into to hang out in my basement, where we played Super Smash Bros until we couldn’t open our eyes anymore. It was a time when 3 AM had been considered the latest we had ever stayed up. But I stayed up because it was one of the few times that I could ever play video games in my childhood. I don’t recall having any aspirations back then. I never thought about who I was or who I wanted to be. I had day-to-day goals like anybody else, but I don’t remember ever wanting anything for myself beyond Pokémon Emerald on my Gameboy.
Years passed. I had been promoted to the “big boy school,” where a clump of insecure, pubescent teenagers navigates their existence relative to acceptance and achievement. It was also the time I discovered my parent’s password to the home computer. My responsibilities didn’t increase, but my awareness of myself did. I still practiced two to four hours of violin per day, but I no longer practiced for the sake of practicing. There were objectives underlying motivations; I wanted to win competitions and join prestigious orchestras. I became aware of the concept of college. Sometimes, I would look back at my elementary school report cards in my desk drawer. Each time, in the category of “Demonstrated Attentiveness,” I received an requiting “N,” meaning “not at this time.”
I made some friends. I lost some friends. Normal teenage stuff. At the time, it seemed I had been inadequate in navigating my new reality. The concept of contentment seemed to evaporate. Nothing seemed to be enough anymore. My grades weren’t enough. My friends weren’t enough. My personality wasn’t enough. Behind every failure was an understanding that I wasn’t enough. Little by little, a possessive dichotomy formed in my mind: the contrast between the person I had wanted to be and the person that I was. While aspiration serve to be a driving force for self-improvement, it also serves as a reminder of my limitations. Unlike completed aspirations that are forgotten in the face of new goals, unfulfilled aspirations remain in the corners of the mind as a parasitic reminder to suffer.
The weight of failure slowly piles up. By high school, I had accumulated a hefty sum of rejection. Although there are healthy amounts of failure that everyone should experience, I constantly felt that I had experienced more failure than I could handle. Individually, each failure does not add much burden to the idea of waking up in the morning. But, unlike the hulking scar tissue that forms after a particularly wide cut, the wound of failure does not leave tissue stronger than it had been before. It serves as a point of vulnerability. It dwindles in its magnitude as time passes, but it does not leave the mind the same way a tick leaves its host after it fills in blood. It stays. I only wish that I could say the same about the superficial conception of happiness I had when I was young.
First, I became aware of my existence relative to myself. Then, I became aware of my existence relative to the rest of the world, especially in relation to the concept of structural limitations. While I have probably experienced less structural hurdles than most people, I cannot help but become more disillusioned with the principle that I could plausibly achieve what I want. As the result of the accumulation of all of my life experiences, it seems that I had definitively closed the door to a life that I wanted. There are plenty of interests that I cannot pursue anymore because of some mistakes in my past. I didn’t want to study computer science because I wanted to avoid Asian stereotypes, but it seems now that it is too late to do so. I wonder how many other lives I have thrown away because of past decisions.
I still have opportunities in my life to strive towards goals that I am able to achieve. I am thankful for that. Most of my limitations aren’t structural in nature, and it gives me hope that I do have some power in controlling the future that I want to have. If I really wanted to learn computer science, I have countless resources on the internet to teach me enough where I could learn the rest through personal means. I could say the same in regard to most other aspects of my life. I constantly have room for improvement, but can’t help but also wonder if the same hope that I have for myself is also the main source of suffering in my existence. Sometimes, hope only serves as an amplifier of negative emotions. The chasm of negative emotions that opens after failure is never quite as intense without hope to fan the flames.
And when I reflect on my existence, like I do on my birthday, I cannot help but be dissatisfied with all I have accomplished my entire life. I cannot but to disagree at the celebratory sentiments surrounding the reminder that I have not achieved as much as I wanted to achieve. Like mathematical postulates and metaphysical assumptions and other certainties in the universe, there will always exist aspects of my life that aren’t optimized. It exasperates me in knowing that the true cause of disappointment in my life is no one but myself, structural limitations aside. While reflection is generally considered to be a positive trait conducive towards self-awareness and growth, to me, reflection only serves as a reminder of the what ifs in my life. And what better time is there to reflect than on the specific alignment of the earth on the day I was born?
And so, I wish I could forget my birthday ever existed.