If I had a time machine, I’ll be ashamed to say that the first thing I’m going to do isn’t anything altruistic. I will not go back in time to kill baby Hitler, or save Kennedy; I will not try and prevent World War I, September 11, London 9/12, or various other tragedies that have besieged humanity’s history. At least, not right away. The first thing I will do is visit 12 year old me, and have a chat with him. I even know exactly when I’ll pay a visit – the day I finish my first major exams of my life. It’s called UPSR in my country, which stands for Malay words that roughly translate to ‘a big exam that has no impact on your future but you’re going to study for it anyway.’ I remember finishing the exams thinking I had just conquered the world and nothing could really stop me. In my head was the absurd but innocent notion that the world was like an exam paper, where you worked hard and got answers right and at the end of the day someone would put a smiley face on your paper and say Job Well Done.
“Not so fast, kid.” I’ll tell myself. I’ll pull him by the collar too so that he’ll know who’s in charge. You think you got the world all figured out? Let me tell you three lessons that I’ve learned the hard way.”
Younger me will probably be scared, but seeing as I’m much bigger than my former self I’ll press on.
“The first lesson in life is there ain’t anything that’s supposed to be fair or whatnot. Just cause you work hard doesn’t mean you get what you want. Sometimes you’ll want something so bad you’ll lose sleep, appetite, and your sanity over it. But at the end of the day you might not even come close. It hurts when you fail that badly, but you’ll learn to get used to that happening. Life doesn’t care about what’s fair or not.”
“But equally, sometimes you don’t work so hard for something, and you do well. And then you’ll laugh and think, hey this is easy! Why have I ever stressed out about anything? Kid, that’s luck, and when that happens celebrate and live in the moment, but don’t expect luck to keep falling onto your lap.”
“Second lesson. Nobody knows what they’re doing. Not your Geography teacher who’s teaching you about peninsulas and caves. Not your parents who lecture you about what’s best and what’s worst. Not your rock band idols that you jam out into behind close doors where no one can laugh at you. Not the adults with the suits and ties and billions of dollars that run the world. Not even the President of the United States (in fact, especially him). Nobody knows for sure what’s going on because we can’t possibly foresee everything that’s going to happen. We’re just relying on guesswork, gut instinct, and reassurance that even if we screw up, no one really can blame us because no one else can do better. In other words, growing up is about pretending you know what you’re doing at times when you don’t. Studying and memorizing and watching Youtube videos can really only prepare you so much for the real world. There isn’t no textbook to study, no notes to read. You’re gonna go out there, and try your best.”
“And third lesson, which kind of follows on from that. Nobody knows what they’re doing and what’s going on. So don’t listen to anybody. They’ll be a long line of people telling you what to do at every step of the way, micromanaging the pieces of your life. Your best bet to be happy is to ignore what they’re saying and do what you think it’s right. Of course, you don’t know what’s right. Like I said, nobody does. But if you follow yourself rather than others you’ll never have to be weighed down by the words of somebody else. Your life is your own path to walk, to explore. Ain’t nobody has the right to be a Satnav and tell you where to go.”
“Got it, kid?”
“So I should listen to you, even though you told me not to listen to anyone?”
Goddamn, I hate my 12 year old self.
“Look kid, just run along, and remember what I told you. Oh and some other things. That guy you admire on the Apprentice, stop watching his shows. I tell this to you from a darker timeline. Germany beats Brazil 7-1 in the 2014 World Cup, ask Mum and Dad to find a bookie. And whatever you do, don’t give that girl that card you made for her in your pocket. For the love of God, don’t. Now scram, kid.”