The lost and the privileged

I used to think that by the time I was 25, I would have everything figured out. I even saw the way I would wear my hair, and felt the decisiveness with which I would command my life. Now, at 26, I am lost. My hair doesn’t even resemble the style in my envisioned adulthood.

I’m lost and I’m trying to “find myself” through travel and volunteering. Maybe after this trip I will know what I want to do with my life. Maybe by helping others in need, I will help myself.

But what a silly notion. How absurd and self-possessed I am. In talking about the need to find myself through volunteer work, I feel layers of angst peel away. At the essence is the reality that I am privileged. Because what is more privileged than affording to be lost?

All the Cambodians I meet do not seem lost. They are cheerful, good-natured people. They run family-owned businesses surrounded by the ones they love. Do they feel the same gut-wrenching social anxiety I feel every day? Do they lose sleep over which career they will choose?

Did anyone ever tell them they could be whatever they wanted when they grow up, and if not they could fake it until they make it? Do they know that the sky is the limit or that they should dress for the job they want, not the one they have?

They have dreams. I met a Cambodian boy with Roman dreams in a convenience store. He dreamt of leaving Cambodia, living in Rome, and making a new life for himself.

But his employer, who feeds and shelters him, demands that he work all day, seven days a week. The little money he makes, he sends to his family in the north of Cambodia. Far from Rome, he does not even have the opportunity to see the island he now calls home.

Sometimes my dreams are nightmares. I feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities and opportunities in front of me. I feel anxious that I have to choose what to do with my life. I feel frustrated that I know what I want and that I have to work so hard to get it. I feel scared that opportunities will pass me by if I let them.

But I also feel unfairly privileged that I am able to have these anxieties. I feel ashamed to have these fears in the face of someone who does not know the freedom that comes with it.

The boy with Roman dreams, who does not share my worries, breaks into a rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” while I pay for my water bottle. I tell him he has a beautiful voice and that I have to catch my boat. I’m off to my next adventure with the weight of guilt on my shoulders, and the boy who does not even have the opportunity to see the island he lives on continues singing the song from the glittering gem of the west. 

I leave him at the convenience store, my departure underscoring the differences between us. I hope he makes it to Rome. I hope he has the opportunity to be lost. And I hope that everyone who already has that opportunity seizes it.


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