On uncertainty and choosing your life in a society built on career aspirations
Today’s blog post is brought to you by Kate over at allthetrinkets. She’s a creativity goddess and I’m super proud of her journey. She was one of the first bloggers I got to know donkey years ago, and she also created my icon and got me hooked to webtoons. It’s amazing that we’re still in touch, and without further ado, let’s read about Kate’s adventures in the Philippines.
I’ll be leaving my fangirling in the comments…would love it if you could also shower Kate with some love ❤
It’s 6:25AM, five minutes before my start time. I settle in on my spot by our small apartment’s dining table, turned on my laptop and signed in to my company’s virtual workspace. Whilst waiting for the screen to load, I get my breakfast ready. I open a packet of Energen, a cereal drink pretty popular here in the Philippines. (I will say, though, it isn’t superior to Milo, but I digress.) There was a kind of quiet peace that comes from putting hot water on my cup of Energen, grabbing a banana, and starting another uneventful day at work.
Across the room, our printer whirs. My brother is printing out his university application requirements. He shoves them inside his backpack and says a quick goodbye before heading out. For weeks now, my mom and sister had been musing about how our youngest is all grown up and going to college – my mom says it genuinely, and my sister with a dash of teasing as sisters do lol. The other day, when he was selecting his degree program choices, we loomed over behind him. (“Loom” being more of a metaphor since he actually towers above us.) He rarely talks about what he wants to do in college and even more so unprompted. I’d imagined it must be quite the pressure to have everyone in the family looking over while you make one of the biggest decisions you’ll make as an eighteen year old.
At that age, I too had no idea what exactly I wanted to do.
Back when I was in high school, our country’s basic education consisted of both primary and secondary school and it lasted for ten years – first to sixth grade in primary, then four years of high school. (They added two years in high school now.) My sister and I were enrolled in a science high school, the type that prepares students for college by having advanced subjects as early as freshman year, and so it’s always been a given that we were going to college. It was really only a matter of what program and which university.
(Also, I’m going to be using college and university interchangeably. They don’t really have that much difference in our country.)
I gave myself five minutes of a mental sit down with myself, to really truly think about it. And this is what I had decided: I just wanted to enroll in a course that would get me a job, that would pay me enough money to live comfortably.
And for fifteen year old me, there was really only one answer for that: corporate jobs.
I found a more definitive answer in a session with our high school guidance counselor: an accountancy degree.
Once I decided I wanted to go into accountancy, I’d imagined myself as one of those characters you see in the movies. The ones that live in a bustling urban city. They would head to their office in a skyscraper building and work at their desk job. I still remember at one point imagining specifically the opening scene of The Devil Wears Prada, the song “Suddenly I See” playing in the background.
But alas, attending college was not as easy as choosing one.
I enrolled into one of the country’s top accounting universities. And with it comes the high expectation and pressure that was put on us students. Specific to our university, grade requirements were a higher bar you are expected to reach on top of getting a mere passing grade. For easier reference (and because it’s been more than five years and I already forgot the specifics), let’s say 75% is the passing grade. For an accountancy student in my university, you will need to reach 85% in every single one of your majors classes of that semester, to continue on to the next. If so much as one single class does not reach 85%, you have two options: retake the subject, or drop out of the program.
In the second semester of my second year in college, I got an 83% in one of my majors.
I had a huge fight with a family member about it, them shouting at me, and accusing me of “not working hard enough”, of how I was unable to reach the grade requirement despite knowing I needed it to proceed. Nothing else mattered; in their eyes, I simply failed. That was 2016 and it was not a good year for me.
Faced with other struggles as well, I decided to take a break from school and go live with my grandfather and aunts and uncle in our home town. I spent those four or so months reconnecting with art and blog writing. I became friends with the chickens my grandpa raised, and met a lot of my blog friends, including Kiya. I was able to practice integrating my hobbies into my life again, after two years of only ever thinking about acads. And I’m grateful for those four months.
When I did go back to college, I decided to drop out of the accountancy program and transfer to our university’s other program that doesn’t have a grade requirement: management accounting. In doing so, I won’t be qualified to take the accounting licensure exams, as it is only allowed for people who graduate with an accountancy degree. If I want to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), I’d need to re-enroll into an accountancy program so I could take the board exams. I had that pinned on my mind as an option, but at that time, I wasn’t even sure yet if I do want to continue on accountancy.
Eventually, I’d hear stories about accountants my peers knew who were working in firms. These are the CPAs who are basically living my high school dream. I’d heard they would come home in the middle of the night during tax season, a huge luggage with overnight clothes in tow, and they would break down from exhaustion. The closer I was to graduating, the more I started hearing these kinds of stories. That’s when I started thinking – really thinking – maybe corporate life wasn’t as sparkly or glamorous as I’d seen in movies. Maybe “Suddenly I See” isn’t playing in the background of every office worker commuting. In my mind, I heard a vinyl record scratching… and then silence. I knew then that I didn’t want to go that route.
But here’s the thing about my country: Following through your career aspirations is the bare minimum. Becoming a licensed professional is the greatest academic achievement you could get. If you study law, the success lies in passing the board. If you study medicine, you need to become a doctor. If you study accounting, you have to be a CPA.
I still vividly remember when I was catching up with high school friends, telling them that I had no plans on taking the CPA licensure exam. One of them looked at me, confused, and said “But… you’re an accounting student. Why wouldn’t you?” They were one of those people who knew, even as young as six years old, that they wanted to be a doctor. Perhaps to them, they’re unable to grasp why I would choose this degree if I won’t even try to achieve its “academic endgame”. That exchange still stuck with me today; it was a vivid example of the kind of expectations my culture has on youth and their chosen education and career. Even in college, I’d overhear conversations from peers about how their parents are “investing in them” by enrolling them in a top accounting university. Like they are expected to flourish and have that investment returned.
As they say, hindsight is 20-20. It’s only now that I’m already working that I realise it’s unfair to these sixteen, eighteen year old kids. To hand over the burden of figuring out a perfectly planned, socially acceptable life and expect them to follow through without experiencing some kind of failure. Pivoting, detouring, taking breaks, changing minds. These are all equally important parts of the journey.
It’s okay to not completely figure things out, or at all. Being uncertain about life in your young adult years is completely fine.
And so I trudged on, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management accounting, tried out internal auditing for a good six months and bolted. I didn’t like the work and I swore to myself that I would never go back to that field.
I eventually came across financial services which is the field I am currently in. It isn’t accounting per se but a lot of the fundamentals were easy to grasp because I learned them in college. Stuff like figuring out other people’s finances, stocks, risk profiles, and capital gains tax.
When I see my other management accounting friends who did proceed to an accountancy program and eventually became CPAs, I sometimes wonder if I regret not pursuing the boards. And honestly… no. Nothing comes from getting stuck in the past, and I’m honestly content with where I am at the moment. On the other hand, do I think I’ll be in this industry in five, ten years? I’m not entirely sure. I also try not to get stuck thinking too much about the far future.
It is now 2:45PM, I look at my laptop’s clock while I’m writing this part of the draft. In 15 minutes, I’m going to list down my completed tasks in my time sheet and clock off my virtual workspace. Today was uneventful and quiet. I had finished my main tasks for the day a little after lunch – made various retirement projections for our clients – and spent the rest of the afternoon finishing up ad-hoc tasks like filing new clients’ risk profile questionnaires and analysing their best investment options. I’ve been working here for almost two years and by the end of this month, I was expected to get another increase in my pay. I guess I did get what I wanted in high school. It wasn’t the fast-paced urban corporate lifestyle inspired by The Devil Wears Prada that I vividly imagined. But it is peaceful and I am living comfortably. I close my laptop and think about what I’ll cook for dinner later.
2 thoughts on “POV I remember I have free will: *Dropped out of my first choice career* – In the Life of Kate”
Kateee, thank you for guest posting 🙂
This post resonated a lot with me; when I read it at crazy o’clock my jaw dropped haha. Firstly I adore your writing style, and how vulnerable you get.
I pretty much ending up going down the accounting route as I had no clue what to do, or my job desires weren’t exactly “stable” or “conventional” I guess. I’m now pretty much at the end of the qualifying part and I’m having to explain/justify why I don’t want to reach for higher. I’m happy with a lone wolf/brain stimulating role that doesn’t require me to use all my knowledge, or be in a high up position. A job in a hustling, well established corporation – yikes, no thanks (for now? will I change my mind one day?)
I just want a job that pays the bills, keeps me content, constantly learning and not bored…I’m not too fussed about climbing ranks or you know…utilising my qualification…
Great post my love ❤
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Kiyaaa, such kind words 😭
I was a bit nervous actually, writing about this and putting forth into words what have only been abstract thoughts and feelings all these years. I do not think I would have been mentally or emotionally ready to unpack this even two years ago. I’m glad I was able to now, from a place of contentment and stability, so thank you for giving me that opportunity. 💗
When I listened to that voice chat you sent a few weeks back, and reread some of it again now in your comments, my heart is full; I’m glad to know I don’t feel alone in a way, with how I went about choosing my career 🫂♥️ And I agree, it’s perfectly okay to choose the life path that brings us the most peace and happiness at the moment, regardless of how “unconventional” it may seem to the rest of the world.
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