In my mind, I’m always rewriting history.
Imagining alternative pasts in which I did whatever I thought was best for me and made choices decisively, regardless of how other people admonished me or influenced my decisions.
Daydreaming of what could have been if I had done things differently. Boldly and with full authority over myself.
Wishing that my life story could be anything but the one that is set in stone, the one that still keeps me tied with a noose around my neck, too paralyzed to move forward. Too paralyzed to move on.
These are all symptoms of ruminating over the past too much.
I can’t control how I think about the past. Especially one particular scene that I wish I could erase and rewrite.
I remember the day when I wanted to open the door and throw myself out of a car. It would have been so easy just to end it all and be finally done with a life I didn’t ask to for.
I was on my way to an interview for a highly prestigious internship that was coveted by thousands of engineering students around the country. With my GPA barely hovering above a 3.0, no office experience, and no extracurricular activities that were relevant to the position at all, I was bemused that they even selected me for an interview. Maybe it was because I spoke elementary Mandarin and that was a remotely useful skill. I don’t know.
It was 4:30 a.m. I was dressed in my mom’s double-breasted navy blazer from the ’80s, complete with shoulder pads, scratchy wool-polyester, and tacky fake gold buttons (I was a freaking college junior who still couldn’t drive to the store to buy her own clothes). I was wearing my aunt’s black pants that were too tight around the waist and too long at the bottom, which meant that I needed to roll them up, but it felt like I was wearing shoddily-woven capris instead of actual pants. Instead of classy professional-looking stilettos that real grown-up and confident women wore to interviews, I had to put on my chunky snow boots because it was freezing outside — I didn’t even own stilettos, and I’d rather be wearing those instead of hand-me-down black flats.
I sighed and went into the car, with the all-too-familiar feeling of dread already intensifying and warning me of some foreboding event.
I already predicted the end result and fully analyzed the futility of what I was about to do, yet I was still keeping up with the appearance of going through the motions of the dutiful, obedient, and successful daughter, just to avoid confrontation and trouble.
But even then, I was in trouble. I could never meet the long list expectations. From my family and from society.
I wasn’t academically gifted enough, sharp enough, street-smart enough, social enough, beautiful enough, strong enough, tough enough, resilient enough, charismatic enough…
I would fail to get the internship. I would fail to speak coherently. I would fail because I didn’t even want to be an engineer and didn’t know anything about engineering aside from what professors made us memorize for tests. I would lose and be crushed by my competitors, who actually had both passion and real-world skills that would help them ace the interview.
I would die. Broke, alone, unsuccessful, and utterly miserable.
My dad kept yelling at me because I was unable to help with directions while we were trying to navigate through an unfamiliar place without a GPS. It was pretty damn impossible. I held a folded piece of paper with the vague set of unhelpful directions that were emailed to me about how to get to the interview site at the company’s headquarters. But the problem was that the signs on the roads didn’t really match the directions. I didn’t have the luxury of pulling out Google maps or relying on it to get us back on the right track because all I had was a flip-phone without texting capabilities. And I had no sense of direction whatsoever.
So all I could do was look out the window and think about was how fast the cars in the next lane were going and how much impact it would take for chunks of metal and ignited engines to crush my skull and blow my brains out. My raging mind spun around in circles trying to do three things at once: calculating the force of the hypothetical impact with Newton’s second law of motion, ruminating over the events that led me to this awful moment, and forcing myself to stay focused on this godforsaken highway that was already too jammed for five in the morning, while my heart was frantically beating itself to death, trying to squeeze in those last beats before it was potentially put to rest forever.
Or in this case, before it was thrown into an abysmally abrupt ending with no resolution.
After I replay this event (for the thousandth time), I finally decide that it would be good for me to stop all of this madness and rewrite my past, just to let out what I think I should have done so I could become the most successful version of myself. Just so that particular event couldn’t have happened.
What harm could it do?
This story is called “My Ideal Years From 18 To 21.” It’s about a happy girl that stood up for herself, made choices that were right for her, graduated early, and became healthy, wealthy, endlessly productive, and enlightened by the time she was 21, all because she didn’t let anyone or anything stand in her way.
The story begins when 18-year-old Christine chose to major in English and minor in math, French, and graphic design. She started school in the summer instead of the fall, just so she could get ahead of most other freshmen. She got straight A’s, excelled at her classes, and received four glowing recommendation letters for every internship she applied for.
Christine decided to take two part-time jobs to make extra money to buy minimalist clothes, journals, pens, books, music, and coffee. She worked at Starbucks and the school’s newspaper. She studied, worked, and also ensured that she had enough time to churn out three blog posts a day, write a great Asian-American literary science fiction novel with postmodern streams-of-consciousness and lyrical prose, and produce songs in her closet recording studio, complete with minimalist recording equipment that she bought with the money she saved from her two jobs. She technically could fit her recording studio into her backpack if she wanted to.
People thought she was industrious, talented, and a force to be reckoned with. They couldn’t really criticize her or think that she was falling behind because she was always at the top of her game. Always productive. Always bursting with creative energy. Always busy.
Except, she never considered herself as a busy person because she actually loved all the work she was doing, juggling 18-credit hours per semester, two part-time jobs, and three personal projects that would give her three times the edge over her peers.
She secured a paid copywriting internship by the end of her freshman year in New York City.
Her book got published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux by the end of her sophomore year.
Over the summer, she started a YouTube channel of herself singing covers of both popular and obscure songs. This helped her gain a solid following that would allow her to fund the album she had been working on for a year. Major record companies contacted her, but she turned them down because she wanted to be an independent recording artist and have full control over her music. She ended up selling 10,000 copies of her album, with only half of her subscribers buying a copy. Still, it made her happy because it was enough for her to cover three years of living expenses. She technically could spend three years without a job, but she chose to work anyway, because she liked working.
Christine ended up graduating one year early and wowing her professors with her honors senior thesis, which was an in-depth psychological study of modern-day polymaths who had creative entrepreneurial endeavors. She included plenty of allusions to literature, politics, philosophy, and scientific history as well. Along with her original poetry that was seamlessly woven into her thesis and connected to her research. There really was nothing written like this thesis.
She never felt depressed. She never had a single thought about dying. She was always vibrant and completely in control of her external circumstances at all times. She never cried into her pillow at night wondering why her parents were so mad at her for not meeting their expectations or why guys rejected her for not being the ideal woman. In essence, she lived like she was above the opinions and judgments of other people.
She was truly the author of her own fate and the queen of her soul.
Twenty-one-year-old Christine ended up getting a full-time job as a Digital Strategist in the marketing department of some tech startup in New York City by the time she graduated. Her side hustles included writing viral articles, posting music videos on YouTube, blogging, designing blog themes, and writing poetry.
She could afford to live in her dream minimalist studio apartment and never missed a payment. She really had her financial shit together.
She was the quintessential Ladyboss who lived the New York City writer’s dream straight out of school. She had the life that many would trade their souls for.
And she never once thought about throwing herself out of a car.
There’s something strangely therapeutic about imagining what I could’ve done differently if I had the chance to relive my own history exactly as the way I wrote it, even though I know it’s unhealthy to be obsessed with overthinking the past and daydreaming about the ideal version of my personal history, consisting of the “should haves” and “would haves.” Only maladaptive daydreaming in its most guilt-tripping form.
I don’t know why I love this story. I just do. But I do know one reason why I hate it.
The thing that bothers me the most is that ideal Christine had no problems. She was perfect, not because she kowtowed to her family or molded herself into the perfect society girl, but because she was perfect by her own set standards, which transcended the standards of others – theirs enslaved the soul while hers brought freedom. She did exactly what her most highly-evolved self desired and excelled at everything she pursued. She exemplified intentional living. And more.
But I was only writing about her highlight reel. I only saw the end results of what she pursued. And I beat myself up for not achieving the same things.
Even though my beginning didn’t start out like hers, what’s stopping me right now from writing that novel? From writing that song album? From creating the blog of my dreams? From moving to New York City? From establishing a routine that would help me evolve beyond my own constraints?
Maybe the worst day of my life was there to teach me that not everything will come easily. That despite my upbringing, my failures, my fears, and my less-than-ideal circumstances, I can still pursue what I want the most. Just not everything in such a short amount of time.
I have to let go of my fear of falling short of the unrealistic expectations I set for myself. I have to say goodbye to a few dreams that no longer serve me so I can find out what truly is worth suffering for. I don’t need to live a perfect life as the character of my alternative history. Because that’s all she ever was. A character.
History has already been rewritten.
Time to write a new chapter…
If you are experiencing thoughts of depression or suicide, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.