When I first heard the word, 'Nihilist', I was in university surrounded by a group of like-minded friends much more intelligent than I. Someone made a joke and everyone laughed, and I laughed along too pretending to understand it. For fear of humiliation of my self-inflicted ignorance, I vowed to google it later that night. Here’s what I found:
To be honest, I didn't really get it. And I dismissed it, and went on my merry way. Little did I know how much I would identify with it a mere few months later.
Fast forward to me, sitting in a tiny attic bedroom in downtown Toronto, summer 2016. I was unemployed, and completely bored of life. For #immigrantreasons, I couldn't get a working visa right away after graduation which rendered me helpless, watching my friends attain work, a.k.a. a reason to get up in the morning. At first, I was reduced to spending my days like a young 1950s socialite, planning activities with all of her employed friends pretending like she had a life whatsoever, cheerfully giggling off my anxieties. When I ran out of money to do even that, I just lay around at home waiting for the minutes to tick down and for the day to just end. It didn't matter that I had any interviews, or any sort of freelance work; I suddenly found myself wilting under the complete lack of structure in the days that seemed to stretch on for years. I felt like a small gerbil, trapped inside a clear plastic ball, slowly being deprived of oxygen as I frantically spun my wheels.
I found myself running out of reasons to care, growing more and more disillusioned. Who cares if I had all this time to do anything that I wanted to, create anything I dreamed of, go to the beach in the middle of a weekday? Applying to jobs was pointless because sure as hell no one was going to read it. After a while, I found myself unwilling to go out for fear I would spend, period, and this withdrawal was when the nihilism began.
It first started as a joke I would tell my friends, but then it started feeling way too real. In school, I could always compare myself to someone else and tell myself, Hey, you’re not doing so bad right now. But after graduation, I felt empty - like I was just another face in the crowd, anxiously waiting for my life to begin. I quickly sunk into a pit of pointlessness - what was the point of trying to claw my way anywhere if my life was meaningless in the grand scheme of things? How could I possibly hope to make a difference as just another young, unemployed 20-something? A GRAPHIC DESIGNER? Why couldn’t I be something more useful, like a doctor, an architect, or an engineer? If I couldn’t even be the best designer/artist, then who was I? Why am I feeling so crappy about this, there are far more important things like the refugee crisis, social injustice, acts of terrorism to worry about. And the cycle continued.
I finally did end up getting a job, so I could stop worrying about financial woes, but that’s not the point of my story. That long, dark period of unemployment taught me some really important lessons. Firstly, it taught me how to spend a whole day in Toronto for under $15 (it takes a lot of self control), and it also taught me how far I could walk across the city without wanting to collapse.
Let’s be real though, it taught me how to:
In the past, I’d almost always made things seeking external validation - there wasn’t a single thing I could make without imagining an elaborate social media campaign out of it - but now, I try to tone that down, and create things just for the pure joy of throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks (not literally unless indicated as an art performance). That summer, I gritted my teeth and researched/practised calligraphy and hand lettering for days on end while streaming Parks & Rec (I still look back fondly on my Beyonce lyrics series), sketched random people in the subway/cafes/the park whenever I could, and most importantly, actually took steps to work on the ideas I could only before imagine. I get so excited even now when I see how shittily I made things before, compared to how I make things now, and become so proud of how high my standards for myself have risen (yeah, that whole thing about mastery taking 10,000 hours? That’s a 100% true).
In the end, I also learned that no matter how pointless things might feel, no matter how many people might be better than me at the thing that I do - no one else could do it like I do, and at the end of the day, everything I made was just for me, to express myself to the world even if no one gave a flying crap. Sure, there were days that were god awful -- oh so many days -- but through it all, I learned how to live with myself, my creativity, and my faults so that that summer, while tons of friends found themselves in foreign lands or glamorous jobs, I found myself in that tiny Toronto apartment.
Like Shia LaBeouf says: “Don’t let your dreams be dreams.”