What would I do if I weren't afraid?
I remembered the years of the 1990s when I grew up in a small village in Vietnam. In those years, one of our childhood’s trophies were Coca-cola - the soft drink. The soft drink was considered a “treat” to kids, reserved only for special occasions such as weddings, family gatherings or new year celebrations. If a kid in the neighbourhood could have a soft drink in his daily meals, “His family must be very wealthy”, the other children rumoured. Instantly, he’d find himself with a lot of new friends who wished to visit his home and stay until the meal time for the soft drinks.
A can of Coca-cola remains exactly as it was 15 years ago; however, I have grown up. What I wanted so much 15 years ago is no longer a luxury to me due to its abundance. In recent years, I even despise soft drinks and no longer consume it. Economically, in a typical vending machine these days, a can of Coca-cola could be cheaper than a bottle of water. The Coca-cola phenomenon reminds me that even when the quality of the matter could remain precisely as it is, my perspective of it could change drastically depending on my view of its abundance and my standard of living.
When I was a kid, having a can of soft drink could give me lasting happiness for a day or two. My family was poor and struggling; nonetheless, I was fulfilled with the satisfaction from the smallest things in life. As my standard of living improves, to obtain the equivalent lasting happiness is much more challenging. Over time, I recognised my decreasing satisfactions on material possessions or achieving certain milestones. To my conscious awareness of this trend of drifting satisfactions, “I would be so much happier if I have x” no longer applies.
“I would be so much happier if I get into LSE.” I did. I thought I'd be much happier than before but I quickly moved on to the next goal. Life goes on.
“I would be so much happier if I get into my job”. I did. I thought I'd be much happier than before but I quickly moved on to the next goal. Life goes on.
“I would be so much happier if I won the LSE Generate Competition”. I did. I thought I'd be much happier than before but I quickly moved on to the next goal. Life goes on.
This pattern repeats. As a kid, I thought I would be much happier if I had the ability to buy Coca-Cola cans whenever I want and consume it whenever I want. Now I do, yet nothing changes and life goes on. It turned out that a can of Coca-Cola is not as a big deal as I imagined.
I therefore now question all the desires I have. Does it matter to my well-being or is it an excuse for my greed? What have driven me to be longing for x?
Similarly, I question the conditions that I place on myself to delay certain actions. “I would do x if I have y”.
- “I would write a book if I have enough time after work” – would I really?
- “I would travel the world if I have enough money” – would I really?
- “I would speak to my parents more often if I have more things to share” – would I really?
- Do I need y - whatever y maybe - or is it an excuse because I am afraid?
Instead of saying “I would do x if I have y” to myself, I now ask myself “What would I do if I were not afraid?”. What would I do if I have everything I wanted? What would I do if the best things that can happen to me happen to me? With that question, I have shifted my mentality from focusing on the constraints to focusing on my potential.
The importance I placed on a can of Coca-Cola changed. I understood it would be the same for most of my desires in life. No material possession or particular achievement would fulfil me unless I already have that lasting happiness within me.
- I will not be happier if I have x, whatever x may be. I only have the presence – I only have now.
- I would not do x if I have y. Even with y, I could always find another excuse because I am afraid. I must not be afraid because I am not here to live a life of fears or a life full of conditions and constraints that only exist in my imagination.
Understanding that x - whatever x may be - is a part of what I drive to achieve for a better life, but not a condition of my happiness has fundamentally made me satisfied with this very moment, and with who I am.
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Illustration: Thu Phan, Untitled, Vietnamese, Watercolor, 2015