How Painful of Falling Apart on a Path of Your Own Choosing

Muh. Syahrul Padli
6 min readAug 27, 2023

(Muh. Syahrul Padli, Reflection Series)

image source: Ellijah O’donnel

I was born into a extended family of civil servants and goverment employees. My late maternal grandfather was a police officer, my uncles are mostly police officers, my aunts are mostly teachers, and my father is a school principal.

In a family tradition like this, being a civil servant or a government employee is already a blueprint in my parents’ subconscious. Not only for my parents, this profession has a special place for most members of the extended family to the point that there is a consensus that govermet employee and civil servants are ideal professions.

After I got my degree, like many young people who have just graduated and are so obsessed with the concept of freedom, I also wanted to be different with my extended family path. I wanted to be different from my ancestors, from my predecessors. I want to be a Startup CEO or founder of my own company or work in a creative agency or be a barista, musician, YouTuber, graphic designer, layouter, digital platform writer, freelancer, editor or other jobs that are considered cool by my generation; who is far from the impression of oldies (older generation).

I did not see in the clear way and did not look inside myself. I just followed the words of wisdom from successful millennials: follow your passion, you can do it whatever your dreams as long as you never stop, think big and so on. I think if they can, I can too.

Then, without a filter, the concept of hope, a bright future dream that is crammed into people’s heads and souls through motivation seminars and biographies of figures, makes me feel like I have a choice.

I tried to follow the guidelines to realize the life choices I want to live. I feel that it would be wonderful if I walked on the path that I really wanted to go through, not the path shown by the guide book or instructor in my family.

This is waht happened: I failed on the path I chose. It’s a very annoying failure because I couldn’t blame anyone else or find an excuse. The one who was wrong was myself. The one who failed was myself and this failure was sourced from decisions and a series of causes and effects that became the consequences.

It was very painful. It feels like I can’t describe it because it’s so complicated feeling. The effect is so bad that it even gave me anxiety disorders and panic attacks that required me to do self-therapy.

Perhaps the effect would not be as bad if I had failed on the path chosen by my parents or on the path desired by the social environment in where I came from.

Failing on the path chosen by my parents could be interpreted as devotion, as an effort by me to help my parents achieve a successful parent image in the extended family and community. But failing with my own choice, on the path I chose myself consciously without pressure, is something that can have a double meaning: blindness to one’s own capacity or a reward for not listening to parental advice.

Many successful people give motivational seminars so that you can fight to achieve your own dreams, not the dreams of your parents. It sounds very pleasant. But that’s how advertising works. Among thousands of failures, there are five successes. Those five are highlighted because they are different and interesting to most people. It can be sold. Can bring profit. I know this because I am a journalist and have worked on many advertising projects for many years at several creative agencies.

The failures are seen as normal because that’s how the world works for most people. Unfortunately, you and I may not have the capacity to reach the top or those who have managed to survive.

Those at the top must have one of the following privileges: wealthy parents and many connections, they are equipped with a strong mind, good at socializing and maintaining connections, stubborn, lucky, and have the ability to see opportunities and take them, etc.

In the past, before I fought through the path I chose myself in the creative industry, I was not aware that I did not have one of those privileges.

I used to work for an agency. I became a copywriter who wrote advertising materials in the form of video scripts and articles. I also doubled as a marketing planner for clients who wanted to expand the reach of their products or services on social media or other digital platforms.

I did that job with the hope of reaching the top and getting established to run my own agency. Later, after achieving all that, I would get married and enter the structure of society. Unfortunately, I failed to survive because my creativity was drained by the fear of being displaced by another copywriter with fresher ideas. Instead of looking for new values and developing skills, I got caught up in unfounded worries.

I then switched to journalism. With my writing experience and inside connections, I was accepted by a well-known news agency in Indonesia. I was assigned as an online journalist for the region, a contributor to a printed newspaper, the marketing advertising section, and occasionally as a freelance journalist/content writer for other media.

Not without achievements, I actually became the backbone of the office and became a top writer. Then the increasing workload and non-stop work rhythm turned my physical and mental health into a mess. I got burnout. I also almost end my breath several times because I couldn’t stand the acute sense of isolation caused by the responsibility that took up all my time.

Again and again, with careful consideration, I decided to quit. The office actually asked me to reconsider my decision. However, the anxiety and panic disorders that I could not overcome convinced me that staying would only give a bad impact to the office. I didn’t want my poor performance to have a negative impact on many other things.

In essence, I failed in a field that I loved with all my heart. If I had realized it sooner, I would have taken the goverment employee or civil servant test seriously; not taking the tests with divided concentration. I didn’t realize that I had the privilege of being a child who grew up with the education of a civil servant’s and govermnet employee’s parents, so I would have a lot of input from the members of my extended family who would be happy to help me. Even by showing seriousness to them, even if I failed to become a civil servant or goverment employee, I would still receive appreciation and support from my family; at least they will appreciate my efforts.

But what can I do? The rice has become porridge. Thanks to the failures I have experienced, I have come to know myself and come to the conclusion that freedom, hope, and dreams may be like medicine. For some people, these three things with high doses can heal them. But for some others, those three things with the same dose can be dangerous.

In the end, if we don’t have even just a strong mind or luck, maybe we just need to live the life we have. Just assume that there is no choice but to do our best and let God decide the end. For now, I just need to survive. Whatever happens, including failing in everything, it’s not a problem as long as I can enjoy this short life with my family, loved ones, and guava trees in front of my house.

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Muh. Syahrul Padli

A Science Teacher, Head of Penghayat Sumur Community and Digital-Creative worker. co-Founder YT Bawah Pohon Science (an alternative education platform).