It's four a.m. on a Monday morning (or night?) just after spring break. I'm heavily jet-lagged because I just came back from home, a place that, in time-zone terms, is ten hours away from the UAE. But the worst part is not my lack of sleep. The worst part is this constant feeling that has haunted me since at least 2007 and is now back in one of its strongest manifestations. So what is this feeling, and how am I sure about the date? Give me a second; everything will make sense. Or I hope so.
I just came across this 2020 article “I Feel Ashamed of Almost Everything
.” Its author, Heather Havrilesky, suggests that we should stop being ashamed of whatever is making us feel this way and instead work with it and even create something. She makes the analogy of a splinter: we can keep running forever, ignore the splinters we get and continue with them bothering us for the rest of our lives. But we can also "pull the splinter out, stare at it, and consider it." So I'm here, working with the shame of being a 22-year-old, third-year college student, feeling extremely lost and regretting not pursuing other possible lives I could have had (or perhaps I can still have).
So let's rewind to the origins of the haunting feeling and 2007. To explain this, I need to talk about Bee Movie, yes, the Dreamworks movie. This one follows Barry Benson, a bee who is graduating from college and needs to choose the position he will fill out in his hive for THE REST OF HIS LIFE. Now you see the relationship? This plot was so relatable that the Bee Movie was going to be the opening line for my "Why NYU Abu Dhabi?" essay. I wanted to talk about why a liberal arts education was such a good fit for this indecisive soul. But we will never know if I would have made it here with that essay because a friend suggested that I keep my childhood fixations for myself and instead talk about NYUAD professors.
The following year, after watching Bee Movie
for the first time when I was seven, I would wake up at seven a.m. every Saturday and play the DVD in my living room while everyone was still sleeping. The movie has even been analyzed through the lens of communism
, but I highly doubt that is what captured my attention so profoundly when I was that young. What happened was that since then, I couldn't deal with this idea of dedicating myself to the same activity for the rest of my life. I think it also introduced me to this fear of the possibility of choosing wrong, of having to dedicate my whole life to something I didn't enjoy or that wouldn't make me feel the most fulfilled.
Now let me put the hit that Everything, Everywhere, All at Once has been in conversation with my four a.m. wild thoughts. The now Oscar-winning film has pushed many people to talk about something similar: the frustration of being unable to explore all your possible lives. Because this movie tries to show visually and as clearly as the Daniels, the directors of the movie, could put it, the different parallel universes that could be created with every choice we make. In this movie, we have Evelyn, a woman in her fifties who daydreams about the life she could have had if she had become a film star after leaving her boyfriend behind and not the owner of a laundromat facing tax evasion charges. After watching it for the first time, what left me sobbing was Evelyn's daughter's quest for her mom's acceptance across numerous dimensions. But EEAAO is also about feeling unfulfilled with your life, coming to terms with it, and seeing its blessings.
I might have been a victim of the TikTok algorithm, and now I believe that everyone is going through the same crisis because of the content it has been showing me. Thanks to this platform, I bumped into Matt Haig's book The Midnight Library
, which is about this place with infinite bookshelves where a woman can explore all the alternative lives she didn't experience after she decided she didn't want to continue with her life. It was quite scary that I received such a specific book recommendation if you ask me. But even if I was a victim, this made me feel more understood in mourning for my alternative lives. Another quarter-life crisis friend I found was the user @_jnnylo. In his beautiful reflection on EEAAO
, he describes how it affected him in the "best possible way" by reminding him that it might seem like it is too late to "switch things up," but it is not, and that for the first time in his twenties, he began to trust himself.
This reflection is not an answer to why so many of us, young adults, might be facing moments like this. This is merely a movie recommendation. This is just me creating something with the blister on my foot that I've ignored for too long. I hope that by sharing my regret, confusion, and despair, someone going through something similar will feel less alone and find two great movies to watch. I will never know how things could have been if I had pursued a film degree or been more organized to complete a double major, but at least now I see that that door is not closed for me. If you want something, there is still a way to find that path. Or, as my parents say — everything, except for death, has a solution.
Sylvia Plath said, "I want to live and feel all the shades, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited." And one month ago, I couldn't have related more to her. Today, five weeks after that initial sleepless night when I started writing this, I can tell you that working with your shame and reaching out for help and guidance does help. It may not be possible to live all your desired versions simultaneously because we already saw that only leads you to become a villain with a bagel-shaped hairstyle,but at least it helps find a way to weave together some of them. Barry Benson, the bee, found his way to be a pollinator and a lawyer. Maybe in an alternative reality, another version of yourself is mourning the life you chose to have right now. So embrace uncertainty, work with it, and especially, appreciate the life you have today.
Miriam Delgado is a Columnist and Staff Writer. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org