During the annual retreat on the campus of the Chinese University, a few big questions that I do not have time and energy to think through yet emerged again.
But unfortunately I haven't sorted out the answers to these questions.
Simply put, it seems that so many things that I have been taking for granted in terms of personal goals and strength, have now become objects of serious doubt.
Take my job as an example. A job has always been something to earn my living on, but not necessarily where my interest lies. Of course I enjoy what I am doing, but it seems that I'm just not good at my job at all. Even something that I used to claim specialty on has been challenged, either by myself or others, so many times that the competitive advantage seems to have eroded to alarming levels. More importantly, and disappointingly, the fact that I can rarely identify myself with my job and my indifference for job satisfaction have now developed to a point that preempts further progress in my career, both in terms of quality of work and position. Although people tell me from time to time how smart I am, there is always the connotation that these remarks are referring to my personality rather than my performance. In any case, as in the past 10 years since I have been working, I have much difficulty, if possible at all, to get myself absorbed in my work and strive for the best results as some colleagues do. Someone would be happy or excited at the attendance of an event, for example, but this is exactly what I do not bother to care. I'm simply not a result-oriented person. The process of working can be fun, but I don't care that much about the results, which are often out of my control.
The question is, how can I make a change? Or is it possible at all to change? What can help convince me to be a bit more passionate about what I do, although it is fully acknowledged that it is not necessarily something that I really like?
Without knowing when it happens, but maintaining a certain degree of cool-mindedness and a sense of distance has seemingly become indispensable elements in my personality, even before I came to realise. When many others are excited about a game, at a piece of news or the appearance of a celebrity, I'm just not interested. This indifference has spread to almost everything around me, with only very few exceptions. Once I was told that my ego was too strong, so much so that I don't want to look stupid. Well, yes, but who wants to look stupid? Who doesn't want to know what stupidity looks like? Sometimes I do feel those who get excited or emotional are stupid, and I want to restrain from joining them and making a fuss of something unimportant. But in more cases, I simply find there is nothing important or serious enough that I would bother to react on. Be it apathy, scepticism or even cynicism. Any of these or their combination, perhaps, has been internalised to an extent that even "conditioned reflex" would be insufficient to describe precisely how natural my indifference is.
What is even more worrying is that when I walked slowly in the library trying to find a book to read, I felt that the books on the shelves no longer seem as compellingly interesting as they used to be. I spent hours in the library and still couldn't find a book of interest. What's wrong with me? What am I supposed to do if reading no longer provides me courage, strength and guidance to meet the challenges ahead? Am I still prepared to take the progressive steps to achieve my academic dream? I don't know. I just found this weariness and erosion of a long-time interest confusing and horrifying, because reading and studying have brought me enormous enjoyment and satisfaction since childhood. These mean so much more than a hobby or a pastime to me. All of a sudden, to my own surprise, the passion for decades seems to have vanished almost overnight.
Perhaps there is another pragmatic reason for my recent depression - the degradation of Hong Kong. Social injustice, economic imbalance, policy blunders and ineffectual governance have all dissuaded me from pursuing my dreams since childhood. Neither reading a doctorate nor buying an apartment makes sense anymore. Neither seems financially feasible nor sensible. The opportunity cost seems so great that as the main income-earner for my family, I have serious doubts and concerns about these personal pursuits. Hong Kong has never been a city that truly appreciates knowledge and critical thinking. How am I going to make my ends meet as a lecturer if the teaching and research staff are now employed on contract terms and are made to become salespeople for the highly profitable short-term courses? Buying an apartment on mortgage is a serious and life-time commitment. But property in Hong Kong are notoriously expensive to ridiculous levels. Am I ready to sacrifice my personal and spiritual life for the sake of freedom and security? Am I still free and secure if I am bound by a pigeon hole that costs me a life-time fortune but its value is, at the same time, highly vulnerable to the uncertainties of fluctuating economic conditions and governance blunders? Unlike the days when I was a child and even before, there is no guarantee that I could maintain the current standard of living if I chose to commit myself to either one of the dreams. Yes, I can't realise them all at once and have to make a choice first.
I must admit that essentially the current depression is derived from a sheer loss of confidence in the future of Hong Kong and my capabilities of sustaining the standard of living as today, among other things. There is little I can do to help change the situation here. And I'm not sure if I can venture and make a fresh start anywhere else - at least this is not a financially feasible option for the time being.
Nevertheless, the ultimate question to which I want a definite answer remains valid. Shall I strive to achieve my dreams of life, or should I yield to the pressure of daily life and live to the expectations of people around me? Is there possibly any equilibrium between these two? If yes, where should the line be drawn? If no, how am I going to make a decision and convince myself to accept the decision as a matter of fact without hard feelings on the personal side?