I remember a kid from my school long time ago. I went to a private one partially managed by the state, which in Spain means that you're going to be sharing desks with the same people and most likely have the same teachers since age four until eighteen years old.
He had come from other private school too when we were around thirteen or fourteen years old, so in a way unless you're a particularly extrovert and outspoken person, most of the friendships and alliances have already been forged years prior. He had a tough time getting along with the rest of the students.
I hadn't been a particularly popular person there either, but I clearly remember him struggling to have decent and stable friendships. The other guys from my school would poke fun at him and he'd just be in a way smiling, accommodating and aloof. Never fighting anyone back because the others would have this smooth way of “joking” around him, teasing without clearly creating a direct confrontation. This is a particular form of teenage torture: they'd annoy someone sideways in a convoluted way, making identifying an aggression impossible, but driving the target of the jokes very anxious. In this kind of situations if the victim has a reaction, it is somewhat easy for the perpetrators to back off arguing lack of clear motives. Terrible if you ask me.
Fast forward some years, we all leave school. I start to study Computer Science, my best buddies part ways into Law and Architecture, and this kid would desappear. We later knew through common acquaintances that he'd moved to a city nearby to study in a high level cooking school to become a chef. Good for him I thought.
We'd still see him once in a while during the weekends and while partying in the pubs, my town is small enough to bump into people you know all the time. He'd be kind to me and my friends but we never exchanged more than a couple sentences. It was over the course of three to four years that we started to notice a change in the way he dressed and behaved. He'd start having dreadlocks, wear loose clothing, becoming a little “hippier” in his aesthetics.
Soon after we knew he'd quit cooking school and started juggling, making handcrafts, and getting involved into social movements. He'd also work for seasonal jobs picking up fruit in France for example. He'd move around during summer volunteering from music festival to music festival for food and accommodation. He'd learn how to dabble with different musical instruments in order to make some cash playing in the street.
A while ago there was a climate of political discontent in Spain (I mean, there always is, but in this case it was big). People had gone to the streets to protest and several camps had formed in the cities to push the government. I was walking around the city center with one of my best friends and we passed right in front of the local campsite and came across him, who approached to greet us profusely at first sight. He was smiling and gave us an outline of why there were campsites established in every city and kindly urged us to take part in the movement. It was inspiring. The minute we left the camp the conversation turned into a mock-party of his looks, his hippy behaviour, his poor choices, etc.. His parents were both dentists and he'd been granted the opportunity of studying in a prestigious cooking school and he'd turned that away in favor of a “less stable” lifestyle. We had a good laugh and off we go to get drunk, as college kids must do on a saturday.
I am about to turn thirty years old soon. I hold my Computer Science degree on one hand and several years of software development in the other. I came to Belgium with an Erasmus scholarship, felt in love and stayed long before love was gone out of pure momentum. Two years ago I quit to backpack around Asia for a while (how original I know) looking for some enlightenment that didn't come. While almost moving to Berlin right after, I chickened out on starting a new life, learning a new language and whatnot, so I stayed in Belgium. Last year after two months of constant panic attacks I couldn't bear it anymore and quit my software developer job thinking I despised tech, and have been selling beer for the last six months in a cool shop in the city center.
Where's him then? I started digging a little, asking friends and shamelessly lurking his facebook. After lurching from place to place he learnt sound engineering and went back to our hometown. He has uncountable experiences on his back and after stumbling around he seems to finally have found his place and has settled down. He is only one year older than me, he still has time and energy to learn to be a chef if he wants, and from my perspective it doesn't seem like he has lost his time.
Moreover, I still struggle with some of issues I had several years ago, and often feel constantly like I am in square one: frozen, unable to choose a given course and follow it through. What I thought it was my dislike towards the current state of technology it is no more, since I am recently discovering the amazing world of blockchain and functional programming along with an interest in cyber security. There is just so much to learn and discover!
Fortunately, I'm slowly but steadily getting to know exactly what I like and what I don't. Where I excel and where I have the use of a steering wheel with no car. This brings me to the initial observation about this kid from my high school. Since being a teenager I thought I knew exactly what I wanted and turned down plenty of opportunities for experimentation, learning and traveling. I dismissed painting, music, theatre, etc.. This brought me to a path that began to crumble when I started to question the main premises that had led my life ever since: do I really want to be a computer engineer? do I really care about money? do I care about prestige?
However, this kid embraced chaos and the unexpected. He had the courage to quit a comfortable path laid out for him in order to experience the world in his own terms and get his hands dirty. I am perhaps romaticizing him, sure nobody is perfect and he might've asked for money at times to his family, but the decision he took is worthy of admiration. He's known more about freedom than me and my friend even knew since when we left the campsite making fun of him.