I kept walking in circles behind the closed curtains. I tried my utmost best to contain my nerves. But to no avail. I kept pacing on despite a flawless preparation. That’s how nervous I was. For weeks, we had practiced for this supreme moment. No scenario was spared, no improvisation remained unspoken. All sorts of cards were pulled for an unforgettable ending. What a fuss. Really, I couldn’t get my head around it. I couldn’t care less about this overdone puppet show. I didn’t feel like it at all. Oh well, whatever. Don’t be a maverick or troublemaker. Above all, don’t create commotion and hard questions. Just do it. Do it for the sake of it. It will all be over before you know it, and then life resumes. It will go on and on. Increasingly faster and faster, until, one day, you’ll think back to those so-called good old days.
Suddenly we heard a familiar voice. The host announced the spectacle with contagious enthusiasm. Some uplifting music was played and the curtains opened. Finally, the long waiting was over at last. The leading group stormed onto the stage with bravado. Just look at them, being in their element and soaking it in. They made it look so enviably simple. I watched in total awe. I wondered whether others appear so self-confident or whether I doubt myself too much. One classmate after another went for it in the meantime. The group of stragglers became increasingly apparent. There they stood, the late bloomers, misfits, quirky characters, or introverts. Deeply rooted to the spot. They are the ones who avoid spotlights like the plague and keep their cards close to their chest. It’s them who wish the ground would open up and swallow them up instead of being part of a mad exhibition.
Then it was my turn. I staggered onto the stage with a bounding pulse. That was partly because of a suit that didn’t suit me. And a tie that squeezed all the oxygen out of me. The shoes were too shiny, the suit clinically clean, the fitting inhumanly tight. How uncomfortable and unnatural. I did what was expected of me in a daze. Impressing the audience by rolling out my jam-packed credit card holder was part of the deal. Letting out some clever-sounding lines topped it off. So, the circus monkey has done his thing. I was nothing more than a cashed-up snob. Someone I wasn’t, aren’t or don’t want to be. Of all people… Bloody hell. This big-peoples-business is all fun and games. But instinctively, they didn’t make sense at all. So many complicated rules, confusing exceptions, needless laws and unclear trump cards. Countless targets and tactics to follow. All the cards of chance and plastic stuff you have to deal with. Nah, I didn’t understand a damn thing of it all. And frankly, I couldn’t care less. Get lost and leave me alone.
We sang for the Motherland during the grand finale. Come on, one for all and all for one. This is what all the hard work was for; it all comes down to here and now. We effortlessly plopped out the final product like a well-oiled machine. Our acted job roles became secondary. The hierarchy vanished. Differences in possession or status were no longer a thing. Everyone was equal for a brief moment. Everyone mattered and participated. Even the usually divided crowd joined us in unity. Loving and hopeful eyes stared at us. We saw the looks of approval and pride. The looks from those close to us or whom we (used to) look up to. That – and much more – was at stake. After all, we were today’s youth who – hopefully – end up doing everything better. The new generation who remain critical and interested, the ambitious who never shy away from a challenge. It’s them who turn a well-thought vision of the future into a new reality. After all, this is the 21st century. Diversity is the magic word. Appearing to be successful generates (digital) bonus points and failure is forbidden.
And then we were done. After a big round of applause, the master called us forward. One by one, he treated us to encouraging words and papers. The musical, elementary/primary school and carefree innocence were a goner. Nothing would be the same again. At this point, no one seemed to have slipped into a doghouse or the lonely anonymity. No one was in obvious dire straits or lost in damnation. Not yet. Everything still looked promising. All will make the right choices and prosper. Everyone will live long and happily. Living lives with pure passion. Authenticity. Sincerity. And…
Keep dreaming. The awakening of such fairytales is as brutal as the truth: not everyone is going to ‘make it.’ Some will get addicted, commit suicide or become outcasts. Others will end up in crime, debt, miserable relationships or the streets. And then you have those who are constantly having or causing troubles. Those who only take and never give, those who are alien to fulfillment. That still slipped my young mind by then. How fortunate. Enjoy that childlike innocence while it lasts. Because one day, the musical chairs will stop, and then the folks will sink or swim till death. In this game, some will ‘succeed’ and others will fall by the wayside. Some will tread water for life while others doze off on the silver-spooned table. Everyone for themselves, only connected, sensible meaninglessness, #YOLO, or whatever. I don’t know. Fill in reality your way. Just remember:
No need to rush into big-peoples decay – getting in touch with it is simply a matter of time