Will we ever be old enough?

Old Enough! (2013), Sota's fishes fall to the ground

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve recently watched Old Enough! again, a Japanese reality TV show which follows children on their first solo errand. An episode I remember in particular was of this 4-year-old boy, Sota, who was tasked to deliver freshly-caught fish in a styrofoam box to the fishmonger, but had to deal with the fishes falling out of the box. Twice. 

I’m Mun Cheng, Ethos’ marketing intern, and you could say my life is pretty much like Sota’s fish delivery story. 

Weeks before interning, I was working on design school submissions, but my progress was slow. Still, I procrastinated by watching an episode of Old Enough! during my submission week mental breakdown. This is how I got to know Sota, who went through similar turmoil for his first errand. 

Sota’s task seemed easy enough: deliver fish to the fishmonger, buy 300 grams of milk powder and some apples. I honestly didn’t think much of it, which was probably why the tragedies that happened in the next 20 minutes were so amusing to me. 

During the ordeal, besides using his tiny hands to pick up slimy fishes, Sota had also mistakenly bought 1.6 kilograms worth of milk powder. To make matters worse, he had to lug everything up a hill to return home. During the hike, he put down the groceries to rest, and apples rolled out of the bags to the foot of the slope. This happened twice. Although the obstacles did make him tired, he made it home happily in the end.

If I were Sota, I don’t know what I would have done. I don’t seem to have the ability to make mistakes, fail, all while forgiving myself and moving forward. It doesn’t come naturally to me. 

I related so much to his struggle because of how similar it was to mine. Like Sota, my project was straightforward. It required me to illustrate different elements, and present them in a brochure in two weeks. I had planned to create multiple illustrations and print on thin yellow paper. 

Unfortunately, I was unwell with COVID for two weeks and could not complete it in time. Even with an additional week’s extension, I was far behind. So I pushed myself to design even while I was sick, which reduced the quality of my work. On top of that, the paper I had intended to use ran out of stock, and I scrambled to find a replacement. It was one problem after another. I had to compromise on my vision for the brochure, but unlike Sota, I was upset and disappointed in myself for not completing the task as I had envisioned. 

It’s not easy to admit that I have failed, which is why I would rather perfect my work, and precisely why I get stuck. Using more than my capacity (time, energy and ability) allows, to not regret what could have been.

But this isn’t good. At least, that’s what my counsellor tells me. 

“Doing less, spending less time doesn’t mean that something is of low quality,” they say.

As always, I can only look at them, speechless. Why do they always catch me by the tail through these loopholes... 

Eventually, I am persuaded that there isn’t a need to overextend myself, to achieve excellence. I’m allowed to fail, allowed to do less, and still do work that is good. I can’t tell you when or how I’ll be able to fully accept and practice this newly-formed belief, but I hope to grow old enough to understand that excellence isn’t equated to not making mistakes. Ironically, to be more like these children running errands, who make mistakes but never give up on themselves. 

If you’re struggling with this, I hope you too eventually grow old enough. 

With love
Mun Cheng 

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