Ekaterina Osipova, 17 years old, Varna
What would I do with my time, if I didn’t have to work for money?
What a fascinating question this is! It seems so easy at first glance – doesn’t everyone want to live for free, securely, without working? – but the simple prompt has an unprecedented amount of depth to it. It tricks you into inadvertently exposing a lot about yourself, should the other party decide to look a little deeper into the answer. “What are your hobbies, what are you passionate about?” Beneath what sounds like small talk hides a much more expansive prospect. “What direction do you want to take your life in?” Future plans conceal fundamental truths. “What moves you, drives you, keeps you going? What’s at the core of your personality, your whole identity, your existence? Who are you?”
And so, having been barraged with what’s really a trojan horse full of existential questions under the guise of an essay prompt, I took upon answering them one by one.
First and foremost, I would take this summer off. And the next one as well! What a wonder – a teenager wanting to rest during their government assigned resting period. My family is on the poorer side when it comes to income, and a summer job is essential for me to indulge in plenty of things, simple and luxurious alike. It takes the pressure off my parents to provide everything they deem necessary for me, which more often than not doesn’t align with my actual tastes. On top of that, it allows me to be more independent with my own resources, such as learning to track my expenses, save and budget money, and which large chain pharmacies, much to my dismay, do not take credit cards. But enough of that! Working in kitchens is now magically a thing of the past – time for me to spend my time some other way.
With that responsibility out of the way, the next point in my priority list would be to study. Revise, relearn, research, reconstruct, repeat. Wanting to do well in school comes naturally to me, and I want to get into a somewhat decently-ranked university, either here in good old Bulgaria or somewhere overseas. This hypothetical scenario, however, presents an interesting dilemma – if money is all sorted out and I don’t have to work, what’s the point in pursuing a higher education? If going to college to get a degree to hopefully get into a lucrative industry stops being a necessity, what’s the point in sacrificing sleep and health to ace a test or an oral exam? Objectively, there’s little payoff. Subjectively, there’s always a reason, a justification. A strong inner drive, in my case. Most of my motivation has always been internal – I don’t like comparing myself with others and I set my own pace and my own criteria. I like pushing myself and my own boundaries, exploring what I can and can’t do, challenging myself. As problematic as the educational system is, school allows me to do just that – sometimes relentlessly, sometimes way too relentlessly, but isn’t seeing how many hours of sleep you need to properly function during the day also self-discovery?
It’s this exact desire to constantly improve and outdo myself that is going to lead me to my next activity. An endless pursuit of knowledge, absolutely not just academic, but practical, worldly, all-encompassing. Knowledge of abstract concepts, languages, ideas, but also of myself, my emotions, my body. My friends, the world around me. Can’t most hobbies be summarised that way anyway? Working out and sport is learning about your body and mind’s limits. Reading and writing is learning about worlds beyond this one. Playing an instrument is learning muscle memory and dexterity. Online gaming is learning to distinguish languages only by insults and swear words – peculiar, but a highly beneficial skill to have to properly navigate the internet. Hanging out with your friends is learning about your friends! Learning is an instinct. It’s an inherent part of being human, and who am I to go against human nature?
All that means I would love to spend this summer, and then next summer, and then the rest of my life “learning”. Getting to know new people, reconnecting with old acquaintances and hearing about their experiences, meeting long-term online friends and pen pals. Reading anything from linguistics textbooks to sappy romantic comedies to 80’s sci-fi. Journaling, perfecting my handwriting, finding the perfect combination of pen ink and notebook paper. There is always so much to do and explore in the world around me, and even if I exhaust that someday, there’s my inner world which is just as vast. And by the time I conquer it, my environment will have changed, and by the time I overtake that again, I will have absorbed and reconstructed so many new ideas and concepts I myself will have changed. Repeat ad infinitum.
Not being tied down to a job also means I could do so much more for my community than I would have otherwise. Just interacting with it would be sufficient – donating to libraries, exploring small cafes, supporting local artists and craftspeople. Putting money back into the economy, in the grander scheme of things. But money is just one resource, and I cannot overlook time and effort. I would look into different non-profits and other organisations and volunteer whenever I could – or maybe even start my own, or help out without binding myself to a specific cause and group of people. To give a specific example, I would like to volunteer as a judge at local speech and debate tournaments. I’m an avid competitor right now, but that is going to change pretty soon, as they are for high school students only. It is no exaggeration to say that interacting with that community of like-minded, ambitious people has altered my worldview for the better – I doubt I would be writing this right now had it not been for those tournaments!
Looking over everything I have said so far, isn’t it curious how most of this can be accomplished outside of the prompt? Bettering myself, pursuing knowledge, volunteering and giving back to those around me – nothing goes against holding down a normal job. Why did I put on those arbitrary restrictions? What stops me from achieving that? Very little, next to nothing, frankly. This is exactly the point I wanted to make right from the beginning. Imagination coincides with reality, and I casually reveal deep truths about myself – the kind of person I would be free of the bindings of our modern society. The kind of person I simply am.
Describe yourself in 5 words?
Open, optimistic, introspective, independent, cute
What are your top 5 values (principles or standards of behavior)?
The only person fully responsible for yourself is you;
Help others not because you want something in return, but because it’s fulfilling in itself;
Don’t talk poorly about others unless directly warranted;
Question all authority at least to some extent;
Make sure you are comfortable and are having fun.
What are you most proud of and why?
I’m particularly proud of having integrated myself into Bulgarian society at least to some extent — I’m a first-generation immigrant, and my family has very few connections here. I am happy to have picked out a friend group of people who respect my differences without alienating me, and I am very proud of having been that person to others as well.