For the first 2 years in college, I slaved away trying to make the most of my academic and social life in college. Some of the classes I took challenged me way past what I was capable of doing, and I joined clubs for the sake of making my college experience a memorable one. While I certainly appreciate all the knowledge I gained from these choices, the way I approached them was counterproductive at times, and this became evident in the form of (many) burn outs and colds that I got.
Though I firmly believe that handling several responsibilities at a time is key to stretching your working capacity, I also believe that pushing yourself beyond what you’re capable of at a certain time, for an extended period of time, can be so detrimental to your self-esteem. You cannot run a race expecting not to get tired, and then be disappointed because you got injured. Sure, there will be some that defy the odds and race to the end without a scratch on them, but you cannot expect to beat them at a race that wasn’t meant for you at that time in your life.
I also think that having idle time by yourself is key in helping you hone your true interests. A large part of my beliefs about being an ambitious student comes from my experiences before college. My back-then tiger dad gave me one choice, and only one choice, to “be successful,” and that is pretty much the type of student that you think of when you think of a “top Asian student”: an overall well-rounded student with impeccable grades and stellar extracurriculars. This concept never sat well with me, and while I often rebelled his stern belief in this model, at the end of the day I would always agree. What did I, a kid, know about life after all? This forced me to internalize his model as my identity, even if it wasn’t what I wanted.
Since coming to college, I have been trying to take rein of my decisions and the life that I want. I no longer have tiger parents – they’re more like mellow cat parents now – which is a huge weight off my shoulders. But this also means that I have to decide what I think “success” means to me, and to choose my own battles and sacrifices. It was a hard transition, and though I was lucky to start it during my gap year before college, starting college was an even harder change in it of itself. I had to break down the mold that I had been cast in ever since I was little, and to learn to not associate school with my self-worth. I had to redefine my interests and find the pieces that I believe ring true to me.
This semester has been unlike previous ones. I’m taking several somewhat-challenging classes that I’m really enjoying and learning a lot from. No extracurriculars and fewer (but more solid) social interactions. I’m lucky to not have to work to sustain myself, which means that after all my responsibilities, I still have quite a lot of time left for my hobbies. And because of this, I have been feeling so inspired and so pumped to jump into them after school several times a week. I can’t say that I have a concrete list of hobbies that I know I will always be passionate about, but I do have an evolving list of things that I want to learn and do more of. Most of them are things that I have always found time to do in the summers and breaks that I’ve had in between school, but I’m starting to realize that I’m also unearthing some hobbies that I had abandoned long ago, hobbies that I did when I was a kid.
I think that the hobbies we did when we were young say a lot about the people that we still are, because we formed them at a time when we hadn’t yet started to comply with the expectations of those around us. In that sense, our hobbies back then were pure, and to regain that purity we must shed ourselves from the expectations that have obscured it throughout these years.
A lot of my hobbies are things that I do on my own, by myself. This is simply because I’m naturally drawn to individualistic activites that make my introvert self happy. Now I can also learn a lot of these skills online, through Google, YouTube, blogs, and endless resources that are accessible online. And when I’m not scouring for them, I’m alone with my thoughts and creativity.
Being alone has always been something that I’ve struggled with, particularly as someone who’s very sensitive to others’ opinions. On the one hand, I love being alone. Period. On the other, more complicated, hand, I have always felt a sense of duty to not be alone. To go out and be with others, learn from others, be like others. And throughout the years, I have learned the value of spending time with others. But for at least half the time, I crave being alone. And just like I had internalized the “top Asian student” mold before, I also internalized the wrongness of being by myself for too long. But why is it wrong if it’s what makes me happy, and being happy is what leads me to create better work?
It wasn’t the people who directly told me “You should be more social” that left a lasting negative imprint on me, but it was those whose words implied that my aloneness would impede me from becoming the best version of myself. Their insinuation was never subtle enough for me to not think that something was wrong with my inherent behavior. But who are you to judge what is best for me? We are quick to judge others whose behaviors do not concord with who we are or what we think is best, but the truth of the matter is, we only know so far as our experiences go. We don’t know the quality of others’ lives, and so judging them based on our metrics is essentially futile.
I wish I knew these things then, because it sure would have allowed me to find some peace in my mind. But I know them now, and I’m also starting to get to know myself again, and that’s what matters.