Who am I? This is a question everyone asks throughout their life.
To many, higher education is a ticket to a career. To some, a diploma is what we are expected to attain, representing intellect and wisdom. To me, studying is finding myself. Telling a story of the self involves an immense amount of self-acceptance and trust for interlocutors. Storytelling is the revision of the self. It does not require writing or public speaking, but an open mind to willingly listen. Everyone needs an open mind for the self and for others.
Success has yet to be defined
Aiming to climb the social ladder, studying is told to be a path to success. In grad school, doubts and self-questioning made the detours of my life roller-coaster. This is normal to all of us. Rushing in herds towards social expectations seems to be the norm, but we deserve time to reflect on who we are and what success means to us individually. To me, success is being the perfect version of the self and persistent in one’s goals, while accepting failures.
Where is the destination?
In the journey of finding ourselves, we are easily distracted by comparing ourselves with others, stepping over one another and burying our uniqueness. Competition reflects enmity, insecurity and the denial of failures. Outscoring and outshining others reduces trust, empathy and support in human relationships. No matter how far and hazy the destination is, we need to ask what impact we can make, given our privilege of receiving an education. Perhaps we can give each other encouragement, until an aspiring but unnoticed candidate overcomes the job-hunting hurdle. Every individual has his or her innate capacities that are meant to shine. We need to help each other find them.
Not showing vulnerability is often perceived as the norm, showing emotional control to others is what we expect. I have gone through depression. Through perfectionism and not seeking help from others, I tore myself apart. In two years of grad school, I learnt to acknowledge and appreciate my mistakes. Each coin has two sides. Giving too much importance to fame keeps us from facing failures of ourselves and others, but mistakes do not mean right or wrong. They make us resilient and help turn ourselves into a crystal ball of self-understanding. Material items and money do not fill the soul.
From self to others
Coming from a reserved culture, assertiveness, emotional expression and help-seeking were not in my dictionary. Facing diversity and adversity, I often felt powerless to rebut political differences, insensitive assumptions and overt criticisms. By understanding how I feel, I started to put myself into others’ shoes and stand up for myself.
A small gesture of respect and acceptance can show civility. Depression is a black hole absorbing light and energy, even more so for me as an introvert who frequently over-analyses and judges myself. Sugar-coating things with fake smiles on my own or others’ stiff faces was not a remedy to others’ false interpretations and prejudice. Camouflaged consolation cannot win against an outpouring of empathy. Kindness, compassion and empathy override premature judgments that subtly affect others.
Some start out being well-off. Some do not. No one in my family is educated enough to guide me through life. The future is obscure for many who do not even see a path to education. My parents barely remember the twenty-six English characters. Others, on the other hand, are entitled to leisure, knowledge, networks and personal care for children whose future will not begin in deficit.
It took me a while to overcome the disadvantage of being left behind socially. I reframed my story. I accepted who I am and learned to move on with my own strengths. At least I was born safe and protected. I opened my first ‘Gratitude Journal’. Every day, I write down five things I feel thankful for. By focusing on positivity, I make better choices in a positive emotional space.
To our future selves
No matter where we are led to, it is worth spending time to reflect on who we want to be. My upbringing taught me to reshape my personal story and express empathy and appreciation, to my family, others and myself.
Life is never easy, but challenges nurture success. I learned to accept myself from the wistful reminiscence of the past, from family upbringing to grad school.
Allowing lament and anguish that are hidden under carpets to come to light takes courage. History makes the future better. Late-blooming flowers emerge gloriously in times of difficulty.
This article was released in the first print publication of the Graduate Press. Download the Spring 2019 print edition here.