Growing up is the journey of a lifetime. Every day and every year, you learn something new about yourself and your world--and with that, you mature a little more. Growing up is also the dramatic transition of a moment. You are now an adult, not any less wild or boring or wrinkled than the second before, but a little more confident and a little more realistic.
Three years ago, I left Central Asia on a last minute flight back to the United States to pursue my college education. That was not part of the original plan. I still remember that rosy dawn, sitting on the dirt sidewalk behind my backpacker hostel and grappling with the decision to travel forever as a carefree hippie or to go back to the States. I was 18 years old.
My teenage years were a colorless palette of darkness. I did not realize it at the time, yet I was going through depression and I had no one to talk about it with. I saw in my parents’ eyes the image of a weird monster, a failed specimen … and a disappointment. They had too many inner struggles of their own to focus on and the Asian standard of life to uphold instead of figuring out how to deal with a problem child. They did not know how to deal with me, so they left me to my own fate.
I remember one day going up to her and saying: Mum, could you please love me more, like you love my little sister? She said to me: Go now and read the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible. Don’t be such a Cain. So I read the story of Cain and Abel, and my heart broke for the first time. Mum, why would you compare me to Cain? Am I such a terrible human being in your eyes? So I never asked for love again. Instead, I cried myself to sleep for the next few years. I was 15 years old.
I am very fortunate, because eventually I was able to pull myself out of this. To this day, one of my proudest accomplishments is being able to climb out of depression on my own, and eventually develop into an optimistic, strong-willed and independent woman. I am a role model to others and a testimony that human will is stronger than anything in the world.
I thought I had overcome my own fears, but didn’t realize what my last fear was, until recently. It was the fear of failure. Quite a common fear, I would have to say, among Asians.
When you are a kid, your idea of self-worth and ability largely depends on how much hope your parents have in you. I had none, and so unknowingly, I did not have the confidence in myself to achieve great things.
I think this may have contributed to the reason why for the longest time, my greatest hope was just to lead a happy and carefree life. But suddenly one night I asked myself why. Why could not I become someone greater and do greater things? I searched deep inside myself, and found the reason for my inaction.
And once I realized the truth, something exploded in my mind. My entire world changed. My personality would never allow myself to escape from the truth; I had to face it and then overcome it, as I have with all my other fears.
5 months ago. There was a time in college when I dedicated nearly all my waking hours to online video games. In only a few months, I amassed a huge “empire”, had enough currency to buy myself and bought the most expensive things in the game store to anyone I pitied in my server. This was a rank that made all the 'noobs' fear and respect me. I enjoyed the feeling of being elite.
No one else in my life save for a select few knew about that guilty pleasure of mine. I purposely hid it from everyone, because deep down I always hated and despised myself for it. But I was also at one of the lower points of my life and did not have anything else to turn to. Alcohol has too many calories and drugs were too dangerous.
Then one day, I quit the gaming world cold turkey and have never looked back. I think deep down I always knew that I could not let gaming become a habit. If it grew to any more than just a temporary intrigue, I would have to kill it in the cradle. And I did just that. In my entire life, I have never been “soft” on myself. The pampered cannot survive in a world like the one today.
However, video games did allow me to see many facets of my own personality that I had not known (or had purposely denied) before. I learned that I enjoy being in a position of power and wealth. I discovered my passion for competition, beating other people and becoming “good”. I became immensely fulfilled from success. I was also incredible at working the trading system, and quickly got rich from a process similar to trading in the real world.
In retrospect, I asked myself why I am not this ambitious or competitive in real life. There are many reasons of course–my age and background being obvious barriers. But the biggest reason is that the world of video games is ideal and unreal. I could take all the risks I wanted to, and I did not fear failure. But when it came to the real world, I hesitated because I was afraid of failure. Because in the real world, failing has real consequences. You cannot just rage quit or turn off the computer. And in the real world, it is hard to start over again from scratch.
I think there are two ways to combat this problem. One is to treat life as a game; that is, not take it too seriously. Then you will have nothing to fear, because nothing really matters too much. Just like in video games. As a life-lover, I do not like this approach. So I turned to the second approach. And that was to overcome my fears and to allow myself to succeed and excel—and attain that position of power and wealth I enjoy—in the real world. I was 20 years old.
California is a bubble. Liberal Massachusetts is also a bubble. Brandeis is the greatest bubble. My entire life has ignored the real brutality of the greater world. The fishbowl I lived in was filled with progressive and chill friends who all affirmed that I was right. They told me I was perfect, but in reality, I still have a very long way to go, and many areas I need to improve upon. I think most people in the world will never leave the bubble they were born into, and they can still have a happy family and stable career. But I cannot knowingly live in a bubble when what is outside of it is so much more.
The greatest decision I do not regret acting upon was spontaneously leaving for a 4 month backpacking trip a few days after my high school graduation. I told no one save for my best friend.
Traveling led me into a new world where I could become a new me. I will be very honest--I think when I took that leap of courage onto the airplane, in that moment, my old self died and a new “me” was born. I owe no one this life, because this time, I self-created this new chance to live. Who I am today is someone I am very proud of being, someone whose values and laughter is genuine, someone who is pure and clean. Someone whose soul is self-made. Someone who has a lot of love to give, and can receive love with an open heart.
In a way, traveling is the single most important life-changing thing in my life. That is why for the longest time, I have always wanted to travel and do nothing else. Until one day I realized I was using it as a crutch.
What strength means
Only the weak need a crutch to lean on. And the weak cannot survive if they want to roam this world. So once I realized this truth, I became determined to become stronger than that. I think traveling will always be a very important part of my life, but at least for the next few years, I will be traveling less often and working on my career much more seriously and intently.
At the very least, I have realized that the prerequisite to the carefree life I so desire, is to be financially independent. I do not want my freedom to be carried on the back of another. Because at that point, the weight of my debt would eradicate all my hopes of being carefree.
Before I can pursue any of my hobbies and visions, I need to be certain no one else is bearing the burden of my dreams. I believe that I have the right to say and pursue anything, so long as that “happiness” is “bought” with my own labor. Only then will I be able to hold my head high as I rejoice in my accomplishments.
Three years ago...Central Asia. I didn’t come back to be mediocre. I came back because deep down, I knew I would regret not having pursued something greater. I would never have the chance again had I given it up. I think even back then, I knew what the sensible choice was. And although the process took three years for me to truly understand and act upon, I actually think the timing is just right. Because there is no better moment than right now for me to pursue my inner ambitions.
And now? I give myself five years–to develop my professional skills, successfully progress my career, pay back all my monetary debts, be financially independent, and protect what I love.
To my readers, what I want to tell you is this:
Do not wait for life to deal you good cards. Shift through the deck and pick out the best ones for yourself. Go ahead, break the rules.
Do not leave everything up to fate. Create your own destiny. If you do not like what you were given at birth, there’s nothing wrong with recreating your own life.
There is no such thing as luck. “Luck” only happens to those with the ability and power to come across it and utilize it. Or else, your luck just goes to waste.