Reflection – To My 18-Years-Old Self

Reflection – To My 18-Years-Old Self

'What Do I Know'

At the age of 18, I had not done something incredible that I can teach others about: I haven't earned millions from investing in a successful start-up company, I haven't cured a disease accidentally while doing an internship in a lab, and I don't have a perfect SAT score, I haven't even ever taken one.

  • Against the Odds

My voice has been disrespected what seems like hundreds of times. For months of experience, I've been told by my peers that I'm not qualified enough to attend any Ivies even though I've got perfect grades and impressive essays. They would ask me, "how are you even better than your classmates?" "How impossible it is for you to do this?" "Are you not only an ordinary guy?"

When trying to talk to them about something I'm working on: my research, project, or essay, I've been told to stop caring so much about politics because I have a little voice, and it won't matter or fix anything. Because those negative voices were so poisonous, it sometimes leaves me wondering: "can I really do this? Perhaps I'm just too naive to understand what life means." Apparently, I even doubted my capability; I don't get to be ambitious and thrive because I simply don't know how average I am among the crowd.

I see getting into an Ivy League school as an opportunity for me to make an impact in the world we're all living in. I had anticipated that it might take me some work, but I didn't realize that the real challenge would be convincing our classmates to respect my ideas and support any progress I make. When I tried to stand up for my love of Philosophy and the States, they criticized me and made fun of me. Those toxic voices often hurt.

Eventually, I stopped caring and decided to stand up and speak for myself. I figured out at the very last (with the help of the amazing teachers I've had) that not all people will understand my thoughts right away. Being passionate and ambitious about going to an elite school is enough for me, and I'm pretty confident to say now that I'll get to somewhere I want. From the contrasting experiences I've had in recent months, I've become fully aware of the dark side of human nature: some vile people just simply don't want you to do well, and the difference between them and me is that I know one day, I can make some changes to the world.

My Younger Self

  • High School Career

Look at our school; as students, we barely have any choices over what we learn or how we learn it. And yet we're expected to absorb it all in, pass the exams, and apply the knowledge to the world someday. Sarcastically, we're expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then 3 months later, be ready to go to college and be completely independent, support ourselves and live on our own.

The education system is not logical. Even myself, someone who's passionate about learning, has occasionally lost sight of education's value because I don't get to do what I want. At this stage, you might be thinking: "you don't get it; you're just an ignorant young adult; you don't deserve to have control over what you learn." This mindset is so wrong that it has gotten to the point where I've begun to stop listening to me. Sometimes, I'd catch myself thinking, "self, stop thinking about changing the world. You're only 18; you don't know anything about Philosophy..." And this is me, someone who's totally confident in his abilities, is discrediting himself because his thoughts don't come along with others' minds.

In the current status quo, students are losing belief in possible change. In my English class, sir told me if I want to get a good grade. I need to stop going in my own direction with the subject and stick tightly with the syllabus. That was when I was fascinated and found relevance linked to the topic we were focusing on. In other words, I was told to stop thinking outside the box and just to accept adequacy; I was taught to conform to standards and lose my creativity.

However, talking about the good aspects. When going abroad, there will always be a part that feels like China is my home. In my high school, if I am playing ping pong or working hard on maths, or just being quiet, I am just another guy. Whereas when I am going to be in America for the next 4 years, I'll have to explain myself when doing all these Asian-popular things to make myself not seem like a stereotypical guy. It's always good to know that there's somewhere in the world where I can feel safe and peaceful.

The Next Stage

"If you pursue your dreams, that's how you become homeless; artists are homeless people." That's something you usually hear from Asian parents to their kids. In Asian culture, stereotypically, you are supposed to be obedient; follow the rules; be a good son. Whereas in American culture, you're supposed to be an independent man; go pursue your dreams, passion, and happiness.

Between these two conceptions on the polar opposites, I sometimes wonder, "Which side should I go to?" For me, that old traditional route just didn't fit me, and I've always wanted to be that artist person. Having a sense of dream can light my world up; my motivation to get up in the morning is to pursue whatever I love.

"It's probably better to disappoint my parents for a couple of years than to disappoint myself for the rest of my life." – Jimmy O. Yang.
  • Discovery

Peer effect matters; as high school kids, we are undergoing a high-pressure time in our lives. The drawback of discovery is that it leads you to wander around and meet new things you don't understand. While the importance of achievement is at a historically high level, discovery has become stagnant. One slight difficulty I see at my school is that many of my peers are too determined to set their ways in what they're going to do for life: be an engineer, a musician, or an investment banker... They're often not flexible enough.

"People around us are so accustomed to hoop-jumping, driven to strive that very often they struggle to find the peace to treat their school years as occasions for exploration, figuring out what's caring about, what they believe, and why." – Michael Sandel.

I admire those start-up people; those guys are willing to take on new tasks, and they are brave artists. They could spend their time TikToking and muck around, but they decided to take a chance and try out new things. I always try to keep in mind that even if things don't work out for me, all I miss is a few months of opportunity costs; I could always go back to doing something safer.That's how I persuade myself to calm down and take things easily at school whenever I am stressed, believing that I'll just be fine. It's better to try something and fail miserably than never have tried at all.

The most romantic moment I can think of in terms of academics is building new passions. While seeking what I genuinely love doing, I wish I could say to myself periodically, "wow, I wasn't going to study..., but I liked this course, and I want to get to know more about this...' The benefit of doing what I want (e.g., sports, education...) is that when the opportunity comes, I can nail it. Hopefully, after several years saying, there's something I can relate to what I learned so far to real-world situations.

  • Just being me

This year (Y13) has been particularly anxiety-inducing. People around you carry high expectations; they expect you to go to good schools, get a good job, and then get married after school and have kids before 30. Dealing with those expectations and peer pressure around me (I know many people are feeling similar pressures), I try to never put the weight of 'excelling' on my back because that doesn't make me any better as a student.

It's really crucial to create my own story and put myself in it.I've always wanted to be the best writer, not as the Asian Shakespeare, but as the 'stick out' one in my school and community. However, for so many years, I'd never imagined I'd try to write about my inner world; I didn't have a single clue! The thought of dedicating myself more to Philosophy didn't pop up until last year. But what I did know is that I've always been interested in learning more about the social and human world, and that was enough for me to get started (doing research + attending online lectures).

'Ideas don't come out fully formed; they only become clear as you work on them, you just have to get started.' – Mark Zuckerberg.

Often, people have a misconception of saying everything the successes own just happened to be in that way because of luck, nepotism, or something magical. Indeed, fortune counts heavily in one's success. But at the end of the day, if you work hard enough and become good enough, it's going to happen, one way or another.

Making the Transition

  • Mindset

At the age of 18, I am not an expert on anything except how to be me, and I think I do it well. There had been certain points where I felt like I needed to earn people's acceptance, but I have passed that now; I try hard to block any gossip, predictions, and comments that don't empower me.

"You know what the worst drudge that ever hit the human race is? — Pity. We can not pity ourselves; the only disability is one's refusal to adapt." – Sean Stephenson

When I feel like I am not enough, sometimes I chase external validation to try and confirm that I am not enough. I gradually realized that that behavior is the same as bullying myself by reinforcing those negative opinions into my head; being my own enemy. We all need to learn to master our emotions. There needs to be an attitude or a belief in ourselves that we bring value to the human race. Every human being just wants to be loved, and you got to love yourself first, and you can not feel sorry or pity for yourself.

One principle that I follow every day is not to limit myself. And my first goal is to recognize the factitiousness in timelines. If someone tells me this assignment will take two months, I'll spend two months on it. If I tell myself to take two days, I'll spend two days on it, with decent quality. Timelines are often given to try to create an organized structure. But sometimes, I ignore it, bend it, break it. People usually say that morning has the best hours in the day. But personally, I focus best in the evening hours; I just feel better off playing my own game.

"Human behavior is mostly a matter of habits, people make big decisions sometimes are not true, all most all the time we just do what we're in the habit of doing." – Richard Quinn.

Often we have to make sacrifices about how we want to spend our time. But If it was between going out with my friends and studying the weekend before a test... I would choose both. I find it pressure-easing to get my friends together for a discussion-based study session right before an exam because life is like an ongoing conversation, and daily communication really acts as a major role. Learning is a long game; to be consistently curious about what you are learning, we need to focus on deriving some sort of meaning from it.

On the next page of my life, I want my tolerance of excuses to be down to zero. "Well, I didn't do well in that class because I had a bad teacher..." That's something I'd say to myself after an inferior performance in an exam. Reflecting upon my passiveness, I think, in order to accomplish something, I need to dedicate myself to the game until I get my job done right. If my subject teachers aren't qualified enough for their seats, sole complaints will not solve the issue. Instead, I need to go out and talk to my other scholarly friends in after-school hours, pick up supplemental books, and use every free lesson available on additional studies, watch online lectures until acing the exams.

  • Purpose
"Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we're needed to have something better ahead to work for... Purpose is what creates true happiness." – Mark Zuckerberg.

I've always wanted to write a book (or similar mediums like blogs) because telling people my views in a conversation is super hard! For example, when there's some political conflict between the US and China, there'd usually be two sides of people arguing, and most of the time, they never get anywhere! Knowing that it's hard to convince people, I try not to tell people directly: "hey, what I am saying is the absolute fact!". Instead, through telling a story in the form of a book, I can show others who I am and let them know me, which does a hell more than just arguing with no ends. Hopefully, through humanizing my experience, they can understand my point of view in a humorous, lighthearted way.

  • Confidence

Let's face it, we are all scared of rejection. Not only we don't like getting told 'no,' we are scared of people knowing that we got rejected, being branded as 'the person who got rejected;' the feeling of fear can make us feel smaller than a mouse.

Contradictorily, everything worth wanting in life involves risk; and risk could bring us rejections! It really all depends on our willingness to take those risks. At the same time, it comes the importance of confidence. If the outcome comes out less than expected, confidence could tolerate our negative feelings and tell us that we are just doing fine without specific achievements. We often base our faith on the things we have in current status: being the smartest in the room, the best-looking guy in our school... Those 'dreams' may come true, but it's precarious, 'what about your confidence when you go to another room?'

To be a courageous and confident person, I have to learn to stand up for myself, build my belief of confidence so firmly that no one else can take it away, and prove to myself that my faith comes internally. If I ever cry, it will never be out of fear caused by anxiety, but by tears of joy when I realize how blessed I am. Even if I don't get into any of the US elite schools I applied for, I'll try to be my best in other universities. Maybe I will never become a great intellectual, but I will still try to concentrate on making progress. I certainly don't see a world where I'd quit as a failure just because I didn't get to fulfill what I always wanted to be.