I have done a lot of thinking this week.
I’ll hit you with the truth: I think I did so much writing last quarter, that I’d like to step back and away from it this quarter. I’ve done lots of reflections in hopes of improving myself not just when it comes to adjusting, but most importantly, in terms of my perceptions on how I view things and situations.
I am incredibly grateful to have writing as an anchor and salvation in good and troubled times, that much is true and this is easily proven by looking at last quarter’s turn-of-event. If it wasn’t for this space and all that reading I did whenever I could… Honest to God, I don’t think I’d be in this frame of mind now, writing in this way and in a steadier voice. Unsurprisingly though, of course there’s a price to pay in return – the closer I moved towards writing, the further I am from environmental engineering.
I don’t believe my professional life is defined by only these two, that it is one or the other. Honestly, I think I’ll surprise myself with where I’ll end up and what I’ll be doing years from now; somehow I think it’ll be something completely different. However, I don’t jump into things half-assed, never without passion or purpose – that’s just never been my style – and I think this is exactly the reason I give so much weight and spend too much time reflecting upon, time and again. I don’t necessarily need to like something to commit to it, but I can’t be insincere or aimless about it. That’s just, very simply, never been me.
So it worried me, honestly, when I realized that somehow in that mess of an insane quarter, the thought of learning more about anything environmental engineering-related irked and frustrated me. I hated it and that caught me by surprise. When I decided to continue to grad school, it was a decision I made purely out of goodwill and the love I have towards education; it sounds silly admitting it, but it’s the straight-up truth. I’d strongly believed a bachelor’s degree wasn’t enough because it didn’t satiate my thirst for knowledge so I decided another two years would fill that cup to at least half-full.
Then Stanford happened, a dream – literally – that came to life. Only it’s nothing like whatever I anticipated or expected it to be. Not even close, trust me.
I don’t know how, when or what triggered this recent epiphany and paradigm shift in me though, because my 15-day solitude was honestly mostly composed of lazy, dormant days. I did some thinking, but I purposely didn’t think of school and in fact dreaded the first day. I was indifferent at the idea of reuniting with classmates and friends and wasn’t looking forward at all to the classes, topics that I remember being so friggin’ happy and excited about to learn more, when I first read and heard about them when I visited early last year.
Isn’t it funny how time flies, how many things happen and how easily they change in a span of mere months?
Fortunately, in the crazy midst of about twenty hours in three days spent sitting in various classes I shopped and audited, something clicked. I want to start this term on the right footing. I sincerely want to go through this term with a different, more positive and focused mindset. I want to return to the roots of my passion, or interest, towards the professional field I hope to devote myself in.
It isn’t writing, but environmental engineering.
So I reflected on the things I lacked, or didn’t handle well last quarter. I didn’t resort to self-blame, but I made sure I owned up to my faults and shortcomings – my negativity, primarily. “You’re always so focused on the brokenness,” Third Sis once said. “Always the brokenness, that’s all you see.” I hate to say this, but she’s right.
Then there’s the green monster lurking under my skin – always so envious and conscious of others. Always drawing comparisons with how well others do things and worse of all, how I’d supposedly never match up to their levels. It’s always about how I’m barely crawling and scraping to reach the points and peaks where these other people are already at. It’s always about the amount of hours I’d put in, twice and thrice more than them. Whether I spoke the truth or not, that’s besides the point because what mattered was my fixation at others’ strengths, and my conviction that mine pales in comparison. “I don’t deserve to be here because everyone I’ve met here are all so smart. You know how there are smart people, and then there are intelligent folks? These people, their smartness are innate.”
“Have you heard of the duck syndrome?”
I shook my head; no.
“You know how a duck looks calm and collected as it moves languidly on the surface of the water? To the observer the duck looks serene, but in truth, the duck is furiously paddling with all its might underwater. That’s the duck syndrome and the honestly, maybe that’s really what’s going on.”
She paused for a second and then gently said, “So maybe you should stop looking at other people.”
After the madness that was last quarter, I tell myself I’m crazy for deciding this. I went back-and-forth in my mind many times in the first three days, telling myself it doesn’t have to be this quarter. I remind myself maybe I need to change things up, balance the topics and level of difficulty. I tell myself to remember exactly what took place last quarter, and what happened to myself as consequence. But after lots of serious thinking, deep down I knew it already; I’d made my decision from the get-go.
From my GPA and stress level standpoint, this is pure madness. But I… decided to stick with the supposedly two hardest courses of the program. It’s just crazy, especially since both classes are taught by professors from my courses last quarter, i.e. the ones I didn’t do so well in. Plus, their grading distribution this quarter is believe me, even more ridiculous – 50% and 55% towards the final exams, which basically means that it doesn’t matter whether I do extremely well over the ten weeks of class because the weight lies in the final exams in the end. Frankly I do not like the sound of any of this, but the advantages outweigh the cons, like the fact that both professors are pioneers in their respective fields and teach very well …and I came here to learn.
That was my purpose in deciding to come here, wasn’t it?
“This isn’t a competition. If it is – it’s between you, yourself. You’re there to learn all the things you like, or things you think will be helpful to you in future. You’re there to learn, to enjoy the process and experience – not to die trying.”
These days I tell myself, so what if 90% of my classmates are innately smart? So what if the averages in all of my classes stay in that ridiculously high 90s range? So what if in my opinion apart from myself, everyone here really seems to deserve their placement because they have the smarts, skills or both? So what if their alma maters and previous records are impressive as hell and their future looks brighter than ever? So what if they deserve to be here simply by virtue of being smart, more than hardworking?
The questions I should’ve asked myself aren’t any of the above. Instead I should’ve asked myself: if things were easy, would I have ended up here in the first place? Had I known everything about my professional interests, would I even decide to come here? This is so incredibly clichéd that I’m honestly cringing even as I type this, but it is so, so true: struggles and challenges are the most effective teachers. Adversity builds character and true success is not – or shouldn’t be – defined by how much you’ve accomplished in your lifetime thus far, but how you got to where you are now.
Every sweat, tear, grit, blood and whatever else – each has their own painstaking, hard-earned stories to tell about you and your journey.
These days I remind myself it’s okay if I feel that I don’t deserve to be here, compared to all the smarty pants I’m surrounded by. I acknowledge my insecurities and complex – I’m easily affected by other people, even when I try my darndest not to be. When I get nervous and overwhelmed at the difficulty of the course materials, I tell myself to then overcome that by knowing the material so well that there’s no way to not know anymore. When I realize most of my classmate have figured out how to solve the questions in the problem sets while I struggle just trying to get through the first question, I push the feeling of intimidation aside and instead, gamely ask them for help. If I still don’t grasp it, I ask them to please explain again. One who does not ask, is forever lost – don’t be that person.
A friend once pointed out that I’m too open about my weaknesses. “Other people tend to only show the good things, especially in things like Facebook you know? It’s all about the good things, and the bad ones they make no mention of – the loneliness, struggling to adjust, how difficult the learning process actually is… The things we see on Facebook and these social media are happy pictures of traveling, cool parties and everything that supposedly defines the friggin’ YOLO term. Then there you are, admitting how hard it is for you. You’re even going so far as to admit how you’re struggling to fit in at Stanford, of all places! Don’t you feel embarrassed, admitting the less-than-stellar moments?”
I laughed at his honesty, and reflected upon mine. Here’s the truth: it’s embarrassing as hell and in fact, it scares the friggin’ shit out of me to be such an open, vulnerable book. But I want to be honest – what you perceive isn’t necessarily what it’s realistically like. Not for me, at least. I want to be honest, and stay honest about not just the good points, but also the less-than-stellar ones.
My worries are trivial, my struggles are silly in hindsight and my frustrations are exaggerated, I’m aware of all that. But there’s a part of me that always believes that at least one other person relates to what I struggle with but he or she isn’t able to, or doesn’t want to, express or admit that aloud and yet relate wholeheartedly. Another part of me believes that I am writing, sharing and expressing these struggles, mundane and trivial as they are, on behalf of all the average persons out there. Those of us who are always within the boundaries of ordinariness, neither stellar nor underrated but struggling just the same to make it in the middle-range. The voices of the ordinary student, layman person, young woman, engineer and writer – perhaps my voice, tiny and shaky as it is, still reverberates and echoes to fellow like-minds.
This is for all the average, ordinary person out there, whose voice isn’t heard but whose daily struggles are palpable and affecting.
When my insecurities make an appearance and I feel that I don’t deserve to be here, I tell myself that fine, I can keep thinking that way but because I’m still here, what am I going to do about it? It’s too bad I can’t quit or get out, unless I pull really stupid moves – which I won’t. So what am I going to do about this? How am I going to overcome this? I tell myself that I need to earn my spot here. Fucking earn it.
Earn each step of the way, from beginning to the end.
Wear the acquired battle scars and jagged marks proudly every step of the way and at that finish line – when I get there because I will get there – I’ll allow myself to laugh, cry, shout and even throw curses without censor, because I have made myself worthy of my spot here. I’ve earned not just that spot, but every fucking step of the way in this long, arduous and exhausting journey.
In short, I don’t need to deserve anything – I’ll work to earn my keep.