“I am starting with the (wo)man in the mirror.”

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.

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11 thoughts on ““I am starting with the (wo)man in the mirror.”

  1. Thank you .I can totally relate to what you struggle with. I feel the same now. I am a first-year student and have my first exams now. Your post is like a breath of fresh air. Somehow it helps me that I am not the only one who feels this way.

      1. I think i have different educational system,i entered university this september and studied one term and have my exams.I know that in the USA there is college and then you go to university,right?

        1. In the US college is university, as far as my understanding goes. Then there’s grad school for MS/PhD levels. Undergrad is college/U. If your school starts in September then you’re on the US school schedule too! I think yours is probably similar to a semester system here (my school runs on quarter). Do you mean you’re on a masters/PhD level too then? I’m finding this stage of higher education so tough…

          1. Yes,I have semester system(4 years=8 semesters),and after that there is PhD level.I have my first year and first semester of four.Maybe in the USA it is called first year in college.

  2. Man, I don’t even know where to start- except that I envy your resolve, and sincerely wish you the best. Somewhere along my way I lost that resolve. I never dreamed, coming out of high school, that I wouldn’t happily get a degree and then continue on to higher education, that I wouldn’t ever stop wanting to learn about the things I love the most. But while reality is, I still love learning, I lost the drive to do so. With 1 year of college left I made the blank decision that I wouldn’t be applying to grad school. Lots of factors involved, but of course with a liberal arts degree it’s a lot easier to feel insecure about your future.

    This post of yours hits me really hard right now, because I’m feeling insecure about a lot of things in my path of life. With my physical health on the mend I’m actually terrified because now I’m losing one vital excuse – yes, excuse!- for why I’m not doing something more with my life. I know that I need to figure out what my dreams are, and be comfortable with that. I don’t have expectations to return to school (though that’s not to be ruled out anytime ever), but I feel redundant and a little bit useless. My mind has been on a bipolar kick: I like my job, I love my job, I hate my job, my job doesn’t need me and they could do with someone better in my place. I should give it up. What do I do instead of that though? I want children, I don’t want them right now, I crave children. I’m scared I won’t be able to have any, or have them easily. Would having kids be the excuse I *want* to give up this job I may or may not like?

    So I run around in circles, in my head. And on the outside I just plan another vacation instead… Yup. Going to Chicago in March. And NYC in May. So, there’s another excuse to not make any life changing decisions until then.

    I almost wish life would make me decide right now. Because I need to be pushed/pulled into doing something before I commit sometimes.. Ahhhh. Life is hard.

    I’ll probably regret hitting the ‘post comment’ button in a sec, because now I’ve said these things out loud (or close enough to out loud) I can’t take them back. sd;askdjfsjdf. screw it. Here goes lol

    1. I have missed you around here! I’m glad you’re popping right back in and sharing stories again :) Thank you as always.

      You know, I’m starting to think that in all honesty – we’re never gonna be 1) truly ready for something and 2) figure things out. We didn’t in our teens, nor our twenties and according to my siblings at least – it’s not like things are suddenly less fuzzy in the thirties, too.

      So the way I see it – while it’s true that maybe you need the push to get up and do something about all these life-decisions, maybe this is also true: the long way there isn’t such a bad alternative. It’s slow and it meanders, occasionally you lose sight of the way and goals, or suddenly turn amnesiac and can’t remember how you got there or what you felt leading up to the present – I think this happens every now and then (I’m totally at this point btw, at the moment…) but as long as try, however slight (like still thinking about it even when you say you’re not), maybe… it just comes down to timing. And as my sister likes to remind me, “God’s timing is perfect.” For me the trigger’s always been one of two: 1) I feel like I’ve moped for too long (case in point, hence the new resolve) or 2) the push eventually does come. So I’m sure if the latter’s not coming at you, eventually you’ll get up and do it yourself, whatever that is. So just ride it out, but don’t quit weighing your options in the meantime :)

      I’m sorry I don’t have an answer to the things that’s been on your mind, but when it comes to this: “I want children, I don’t want them right now, I crave children. I’m scared I won’t be able to have any, or have them easily. Would having kids be the excuse I *want* to give up this job I may or may not like?” According to Eldest Sis who’d gotten pregnant immediately upon marriage – way unplanned, totally unexpected and most definitely freaking out unprepared – she said that she did spend pre-marriage days thinking of children vs career dilemma and didn’t know where a child could fit into her life (and her personality) and deciding to get married doesn’t necessarily mean she’s thinking of babies ASAP… then whaddya know, suddenly lil missy was on her way. Here’s what she said – that motherhood is a surprising thing, and indescribable, cliched as that sounds. I remember she said something like she thought so much about it and weighed between kids versus career development etc throughout most of her twenties but “when you actually have a child of your own whom you carried in you for nine months – the shift in priorities, everything you thought you knew or believed just realigned themselves around this little creature, like the most natural thing in the world. You don’t know what happiness actually means, until you enter motherhood.” She was totally unprepared, but accepted the pregnancy with an openness both heart and mind and I think that’s important. According to her, the realization that there’s life within you will instinctively make you step up and change – so if I may say this, don’t give in to your fears and anxieties so much about whether you’ll ever really be ready. Maybe the desire to have kids is the sign you need – and maybe even there’s no such thing as waiting for signs.

      Not that I actually know to ascertain the beauty of motherhood haha, but when she said all these to me then (not long after lil missy was born), her face just glowed, happiness written all over her face. I do know that I sincerely believe mothers are the most precious, bravest and toughest women and I hope you’ll someday join the ranks :)

      I’m writing a friggin’ essay here haha aw man but I really want to add this: yay for another vacation! I’m totally pro-vacation and traveling haha, but honestly and from my experience, a change of scenery and setting ALWAYS helps and almost always ends up propeling me to the next direction or chapter. It’s like things click and chips all where they’re supposed to, when I’m in motion. So go travel and relax! I have a feeling it’ll be exactly what you need :)

      1. Okay so I don’t regret hitting ‘post comment’ now. Thank you for missing me, aww. :D And wow, when you reply like that- it makes me realize how one-track-minded I get sometimes, in the hour of my stress. I mean I know there are so many great other things to think about in life, but when it’s just me, I can’t. Thank you again for taking the time to reply back to me like you always always do and make me feel awesome. :) :) :)

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