the problem of perception.


Once, in a public speaking class I took in college, our improv speech assignment was to describe ourselves as fruits. One by one, my classmates went to the front of the class – there were apples, oranges, our local king the durian … whatever you could think of, there they were. Unlike them, I dreaded my turn and my anxiety grew with every minute that ticked by. While others were having a jolly good time relating their choice of fruit with their personalities, my mind went blank. I hated having to explain myself, hated it even more that I had to share a piecemeal of myself to this particular crowd, of all people. I’d never been able to fit in with them; not once. I didn’t know what to liken myself to – a mango? A watermelon? A rambutan? I can still remember my sweaty palms and rapidly beating heart, as I made my way to the front when it was finally my turn to speak. I tried rehearsing the brief spiel in my mind, but nerves took over.

“I…” I began. “I think I am a mango.” Oh gosh, why am I a mango? “Mangoes are soft on the outside, but underneath the softness are tough seeds. That’s kind of what I am.” I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. These people, they don’t know me – never did. “I look soft on the outside so people think that I’m a pushover… like there’s not much to me, but they’re wrong. I might look weak, but I’m strong-minded. No one can force me to do something I won’t. So I’m a mango – soft on the outside, tough inside.” 

I went back home later that evening and recalled the day’s highlight to Eldest Sis, who laughed when I told her I’d likened myself to a mango. She looked at me and simply said, “You’re a watermelon. You think you look tough, but you’re actually a marshmallow. In reality, you’re such a softie. Anyone who knows you well enough will know you’re just acting tough.” 


Now, another meaning of quotation marks is that what you see between them, what you read between them, is a quote from somebody else. And if what you see through your glasses is a quote, then you can start looking at things from different perspectives.
– Joost Swarte, on his recent design the Quotation Marks


“The other day I had this thought,” I admitted aloud to her, my closest friend here, “It’s like I woke up one day and realize I am twenty-three. Suddenly I am twenty-three and I am nothing like what I thought I would be, where I’d be … who I’d be, you know? When this hit me, I was… disappointed. At myself. That surprised me.” I paused, rearranging my thoughts. “More than anything, I think it’s ego. Bruised pride. I’ve always had too much of it cos I… I’m used to being the best, you know? I don’t know what to do with my pride, where to place it, when I realize that others can call my bluff here.” 

“You’re egoistic?” She asked, surprised. “I’ve never thought of you as that – maybe other things, but not full of pride. You’re always so open with your struggles and weaknesses, not hiding the less-than-pleasant bits of yourself. You’ve always seemed egoless to me. You’re not at all full of yourself.”

I stared back at her, surprised. All these years… all these years… thinking I’m a snob, too full of myself. Huh.


the problem of perception by Grant Snider
by Grant Snider at
Awesome comic by Grant Snider at
by Grant Snider at


At one point in the conversation she said, “Think about it this way. Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond, or would you rather be a small fish in a big pond?” I smiled at the analogy; I never thought of it this way. “Would you rather stay within your comfort zones, thinking you’re big and great and becoming increasingly complacent there …or would you prefer to grow? Thrive in a setting where you’re constantly challenged and have to keep defining yourself to keep up?” 

“You got me there,” I responded with a laugh.


“flowers happened when the first plant saw the death of the jurassic period and began to giggle with uncertainty.
flowers stretched across the earth on the whim of,
‘why not, let’s see how far we can get.’
green to red, to purple, to blue, to orange, to yellow, to paris,
to your doorstep, to your nose.
you crinkle your nose when you smile; the roses i got you last week know that almost as well as i do.
i like that i can smell them on you after you hold them to your face.
if something can spread so far from home without the slightest fear of what it’s leaving behind, who’s to say that you can’t too?
let the cactus on your windowsill be your guide
to growing: prickled and comforting and young.
you can go as far and wide as your legs can take you,
and though your stomach will not burst to spring forth thousands more,
you have bones that move and grow with you,
and you should use them.”
– Ishani Jasmin, You Are So Much Bigger Than Your Roots | ishanijasmin


Last Saturday I shared the analogy with my old buddy, the medical physicist. We were in the car, at some gas station two hours from Yosemite. Our other friend was filling the tank, so it was just the two of us in the car. “My friend said something interesting the other day,” I began. “She asked if I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond, or if I’d prefer to be a small fish in a big pond-” 

From her passenger seat, she turned back to face me in the backseat. She looked me directly in the eyes, making sure our eyes met. I swear I saw hints of a grin forming on her lips as she coolly said, “Or a big fish in a bigger ocean. Widen your playing field, why don’t you?”

Huh, I thought, completely taken aback. have some great friends, was my next thought.


Your sacred space is
where you can find yourself over and over again.
– Joseph Campbell
Disclaimer: the awesome comics are by Grant Snider at incidental comics.

9 thoughts on “the problem of perception.

  1. I can relate to that really especially to first part.You made me think about what I would do in that situation.I ,like you,hate to explain myself to others.I always think they don’t know me so how can they judge me? The question itself…it’s hard to answer right away.Am I a mango or a watermelon?No matter what I choose I’m 100% sure I’m wrong.This is really the problem of perception.I should ask someone else who knows me well about it I think:)
    Recently I’ve realized that our future is absolutely unpredictable.We try to make plans,try to imagine how it will be like in 1,2 or 10 years.I did it many times before.I always was wrong.Life is abolutely unexpected.Everything can change in an instant.
    I used to be the best in my high school.Teachers praised me and everyone said “she’s smart”.When I went to the university I met many talented people and realized that some of them were actually smarter than me.I wasn’t the best anymore.Frankly I was upset.It was my bruised pride.But I realized pride and ego weren’t main things in my life.And being the best was good but I’m ok with who I am now.I try to do my best.

    1. Hello Paloma, thank you as always for sharing your stories :) Ha, you sound a lot like me… Your story could easily have been mine. You know, that bit you wrote about the future being unpredictable – I complete agree. These days I’ve been thinking about “figuring things out” and I realize that it’s okay, really, to not have things figured out. It’s so cliched, but it’s also true. It’s okay to not know where you’re headed to, so long as you’re open to the hundreds of possibility. You are absolutely right that life can change in an instant so it’s more about making the present count? Or so I tell myself. I wouldn’t say you’re always wrong about your perceptions and future views, but it’s okay if it’s somewhat fuzzy and equally fine if it changes course and direction over time. I love it that you’re always so datable though – constantly changing your point-of-view and mindset depending on your situation. I’ve no doubt you’ll turn out okay in the end, whatever and wherever that is – you already have it in you :)

      1. Thank you for your words:) You guess it right I’m very changeable.Everything depends on my mood.I can be optimist for some weeks and then became pessimist because of something.Now I’m so nervous because tommorow my first exam.But I try to be optimistic though.
        I don’t know if it’s right or wrong approach to life but I think people are constantly changing.I don’t mean that people are changing every day but some situations and events change us I think.

        1. Good luck for your exam!!! You can do itttt. Mine is on Monday and urgh, I’m super slow at the studying. I get what you are trying to say, no worries :) yup we are adaptable beings, and those who are more malleable and faster to adapt are better for it I think, because it is like your survival skills are honed to better prepare you for the next challenge life throws at you. I really like how you’re so strong-willed when it comes to this though. I think I am pretty adaptable, but really slow at it. Like I need to wallow and mope and wallow and nope (cue lots of writing and sadness, sometimes curses) until I grow tired of myself and decide I need to step it up. It sounds like you’re the type to get up and go for it, which is great! I definitely need to learn a thing or two from you :)

          1. Good luck with your exam too:)Fighting! You (and I) can do it.
            You’re right:) I’m always super nervous about my exmas but I always find courage in myself and really get up and go for it.

  2. This I can relate with. I am turning 25 this June and I have not in anyway accomplished what I thought I would have by this time. Nor can I see myself being able to do those in the near future, specially career wise. And what’s more disheartening is that I often compare myself to my roommates (we’re all of the same profession), and I often come up short. No matter how much I tell myself to stop with the comparisons, I just can’t.

    Perhaps, I am not just emotionally nor mentally mature yet to be confident of what I have achieved as compared to what I envisioned I would have. :(

    1. Ugh I relate. I totally do, and when I used to live with my housemates, I keep comparing (consciously and unconsciously) myself with Housemate #2 who’s also an engineering major. Even now, whenever I think of her who’s already out in the working field earning big bucks in the oil and gas field…

      But you know, my friend said something good the other day, which I’m now trying to live by. “Redefine big, redefine your scope,” she’d said. Honestly I think it’s a lot harder than people think or claim to be emotionally and mentally mature – as in permanently, where you don’t let insecurities etc overtake you anymore – and I remind myself it’s okay to not have things figured out. These days I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m nothing like I’d envisioned …and it’s okay. It is what it is, I am what I am? It’ll take me a few more years etc, but where I am isn’t so bad. I hope you can convince and feel the same about your present self :)

      (pssst from our convo here though, you’ve always sound like such a great person! :) )

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