Because I am coming full circle with my two years here at Stanford and six years total in the US, closing this chapter in my life for good – it’s actually happening – I keep trying to make sense and extract meanings out of every little detail and episode in my recent timeline. But what if some things and events simply are, and in trying to find something that isn’t there, I conjure demons of self-resentment and self-loathing instead?
Sometimes I think my biggest mistake of all, is being so unkind towards myself.
Even on a good day like today, I find that I don’t trust the thoughts I have about myself. I always wish I am less this, more that, louder this way, softer that way… it goes on. Over and over, I keep looking to others because insecurities are annoying that way; I see in others the kind of fullness that I am convinced I lack in myself.
If only I know better, how to love myself more kindly.
I have no doubt that I am my harshest critic, reducing and at times even rejecting myself, before anyone does. The truth is, when I remove everything up to Stanford away from myself, I find that I amount to little. I have all these smarts, maybe, but so what? Broiling passion for a dozen things, all polarizing from each other, and then what? I trace the jagged outlines of words in poetry and rip my heart to shreds over melancholic tunes, for what? What do I stand for? Who am I, in my most basic form – separate from the words I spill here, the nonsensical tweets I put out, the different personas I put on depending on my company?
I wish that over the past two years, I wrote myself with more gentleness.
I am still trying to put to words the past two years – what they amount to me and just how much the changes that have taken place have affected and allowed me to grow. Not everything has been terrible, it’s true. The wise would likely dole out this gentle reminder: no experience, good or bad, is worthless. I believe that, too.
I apologize to those who look at me through this blog hoping to find inspirations on how to be academically successful and wholesome, who wish I shared exciting insights about my life in Stanford. Ivy Leaguers and fellow Stanford and Stanford-equivalent alumni are probably shaking their heads at me for my smallness and constant confessions about my weaknesses and feeling like this place, at the end of the day, drowns me.
I admit defeat; I lost against expectations, self-created and imposed upon by others. In the end – which is now really, since I’m exactly a month away from leaving this place for good – I admit that I shriveled, instead of rising above the abundance of smartness and potentials and glimmering futures and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
The truth is, every other adjective that comes to mind when I think of Stanford feels like a lie because they are lies. I wouldn’t say I’ve been happy here, for instance. Of course I had instances and moments, but as a whole, I just can’t look back at this period knowing I was at my best, that this place nurtured that out of me. That would be false. I can’t say I made friendships for the ages, either. Even now when I try to think of my classmates and friends here, people I would potentially miss when I am halfway across the globe, this time for good – I come up empty. This place is enriching, the experience humbling in many ways, but everything else others believe and love about this place, I find myself struggling to express the same awestruck expressions and glee.
I had asked myself this question countless times in my first year; is this pair of shoes too big for me, or is it simply that I never allowed my feet to fit snugly into this specific pair? In other words, until now – is it me or the place?
To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever truly know the answer. Not now, at least.
If there is one adjective that will always come to mind when I think of Stanford though, no matter my sentiments and rhetorics about the place, it is this: grateful. And you know, maybe that suffices. Maybe that’s enough.
I am grateful for the lessons I picked up along the way in this long and arduous journey, those which amount to little and are oftentimes so basic to others, yet are the same ones I had to wade through tears, sweat, and an exhaustible degree of loneliness to inherit. I am grateful for these life lessons, which are arguably more valuable than my long academic journey, because they build character. I am grateful for the hard punches to my ego and intelligence, because those blunt knocks taught me about true dignity through kindness and humility. I am grateful for the extended time given to rethink the conceptualization of home, both in my mind and literally. I am grateful not so much for the friends I have made, because to be honest while I have gotten acquainted with people I would not be quick to call them friends, but I am thankful that my life’s trajectory, however briefly, intersected theirs. I am grateful for distinct colorful characters who, by being themselves, reminded me to redefine my own.
I still believe if I could have a do-over, I would have chosen to go to grad school later in life. That would also be my personal advice to aspiring grad school college student, who look to grad school in the same way I did: the answer to missed opportunities in undergrad. I actually think the Big Bad i.e. outside of the school setting would have been a far stronger teacher. I think I entered too young – too mentally young – that this experience did not enrich and enamor me in a way I think it should have had, professionally and personally. But I’ve also learned plenty about second chances; this isn’t the end. While I am not leaving this place as a victor, I think I am still exiting as a scholar because the road to learning is endless and I am its lifelong disciple.
Thank you for the experience, Stanford; you’ve been worthwhile.