I grew up in a tough love environment.

I suppose this is true of a lot of Asian American kids. You we're told that you we're "never good enough," because it was believed that if a kid got spoiled by believing they're The Shit, this would completely ruin them. They would no longer be motivated to improve. So what came across as unkindness from my elders was supposed to be like a carrot on a stick, spurring me to higher and higher levels of achievement.

Well, this isn't China or Taiwan, where the studious wins the race. In East Asian societies, scholars we're the most venerated people in society. Even kings we're deemed truly great if they we're "philosopher-kings." People didn't believe in brawn over brain there. But here I am in the U.S., where studying is important and has it's place, but it is just as important to advocate for yourself, to "self-promote" so to speak.

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As a recovering perfectionist, it was always a challenge to feel good about myself. Even when I did well on a test, my mind would race to head and doubt my abilities over the next test, since doing well on one test appears to be independent of doing well on a subsequent test (my mind would wander to the reams of studying that must be done for success can be considered on another exam!). I constantly need to prove myself, to myself! It is difficult to feel that my unique self (just the word "unique" itself isn't seen as positively in East Asia as here in the U.S., where the first thing I learned in kindergarten here was that everyone is unique, like snowflakes!) is truly "enough."

Lately, I've been doing some acting/speech classes as a part of my business school curriculum. This format of speaking is drastically different from what I experienced in the past, as a scientist. Scientists can be armed and guarded while presenting, prepared for their work to be shredded by the audience (possibly, very likely!), especially if it's something novel or out-of-the-ordinary. You definitely need to know what you're talking about, because when it comes to data, others will not hesitate to act as devil's advocates. Also, scientists typically present their work in a dispassionate way. It was odd to get too worked up during your presentation. If you come across as very emotional and passionate, it would probably raise some doubts with the audience. It was important to let the numbers and data speak for themselves, or so I thought! Of course, even in business school, we've discussed that the presentation context matters. If you're presenting in a high-stakes situation where a lot of money is on the table, it's probably important to be very professional, serious, and reduce the amount of flash in your presentation. Slickness may be a stereotype for business people, but here in school I'm learning that what people value the most is authenticity and vulnerability. I used to write down copious notes and memorize what I'd say, before I could walk up in front of an audience. It's very difficult to just "wing" presentations and trust myself to improvise. I've bombed performances before in the past, on flute, and they we're some of the most nerve-wracking, uncomfortable, and traumatizing experiences in my life. It's easy to take it as a blow on my self-esteem.

I didn't expect this, but I'm learning now in business school how to speak from the heart, without that sheet of notes or slides to act as a buffer between me and my audience. It's daunting to do this, because of course, there are small flubs and word choices that could have been "more perfect" if I had my well-thought-out speech in hand. It takes confidence to stand in front of audience not knowing the exact flow of words that will come out of my mouth. Part of me anticipates the worst and wonder if I'll completely blank out. Of course, it was better than I expected. I came out alive, and greatly appreciate the compliments and suggestions from the audience. To speak from the heart and not be rejected is indeed a powerful experience. I never realized that presentations could be a powerful source of connection with other people. I found that I even enjoyed seeing people's reactions to what I was saying, when in the past, I never relaxed enough to observe how they we're responding to my presentation. I feared speaking in front of large groups, but I'm starting to feel that there's something interesting about this, and regardless of how much presenting I'll be doing in the future (I'm guessing it'll be a lot, actually), at least I've learned a lot from these experiences. I'd never known that one can and should reveal one's "true" self to a large group before, and that this is what really engages people and draws them in to pay attention to a presentation.

I'm slowly learning what my true convictions and beliefs are these days. One of my dear friends remarked that we didn't grow up the way many Americans did, where parents would ask the children's opinions and even give them the chance to order what to eat. In contrast, we grew up always eating what was given to us, and you better be damn sure to be grateful for what you're given. Sometimes, I'm still slow to know what my true feelings are (rather than what I "should" think or feel), whereas many of my classmates can instantly verbalize their opinion regarding a given topic or question.

Life has really shifted for me these past few years. I first came across the Buddha's teachings of compassion and loving kindness (towards self and others), shortly after I discovered yoga. These precious teachings really resonated with me, and it was first time I ever considered what it means to "accept" yourself. I always thought "accepting yourself as you are" is what lazy people did. But in attending medical school and witnessing firsthand the suffering of so many people, I became aware that self-hatred and self-deprecation is a dead end. It's still hard to live according to what I know to be true. I used to rely so much on the "competitive edge" to feel that I was doing the right thing. If I wasn't doing something intensely or pushing myself to the edge of what I'm capable of, I thought I wasn't working hard enough. The Chinese frequently believe in the saying, "no pain no gain." Even my acupuncturist here in La Jolla, who uses a milder, gentler Japanese style, described the traditional Chinese style of medicine and acupuncture as being exactly like that sometimes "no pain no gain."

In releasing the need to operate at the edge, I'm slowly finding that the gray area "beneath" the edge is a wondrous world of opportunitiesfor happiness, love, and forgiveness.

Today, I got a voicemail from my dad while I was in school. He wanted to know if I was OK, because my mom had told him I got a sore throat and fever. It was so rare for my dad to check up on me, that I was so touched and started crying when I got home. I often forget that my parents care about me, especially my dad. I often wonder if these last few years have been a disappointment to them, even though I know realistically that it hasn't been. My dad always had lofty dreams for me to be a great scientist. The striking thing is that the apple hasn't fallen all that far from the tree. I'm discovering now that I feel passionate about research, about knowledge, about discovery, and am driven more by the need for truth and understanding rather than profits and products (not that there's anything wrong with these things). I used to feel so much confusion when it came to research. I never knew if it was I, myself, who wanted to do it, or if I was just brainwashed by my dad. But today, I can say that it no longer matters. So much of who I am today is undoubtedly a result of my parents' teaching and sacrifices. Maybe they didn't always do things the "right" or "best" or "perfect" way, but I don't need to doubt that they care about me most in all the world. Given my training in the sciences, I always felt the need to question and doubt everything, but in learning about true self-esteem and self-confidence (and seeing how they differ from the "false" versions of thesehaughtiness and arrogance), I discovered that while I can question or study all the phenomenon in the natural world, I don't need to doubt the love the special people in my life have for me. I think I had been experiencing a blockage of some sort, doubting myself all the time and the care that people have for me. I am coming to a realization about the meaning of forgiveness and letting go of past hurts.

Faith is a choice, to have faith and confidence in oneself. Teachings and readings can offer a sanctuary, but faith must be exercised as a conscious act by the will.

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Posted in Internet Post Date 01/08/2021


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