My Personal Story
Let’s talk about the most dreaded social years of my life—elementary and high school. As an adult, I know that the school-age years are an awkward stage for most people. Like most others, I went through school trying to fit in. But while other kids were probably trying to find a social group, I was looking for anyone to call a friend. It wasn’t pretty or my proudest years. But I survived and grew above it, especially now since some adults never grow out of their high school mode.
However, if I could go back in time and give my high school self some advice, it would be this:
First, ignore the mean ones. Once you graduate, they will have zero impact on your life. Spend your valuable energy elsewhere.
Second, do the things that you like, without needing to have others there alongside you, for a sense of security. Don’t be afraid of taking on a new sport, class, or hobby by yourself. You will naturally make friends because you’ll have things in common. This also means don’t be scared to challenge your parents. The pain of being a disappointment to them will be for something to benefit your growth. It’s your life to live and be happy in. It’s worth the risk. It is here where you’ll find yourself.
Third, other people’s opinions ultimately don’t matter because they don’t have all the context on you. Including your parents, who may never have taken the time to humanize you. How can you value somebody’s opinion of you, parent’s opinions included, if they don’t have the full picture? More importantly, everyone is trying to find themselves, has self-esteem issues, and is struggling with something. Stop trying to be someone you’re not.
And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, learn the art of socializing. Not to fit in but to be a part of something. Read that last part again, the two are very different. Socialize to be an effective communicator and problem solver. This will help build confidence and boost your cognitive interaction skills, and thus you would learn not to live in your brain so much. Therefore you wouldn’t have to develop so many social anxieties that would later carry into adulthood.
Your best investment is being true to you – your wants, your needs without any other influences. So don’t be scared to be you. Don’t be scared to be different. In fact, rock it proudly. This is where you’ll succeed, trust me.
With love – your future self that had to figure out things the hard way.
PS: Hoard as much Bitcoins as you can when they first come out. Don’t stop mining them, you’ll know what I mean, and you’ll thank me later.
Not having opportunities to socialize gave me low self-esteem issues and it became an unhealthy cycle of social anxieties. I was trying to find my place in the world and dealing with my inner self-conflict. I was a hot-naive-mess.
Being the only girl in a house full of boys meant that I received this “special treatment” of being kept at home. I used to think that if my mother could she would shrink me down and keep me in a cute little mason jar. Reasoning with myself, saying that this was their way of keeping me safe, not wanting me to be a “bad girl”, because that’s exactly what she said.
When I was little, I wanted to learn how to dance, sing and act. My mom hated the idea of having me in any of these classes because she thought them to be promiscuous. I begged for dancing and piano lessons, but my pleas were always met with a hard no by her. When it came to piano lessons, the reason was that we didn’t have any money. Yet my brother got karate lessons, no problems. When I couldn’t get dance lessons, I would dance at home, but my mom would always give me a disapproving look and tell me that, “proper girls don’t move their bodies like that.” So I eventually stopped. I’ve always assumed that this mindset was driven by a cultural issue, I now know that it’s not.
Sidebar: My mother also hates the fact that my sons dance, even if it’s just to Fornite. However, last year, I learned that my hypocritical mother used to be a dancer herself when she was little. She was also cast as the lead angel in her school Christmas play when she was in Vietnam. A story she shared proudly during Christmas dinner. When I asked for her reasons for not allowing me to dance, she answered by saying, “oh, I don’t know why I didn’t allow that. I don’t remember.” This is something I feel like I’ll never be able to understand. It’s hard to have closure because it affected me—my life. My interests, potentials, and opportunities were all held back, all without good reason.
I grew up in the ’80s in a town where my family was a minority. To get any Asian groceries we had to drive at least an hour out towards the city. I went through most of elementary school trying hard to fit in but eventually gave up on it. Most of the interactions and socializing back then happened face to face. Kids would talk about what they did during dance classes, music classes, or sports activities. They were able to hang out together after school and on the weekend. When I was at school I felt out of place as I didn’t have anything in common with anyone. Because of alienation, I was teased and bullied a lot at school. Not only that but because I was a minority, I was often called out with racial comments.
While walking home from school with my brother, I remember kids would run up to us and shout, “haha, your name is chow mein and fried rice.” In high school, I had the nickname “rice eater,” which caught on like wildfire. I had a girl threaten to beat me up because she didn’t like the way I looked.
Telling my parents didn’t make anything better. They were inadvertently making life worse by preventing me from making friends with other kids to create a supportive social group. But my parents, my mother specifically, wanted the exact opposite. For me, not to be influenced by friends and not have a social life at all. I quote her, “going to school is strictly just for educational purposes. After you’re done learning, you come home. That’s it.”
I held my own through all these bullyings and teasing moments and I stood up to all of them when they confronted me. I defused the situation of that girl that wanted to beat me up, and I flipped “rice eater” into “wheat eater” because, hey, if I can’t stop them, I’ll join them. This backbone and lip service of mine has always been there for me when I needed it. I only wish I had grown into it more.
In Grade 7 there was a graduation camping trip for my class. I had asked my parents over and over if I could go, but the answer was their favorite word, “no.” So I didn’t hand in my permission slip. When my teacher noticed that I was the only student not going on the trip, she asked me why and if it was ok for her to call my parents to inform them that the trip was safe and ask for permission on my behalf. I was ecstatic because there was hope! It had worked, I got the approval to go, however, when I went home that day – life was miserable. My parents snapped at me and questioned whether or not it was my plan to have my teacher call and convince them to let me go. I think my parents felt like I betrayed them, and now they’re obligated to give me permission. It became apparent that I had burdened them as they were flustered reacting to my camping supplies list. They were angry that they now had to worry about additional things sleeping bags and extra warm socks for me.
The camping trip in itself was great. But it was purposeless because when I came home from camp I was back to not being allowed to hang out with anyone. So eventually I was weeded out from the social groups again.
In my high school years, things became really strict. My high school was a block away from my house, and every day at lunch, I was forced to come home for the hour. I didn’t even know how the cafeteria system worked until I rebelled one day late in the year and saved $3 for lunch. The experience of getting food wasn’t so bad. I just followed the line and did what the other kids did. What I didn’t know was the worst part of lunch is the intense pulse-racing-forehead-sweating moment of scanning the room to find a seat in the cafeteria. As I should have known, it’s exactly how the movies depict it.
In grade 8, I begged and begged my mom for the iconic Rachel Green’s haircut, from the pop-culture tv show Friends, and she refused. So, one day I locked myself in the bathroom with a pair of scissors and hacked at my hair. My mother was livid and that’s me putting it mildly. To be fair to her, she wasn’t wrong, it did turn out horrific.
She was forced to take me to a salon to get it fixed. Except for, it wasn’t a salon, it was a hairdressing school, and the lady was just starting out as there was another lady helping her map out my cut. I definitely did not get my Rachel Green haircut. What I ended up getting was a longer version of Monica’s hair when she asked Phoebe to give her a haircut like Demi Moore. My new haircut didn’t help the weird Asian girl reputation that I already had when I went to school the following day. My self-esteem took a nosedive even more.
When I did meet a friend, I developed a
slightly unreasonable amount of clinginess to them. I was overprotective and jealous should that friend be better friends with someone else. I would do extra things to have them like me more, as though it was a secret competition between me and another friend that they had. Bad, I know. But I was desperate and lonely.
On that note, kids can be mean little human beings. For example: [ in a loud whisper to a group of 5 or 6 people ] “Crap guys, Theresa’s coming, shhh don’t tell her that I’m here.” This is Amanda. She was saying this as she made eye contact with me while scurrying behind a school’s lamp post to hide from me. A very skinny lamp post where she could wrap her arms around it twice. I heard every word and remember how fast my heart raced. Not only that, but how hot my cheeks felt when I walked past them. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me and hear their smirks and giggles once I had passed them. I can still feel that the gut-punching feeling of wanting to crawl into a hole.
Now that I’m older, I understand the Amanda and Theresa relationship’s reality was this, she was my acquaintance and I thought that I was in a committed relationship with her. Walking the school hallways after this became dreadful. Going to any classes with her or anyone else who witnessed that incident was even more daunting.
I was lucky enough to meet Sandra and Lindsay in the second semester of grade 9 science class. I wasn’t as close to Lindsay as I was with Sandra. Sandra was the only friend, real friend (and I can say that this time!), that put up with my family strictness and understood the rules of engagement should she want to continue being my friend. The cool part about it was she didn’t mind my limitations. Although I never shared all the deeper and darker childhood trauma and abuse with her, she helped me push my boundaries with my parents and was the first friend that was willing to hang out in my crazy house since I wasn’t allowed out much, all without judgments. Needless to say, my mom hated her and her influence on me.
Although Sandra was pretty awesome, I still had my internal self to fight. It’s almost as though I couldn’t believe I had a friend that just wanted to hang out with me for who I was. I wanted to do everything that I can to keep her around, including not being true to myself and not trusting her. I also was jealous of her all the things that she could do with Lindsay and other friends, like go to parties, the movies, the mall, or bond through experiences such as dressing up for Halloween to go trick-or-treating. Although Sandra never knew, and I didn’t know myself at the time, I had developed attachment issues.
I graduated with Sandra and Lindsay, which was the biggest and only highlight of my high school years. The process of going to prom was hell living with my parents, but having them there alongside was worth it. My parents were reluctant to let me go, but I finally earned a yes after so many pleadings. One of the stipulations was I had a curfew to be home by 11 pm, which I didn’t keep. I also wasn’t allowed to go in the limo with them so I had to lie and told them that I needed extra help after school for exams while I was actually working a part-time job. I earned enough money to pay for my share of prom night, and come that night, I had asked my friend’s parents to pick me up and drop me off to where the limo was meeting us. While my parents thought that they were chaperoning us to prom.
As incredible as prom was, it didn’t take long afterward for my relationship with Sandra to come to an end. The truth of the story is, I was upset with Sandra because she left me waiting for a boy. Free time was valuable to me. So when I was able to hang out, I wanted to take advantage of the time I was allowed to leave. Unfortunately, this happened during an era where cellphones and texting weren’t the norms, as we could have at least texted each other to make arrangements.
My mom knew of this and told me that “a real friend doesn’t disrespect you and make you wait, or forget about you, especially when they know that you’re on a strict timeline with your parents.” Her nagging voice, in my mind, became the truth because it did feel like there was a lack of respect. By the time she made it to hang out with me, I didn’t even let her explain. I had walked out on her. In my mind, there was betrayal, she chose another person over me, and I stopped responding to her calls.
Sandra didn’t do anything wrong. It was me that did wrong. She was a teenager with a teenage heart, infatuated with a teenage boy. That’s a part of life. And this is something I should have been coached on. Our 4-year friendship should have held more clout than what I made of it, and having a boyfriend doesn’t leave mean that I’m left behind. I should have had more patience, understanding, and most importantly, I should have tried to work it out and not cut ties. This was an opportunity for me to build quality relationships by being there for Sandra and vice versa. It was also a missed opportunity to learn how to balance understanding and acceptance of others while not lose myself blindly in a relationship.
It’s during these critical and fragile years that I should have established a better rooting system of who I was. I based my entire existence on either my family’s acceptance or… well, anyone else’s acceptance. The caveat was the world didn’t even have a chance to accept me because I hadn’t even discovered and created myself yet to offer the world any part of me. But if by chance I was able to find a friend, the façade that I was trying to keep up was betraying me, over and over again.
Owning who I am was the first step in dismantling my social anxieties. The second step was forgiving and loving myself for all of the social awkwardness that I had gone through. It was cringy but needed. The third step is learning from it, and answering where these anxieties come from and why? By doing this, I gained confidence in who I am, and this was powerful. This newfound confidence is fierce because all of a sudden other people’s opinions on me no longer mattered as much anymore, as I know they don’t have the entire picture of who I am. Socializing then became a lot lighter, as it should be.
Although it may come off as bad advice, I should have challenged my parents on the hobbies and interests that I wanted to do, to create my own opportunities, instead of leaving it up in their hands and living in their fears. My happiness is solely my responsibility and nobody else’s.
My parents focused only on behaviors that they don’t want to see in me rather than the behaviors that they do want to see in me. Instead of learning how to socialize, which I’m stressing is an essential tool to get through life, I can chop garlic and onions like nobodies’ business. I can cater to a banquet if needed. I can clean like no other, and I can organize as though my entire life depends on it. However, I have never heard my mom tell me that she’d like to see me become a chef working in the hospitality industry, which happens to be a career she’s prepared me for. She has always wanted me to be a lawyer working in a cutthroat industry that requires more than the essential socializing skills, skills that I was not given opportunities to develop in—the irony.
There are so many stories these days where young adults are disowned and shunned from their families because they’re pursuing a career that is not of the usual “doctor or lawyer” nature. Many parents can’t see the gratification it brings to their kids when kids are able to match their careers with their interests and natural abilities. They can only see the lack of designation to their child’s name because it’s all that they know life to be. The saying should go, money can’t buy happiness, but happiness can bring in money.
An unsolicited piece of advice to these parents: without the open-mindedness to understand, you will only distance yourself from your children over time. Here’s a little secret sauce to humans, we all just want to be understood. Period.
An unsolicited piece of advice to kids living out their dreams and staying true to themselves: keep doing what you do.
Even though I’ve gone through all of these (and more) cringy and embarrassing moments when I was younger, I’ve realized that I’m exactly where I’m suppose to be. Because without these moments, there’s no growth. Something as simple as taking piano lessons could have taken me down a path in my life where I wouldn’t have met Mike and we wouldn’t have our two boys. And although I wrote a lot about my lack of experience to socialize when I was younger, I gained experience on how not to socialize so that I can guide my kids along their way. I can’t say for certain that if life gave me everything I needed that I would have come to these realizations, what else is there to learn when you think that life is going great? So, I guess it’s all about perception, really.
As an adult, it’s never too late to learn and pick up new skills, whether in the school of academics or the school of hard knocks. But some of the best skills to recognize and flourish in are your natural talents. You’ll start recognizing them when you start asking yourself why you do certain things and react to life a certain way. As these are abilities and experiences you probably didn’t realize you have. Even if it means reliving a painful past, although it takes bravery, there are always lessons to be learned there.
As my husband would say, I just happened to be a little bit of a late bloomer.
Better late than never. *smirk*
Trust the timing of your life, my friend.