Letter #90

Content Warnings: Academic stress, familial stress, social ostracization, self-deprecation, imposter syndrome


I didn’t know what to put into my Instagram profile for the longest time. To this day, those few centimeters of my screen remain blank, still craving for some characteristics that could be tied to my name. Could I say that I was on my school’s tennis team? No, I’m only on junior varsity while the rest of my friends are varsity. Could I say that I played piano or was in the school’s top chamber orchestra? No, definitely not; I couldn’t even dream of making the all-state orchestra that half our school’s chamber orchestra fills. Could I put a Bible verse that I enjoyed? And be ridiculed by my atheist friends? Hard pass.


These trivial questions swirled in my head while my friends in the background urged me to follow them back. I didn’t understand the point of social media: it was just another place for me to be self-conscious about my reputation and the effects that my digital footprint could have on my life someday. Seriously, imagine one of my children coming in and telling me, “Mama 妈妈! I found all of your Instagram posts from 2024! Why did you post these?” Ridiculous.


Growing up, I wasn’t a naturally gifted child. In the second grade, I was in the second-lowest math group and struggled with basic reading comprehension. Meanwhile, my Asian friends, who had their entire life planned out by ambitious tiger parents, had already decided on their college major and calculated their predicted annual salary after they finished medical school. They already had private tutors, attended Kumon and IXL lessons, and had extracurricular activities that would have Harvard running at the drop of a hat. To put it simply, they were prodigies in the making. And I was, well, a second-grade student.


Growing up with these people was horrifying. While we always had great laughs and memories, deep down, I was secretly fostering a hurricane of jealousy and constant comparison. It seemed like their trophy shelves overflowed while mine was barely decorated. While their presence had certainly pushed me to work harder than I ever have and shaped me into a “smart” student with well-rounded talents, I knew I couldn’t ever compare to them. They were “naturally, never-have-to-study, fast-learning” smart. I was “studied for hours, asked my teachers a million questions, and pull-all-nighters” smart.


Unfortunately, growing up in this kind of environment nurtured a confused teenage girl that suffered from constant imposter syndrome and identity crises, all while being compared to the ideal Asian child by my parents and myself. It was really hard some days. I couldn’t even tell you who I was for a long time. It felt like I was just a mirrorball, small shattered pieces of glass taped together to seem somewhat whole. I would only reflect the personalities of other people around me because I couldn’t learn how to shine on my own. I often tied my worth to ribbons, medals, and trophies. I was a pathological people-pleaser and didn’t understand the concept of saying “no.” I was okay with others walking over me, as long as I was still included and well-liked. I craved academic and peer validation. I struggled to receive constructive criticism. It was as if there was no light at the end of my tunnel.


Everything got a lot better once we entered high school, though. I continued with the same group of friends, but I learned that natural gifts and talent burn out eventually, while passion and perseverance didn’t. I was really lucky to begin applying my talents to other extracurriculars, such as tennis and violin in school. I learned that while I wasn’t always going to be the best, I was already pretty good. And that was good enough for me.


I learned that a shift of mindset to gratitude was extremely helpful. I also developed an amazing support system of religious mentors, classmates and friends, coaches and teammates, and family that showed me it’s okay to be going through a hard time, and that I’m never alone. I now know that while it’s always good to strive for success, life means a lot more than just a bunch of empty-valued trophies that second-graders won. I feel so relieved knowing that I’ve finally found myself and have an identity I’m pretty proud of. So, maybe it is time I fill out that Instagram bio!

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