Location: Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, CA; Credit: Ziyan Chu

Do Better: 5 Lessons in my 21 Years of Life

This has been one of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life. I risked everything I had to make my life better from last year, but I can’t help but think of the costs. One year ago today, I was in New York City for my first Thanksgiving with a family other than my own. Fast forward to February, and I began a nearly semester long protest which resulted in being elected as Vice-President of the Wesleyan Student Assembly. Jump to May, and I risked it all with one guy, while closing the chapter with another from nearly a year before. I lived in San Francisco, barely, but did what I love in a city that I fell in love with. Every day was a challenge and a vacation at the same time, but the things we love the most eventually come to an end, which meant I had to return to Wesleyan.

Once back, I found myself estranged from someone with whom I was fully invested in, in the center of a campus-wide controversy, and deeply grateful for every experience I lived.

Regardless of the excessive successes I experienced, I found myself a deep depression. I tapped into every resource I had and still struggled with a devil that clung to my back. I learned, however, that I hadn’t been selfish enough. For nearly 6 years of my life, I did everything I could with others in mind. Even if helping those other individuals would ultimately serve some sort of backward internalized utility, others were always before myself. I started to slow down and reprioritize my life, putting myself at the front, but found myself even more unsatisfied, aimless, and hopeless. I knew I had to strike a balance between the two, but I had not a single clue if that was possible.

Then I discovered meditation.

Imagine taking a magnifying glass and examining every portion of your life, not with any intent to fix anything, but solely to identify where you went wrong and accept it. That’s what meditation did (and continues to do) for me. When I feel out of control of every single aspect of my life, which is not to say I expect to be in control of everything, I stop and I meditate. I use guided meditation, otherwise the endless aspects of my life to meditate on would leave me in a worse state. Needless to say, I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my life. I’ve compromised friendships, pushed away strangers, and wound myself in a ball of stress. At first, all of the above didn’t amount to anything, but quickly they stacked up, accumulated, and overshadowed every aspect of my life.

This past year, I didn’t understand why the once confident person I used to be slunk into his room. I didn’t understand why the once sociable person found himself loathing interaction with other people. I didn’t understand why everything became so hard to do. I still don’t understand everything about myself, but I’m starting to unravel years and years of trauma, self-doubt, and overall uncertainty.

To say that something traumatic doesn’t affect you is a lie. Trauma shapes you. My “lost” teenage years (note that I say that rolling my eyes as I type it) affect me to-date. Think of it this way: when you share stories with your friends from your youth, do you withhold anything out of embarrassment, shame, or fear? I did. For so long, I held in everything that I did from so many people (and I still do). Only a handful of people know everything about me, and I can tell you it isn’t my family.

I opened up to strangers, in hopes that they would welcome me in and start to assist in an all-too-long unraveling of my trauma. Some opened up to me as well, and others shut me off completely. Those who opened up to me mean a lot to me now and I depend on them for everything. Alternatively, those who shut me out, I resented for a long time.It wasn’t until I decided to meditate that I began to forgive.

Lesson one from my 21 years of life: it is so essential to forgive, or at least, commit to forgiving. Even those people whom you think you hate, you have to commit to forgiveness. In the past year, I’ve created too many “enemies” in my life, but I know that one day I will move on. That brings me peace.

Lesson number two: have convictions, beliefs, and non-negotiables written down. Too many people flip-flop on what they believe, which, in my opinion, will come back to haunt them. I don’t believe in political or social expediency, and I would much rather own something I said and believed than try to cover up something I said to just be popular. Furthermore, people will know what they are getting into when they meet you, and if they don’t like it, there are billions of others who may very well agree with you.

Lesson number three: go all in. If you give half of yourself to a project, expect half to come out. Only luck yields gain with half-hearted commitments, and you don’t want to live on luck.

Lesson number four: find something you love and make time for it; in fact, make time for multiple things you love in your life. I discovered too late in my college career that I find solace in studio art. I discovered too late that I need to budget time aside for friends. I discovered, thankfully early enough, that I want to commit to fitness. All of your hobbies demand time because that is self-care. Like Ann Richards said, “If you think taking care of yourself is selfish, change your mind. If you don’t you’re simply ducking your responsibilities.”

Finally, lesson number five: love yourself and forgive yourself. The balance between the two is humility and understanding. I’m still working on this, and it may take a decade for me to become really good at it, but I’m committed and ready.

We have to power to chart out a better future for ourselves and those around us. I do what I do with the best intentions, most importantly, to learn. I admit that I don’t know everything, but I do know that if we paralyze ourselves because we don’t know what will happen, nothing will get done. Commit to what you believe in, and if you aren’t ready to commit, maybe you don’t believe.

I still have a lot of growing to do, but going forward I have these five tools in my pocket. I know the kind of people I want around me and I know that I’m moving out to San Francisco. I know that those who invest in me, I’ll invest in them. Those who commit to giving back, I’ll commit to them. Surround yourself with people who give, because you’ll give to each other. You’ll rally around one another and be critical. You don’t want a circle of yes-men around you because you’ll get nowhere. But most of all, something that isn’t a lesson, find someone whom you aspire to. The person I aspire to be is Ann Richards, and I work hard everyday knowing that I will do anything to make her, my friends, and my family proud.