A Fear a Week

One of my most vivid memories I associate with warmth is from my elementary school years. I was so timid through elementary school that toward the end of ballet class one day, I was too afraid of making noise by asking to use the restroom. As we got into fourth position, I wasn’t sure what was heating me up more, my cheeks or the urine running down my legs — but I did know I never wanted to come back.

Seven days later, I was in the same spot in the same room, floor dried, room aired, my splits perfected.

As I grew, I got tired of being shy all the time. I wanted to do fun things too, and not be scared.

When I entered college, I saw it as an opportunity to seize opportunities. I didn’t have to be shy and scared all the time. It was exhausting to be stressed about how loud or stupid I might come off. After being mentored by two of my favorite people to this day who encouraged me to follow my interests without fear, I wanted to actively nip my shyness in the bud. I pursued an admittedly corny, but very effective solution: every week, I’d do something that scared the shit out of me.

Actions varied: one week, I sat with a stranger in the dining hall (we’re still friends); the next, I cut 14 inches off my hair after over a year of being scared I’d never rock a bob (I did, and still do.) Other highlights of my year doing this included:

  • Moving to Chicago for three months
  • Taking on three jobs in one summer (do not recommend)
  • Taking on a 1.5 hour commute including 1.2 miles walking uphill for an internship (also do not recommend)
  • Taking aerial silks
  • Running a campaign for a Fatoumata Diawara show and having her tell me she’d take my poster because she wants to support the art of young girls
  • Asking someone I’d never met to drive me to a hackathon and sitting in the car alone with him for four hours, no worries of conversation lulls
  • Not pissing myself when I dance anymore

Good shit.

Not the expected ending

Big takeaway #1 for me was the obvious one: I can do anything I set my mind to.

Big takeaway #2 was more meaningful to me: That doesn’t mean I have to.

I grew up very insecure about my interests. If you asked me what my first heartbreak was, it’s when two friends in high school journalism asked the rest of the staff, “What is Gloria even good at? Isn’t it just writing? Who can’t do that?”

I tried to give up writing for two years after that, so I could prove I was “good at” a lot of other things. Destroying my shyness was destroying the expectation I be timid or shy or hesitate to ask for what I deserve, and answering the question of what I was even good at. A lot, it turns out.

But I also became not so good at taking care of myself. In the midst of challenging myself, I checked myself into the hospital toward the end of my third year of college for exhaustion and chronic illness.

From there came my longest-running “challenge”: literally putting fruits and veggies before working hard, playing hard; a good night’s rest over going out; saying, no I can’t help you I need to help myself but I still love you just in like eight hours.

Being a Chinese American girl, and the oldest kid and only female in the extended family generation, can mean at times I feel immense pressure to do more. But being a confident, grounded woman means I also can say I’ve done enough.

Looking back, I probably let my weekly challenge run a bit too long. And that’s part of the process. I’m certainly still adventurous, and take precautions to ensure that’s not at the sake of my well-being. I can demand that balance.

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