Taking Risks

There was a time when I was extremely afraid to step out of my comfort zone. A gymnast for ten years, I devoted my life to one thing, and one thing alone- gymnastics. I devoted myself to the sport, but sacrificed school life, social life, even family life. Gymnastics was my life. It was all I ever knew.

Imagine the shock I felt when, at age fifteen, a second semester freshman in high school, I was told that I would never be able to compete again due to extensive knee injuries. Gymnastics was my comfort zone- my friends were from gymnastics; my confidence stemmed from gymnastics; my sole identity was that of a gymnast. Gymnastics was my ultimate bubble. It took me high up into the skies of glory and success, but when that bubble popped, I came crashing down onto the hard pavement called reality.

During the initial stages of rebuilding my life after the injury, I remember feeling extremely bitter. I was bitter about having to start from square one as a beginner again. I excelled as as gymnast, but found all other aspects of my life- relationships, academics, life skills- to be completely devoid of nurturing. I remember asking God why He let this happen to me. I remember feeling worthless, lost, unsure of my identity and role without gymnastics as my anchor. Beneath all that bitterness, however, was an overwhelming fear. Fear of the unknown.

It took me two years after the injury until I mustered the courage to actively explore new hobbies and passions outside of gymnastics. I attribute this turning point largely to therapy. At my lowest point, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder brought upon by the years of living a high-pressured, competitive athletic career that fueled my already perfectionistic character, to the point where each day felt like walking on eggshells. I didn’t want to mess up; I feared failure and how others would perceive me if I appeared flawed. Because of this obsession with perfection, I closed myself off to the opportunities of trying new things. I lived a safe, risk-free life. Yet I was far from being happy, and even further from feeling fulfilled.

Therapy saved me. Together, my therapist and I worked on changing my distorted thoughts from striving for “perfection” to striving to be “my best”. Once my illusory idea of perfection was stripped away, I was able to open myself up to new experiences without fear of judgement from others. It was ultimately filling my life with new experiences and new people that enabled me to move past gymnastics and rebuild an identity from scratch.

When I started to step outside my comfort zone during second semester of junior year, I was EXTREMELY afraid. However, it was this acceptance of the unknown, and ability to act in spite of fear, that propelled me forward. Was I terrified walking into my first ballroom dance class on Valentine’s Day of 2015? Oh yes. What about that acting class I went to with my two close friends? You can bet I was shaking the whole way to the acting coach’s house. Don’t even get me started on the public speaking class I took at community college during summer of 2015. I vomited the morning of the first session! But what is the common thread among all of these experiences? I was afraid. But did I let the overwhelming fear turn me away? No. I kept going to those dance lessons. I stuck out the entire six weeks of public speaking. I kept. Showing. Up.

But man, am I glad I took that initial ice-cold water plunge into the storms of the unknown. That experience- moving past gymnastics by stepping out of the comfort of the familiar- has taught me some valuable life lessons, the most important being: taking risks, stepping outside your comfort zone, and carrying on in the presence of fear propels personal growth.

These past two years, I’ve experienced more emotional and spiritual growth as a person than I did in my ten years as as gymnast. Granted, the demanding nature of the sport forced me to live such an extreme life of sacrifice (as I’m sure many highly dedicated athletes and artists know). However, I must say that to devote oneself entirely to ONE THING, and to become exceptional at ONE THING, really does not leave much room for personal growth. If I were to do it over again, I would still work hard as as gymnast, but would also maintain a sufficient balance in other aspects of my life, leaving time for family, friends, and experiences outside of the sport.

Thus, my current life mantra- take risks. Even the smallest of risks will bring great fulfillment and confidence. The following are some examples of ways in which I’ve applied my mantra to everyday life:

  • Instead of replaying all the “what’if” scenario’s in your head, just ask out that boy/girl you like, dammit! For my senior prom, I asked this one guy to be my date. Was I nervous while asking him over the phone? Oh yeah. Did he say yes? You can bet he did! At the end, he couldn’t make it due to last minute scheduling conflict. But the point is, by taking a chance and asking this guy to prom, I put myself out there, made myself vulnerable, but gained satisfaction and newfound confidence in the process.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions and participate in class. Let’s be honest- expressing your ideas can be scary. You open yourself up to judgement and even criticism from others. Don’t let this fact stop you from getting your voice heard. I remember sitting in on a statistics class at UCLA, and having a burning question for the TA. I was nervous to raise my hand to ask this burning question, worrying that my question would be dumb, or that the TA would discover I wasn’t an actual UCLA student and kick me out. But I did it anyway, because I figured, why the hell not? The TA ended up giving this long-winded answer to my question, and I was left both satisfied and proud of myself for being able to ask a smart question amidst a bunch of college students.
  • Have you ever dreamt of dancing like the professionals on Dancing with the Stars
    , but was terrified to do so because you worried you would suck? Yup. That was me a year and a half ago. I knew I wanted to try latin dance, but I worried about little things, like “What if my hand sweats too much”, or “What if I’m simply too shy to gyrate my hips like that?” Well, I ended up putting all those insecurities behind me, and carried out my goal. And now I’m dancing  competitively!! Competitions still terrify me (yes, even after 10 years of competitive gymnastics), but that just shows there is always room for growth. That is why I’m committing myself to compete as much as I can before I go to college, with hopes of getting more comfortable on the competition floor. Bottom line is, don’t let fear hinder you from doing what you want to do.

I’d like to conclude this post with a quotation from Nelson Mandela that effectively embodies what I stand for:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

~Nelson Mandela

Such words eloquently describe my life’s mantra: Step outside your comfort zone. The view on the other side is incredible.

Final College Decision/End of Senior Year!

Hey guys! Hope all is well- I know I haven’t posted in a while, and I apologize for that. My life has been pretty hectic as of late, what with AP tests, final exams, college stuff, etc. I just finished my multivariable calculus final this morning, as well as my AP Lit final project.  I actually took my multi final two days early, since I have a driving exam on the day of the scheduled exam. As multi is by far my hardest class, I am super pleased to say that I am done with it.

This post was a spontaneous decision on my part, so I apologize in advance if it is disorganized. I felt the need to give you guys an update on what’s been going on in this exciting time of my (and all high school seniors’) life! Firstly, I’m super excited to spend the next four years of my life at UCLA!! Many of you guys probably know this already and are well aware of the anguish I faced in coming to this decision. Aside from being a school I feel perfectly at home at, UCLA has the resources I need to succeed as both a premed student and dancer. Of course, deciding to leave home was not easy. Choosing to leave my dance studio and brilliant latin dance teachers was especially difficult. However, when I asked myself which school would provide me with the most opportunity for growth and happiness, the answer was clear. I truly believe UCLA was the right choice for me. While I will miss my Bay Area friends and family, I surprisingly do not feel any regret with my decision.

Having gotten into college and decided where I will be spending my next four years, I- and most high school seniors alike- are really feeling the full force of senioritis now! It’s funny because going into second semester senior year, I was still in denial of the fact that senioritis would hit me at one point or another. You can read my post A Rant on Senioritis, in which I completely roast on senioritis and those who fall victim to it. I’ve always seen myself as especially disciplined, so the idea of me slacking off academically was out of the question. But let me tell you, even the most disciplined of students will feel it to a certain extent. It sneaks in almost imperceptibly, usually during the beginning of second semester- you spend a little less time studying for that calculus test; ditch sixth period now and then; sleep in a little longer instead of waking up early to study. Then, as college decisions roll out and the end of senior year looms closer and closer, the senioritis really starts to emerge from the shadows. The peak of my senioritis hit right around AP testing (first two weeks of May). I know, what a convenient time, right?! It was a real struggle to get myself motivated to study for those AP exams (I took four this year), especially when UCLA gives virtually no AP credit. I found myself skipping more and more class- in my defense, I only skipped when I was absolutely certain we weren’t doing anything important that day. Either way, I began to slide down the slippery slope. Did I feel guilty? Absolutely. For a person who’s been disciplined most her life, this taste of freedom was a little more than I could handle at once. I took advantage of it. What is interesting is that after AP tests finished, my senioritis subsided. I studied diligently for my spring semester finals, which is strange because colleges usually don’t care about second semester senior year grades! Currently, I only have two finals left- an AP Stats project and a human biology final exam, which I will study for once I conclude this post. My message to incoming high school seniors then, is simply that senioritis is inevitable. It may hit some harder than others, but the truth is that relaxing a little bit after getting into college is COMPLETELY normal and COMPLETELY okay! You deserve a break after four years of hard work. Just be sure to relax in MODERATION. Once May 1st hits, and you commit to your school, you will feel the pressure of four years lifted off your shoulders, and you will want to fly. Trust me- you will!! Just be patient and hold off the urge a little longer, until AP’s and finals are over. Then you have the entire summer to simply be an eighteen year old.

Okay, I have to get back to studying! I’m still working on my three-part college application series, as well as my summer bucket list, a piece called “Taking Risks”, and a “Letter to Incoming High School Seniors”. I’ll talk to you all soon!









Hi everyone! On the eve of my AP Psychology exam, I really feel the urge to share something with you guys (yes, I know, timing has never been my strong suit). I feel that the message I will share holds great implications to ALL of us, especially in an age when smartphones and electronic devices play such a huge role in our everyday lives.

I want to caution you guys on the dangers of too much screen time.

Now, we’ve heard it all- too much screen time endangers eyesight; causes you to miss out on the beauties of nature and human-to-human interaction; wastes valuable time; etc.

While I couldn’t agree more with all of the above points, I feel that simply listing out the potential dangers of excessive screen time is not nearly as effective as giving a concrete example of how such an action can hurt quality of life. Allow me to illustrate with a personal story.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been spending WAY too much time on my phone. What brought this on, I cannot say for certain. Perhaps it is the senioritis bug that’s finally bitten me, causing me to loosen my grip on all aspects of life, including my control over screen time (*A tangent- for your entertainment, if you haven’t read my 12/18/15 post, “A Rant on Senioritis”, do check it out. You will see how much my attitude towards senior year has  changed in the past 4.5 months). What I WILL say is, by succumbing to the temptation of the phone, I gave up my self control, and with that, my freedom. A phone is such an interesting little thing, isn’t it? What was originally a convenient means of communicating with others has evolved into what is now a life-line of sorts. Somehow, it seems that many of us- myself included- cannot get through a single day without our precious device. Somehow, man has become victim to machine.

An analogy: drinking in moderation can be a good thing- why not enjoy yourself a little more at Aunt Jane’s annual Thanksgiving dinner if you can? The problems only begin when you lose the self-control over the drink. In AP Psych terms, your “superego” takes over (like I said, my AP Psychology exam is tomorrow, I couldn’t help it!). Worst case scenario is when the habit spirals into alcohol addiction. Scary, sad, and pretty damn difficult to kick. But the same can be said of smartphones and other electronic devices. Used with discretion, a phone is empowering. Abuse that power, and you become a victim of, what is rightly called, screen addiction. The frightening part is, nowadays, smartphones are incredibly accessible to people of all ages- young children, teens, adults, and elderly alike.

Scared is how I felt when I realized how much I depended on the phone to live my life. It is almost compulsive now for me to reach for my phone the first second of free time I get. If my phone is not in sight, I feel uneasy. And I’m sure we can all relate to the feeling of pure terror when we “lose” our phones, only to breathe a HUMONGOUS sigh of relief and shower the little thing with kisses when it magically reappears. It is difficult now for me to go long periods of studying without checking my phone.  When I am at school, I see so many students glaring at their phones, mindlessly scrolling through social media and games, experiencing what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls the “flow” state of mind- complete absorption in a task. This is why all screens, be it phone, tablet, computer, or television, are so addicting- we experience flow, and are thus able to find a momentary “escape” from reality. I used to look at these kids behind their phones and feel proud that I was part of the strong-willed minority. Now, I cannot say the same. I have succumbed. Even when having conversations with friends and family, the little screen seems to beckon for my attention. Phones hinder people from having true, meaningful, sympathetic conversations. But the phone is completely innocent. It is the people holding the phone who is to blame.

So how has my phone- or, more accurately, my lack of self-control over using the phone- impacted my life? I could list a whole host of ways excessive screen time has negatively affected my life. In fact, I have already named a couple- inability to hold meaningful conversations with people I care about; compulsive checking of the screen, making it difficult to focus on a single task.

The best way I can describe my phone’s impact on me, however, is through a single word: FOGGINESS. By allowing my phone to hold power over me, I have not only renounced self-control and freedom, I’ve lost my CLARITY. What exactly do I mean by clarity?

To me, clarity is not only the physical state of being awake, sharp, focused, and alert. It is also the mental state of complete awareness of the present moment, not letting the mind wander to the past or future. Simply being CONTENT with the now. For me, I equate clarity with those rare glimpses of the “bigger picture”, so to speak. Laying down on the beach, gazing at the vast ocean before me, and simply feeling at ease- completely happy with my life. Or sitting at my desk, doing calculus homework, and being stuck on an incredibly annoying integration problem, yet feeling complete sense of calm and gratitude for the opportunity to do calculus homework. I probably sound like a crazy person right now, using “calculus” and “gratitude” in the same sentence. Perhaps a better way to illustrate this idea of clarity is to relate it to mindfulness. “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

By spending a large chunk of my waking hours behind a screen, I’ve deprived myself of fully experiencing the beauty of the present. I go on my phone, spend countless minutes scrolling and scrolling mindlessly through facebook feeds, instagram profiles, youtube videos, you name it. Twenty minutes later, I gather the discipline to finally look up from the screen, and realize the sheer amount of time I had wasted. Time that could have been spent either studying for AP’s, reading a good book, dancing, taking a walk, helping with chores, learning to cook, playing piano, studying for the MCAT, meditating, writing a blog post- the bucket list goes on. I feel physically tired- gazing at a screen for a prolonged period can cause grogginess; mentally drained from all the useless sensory stimuli; COMPLETELY unhappy and angry at myself for succumbing to the temptation of good ol’ Steve’s brainchild. I get back to the task at hand (usually schoolwork) but my mind is somewhere else, still berating myself for wasting twenty valuable minutes doing absolutely nothing productive. I am not content with the present. Heck, I am not even in the present because I’m worrying about future consequences of past actions. I feel a mixture of guilt over my lack of productivity, anger over my inability to resist the temptation of the phone, and anxiety over the amount of power my phone exerts over me. In short, by allowing my phone to take control of me, I have lost my peace.

Well, I am determined to gain back my peace, control, and freedom. I have decided to enlist the help of an outsider- namely, my mother. I know I’m going down a slippery slope, and I won’t even BEGIN to imagine what would happen if I let something like this go on. Good thing for me is that my phone addiction (yes, it hurts to say that, but it’s the truth) was only in the beginning stages of its life. I refuse to let it go any further. I need my clarity back.So, on this night, I’ve given my phone to my mom, who will hide it from me for who knows how long. I simply called her into my room, looked her in the eye, and handed my phone over. She took it from me without saying a word; her eyes indicated she knew it all. And hopefully, in departing with my phone for an indefinite period, I will regain my peace. Actually, in writing this post, I have gained more clarity of my situation (hence, the therapeutic nature of writing).

So let my story be a warning to all on the very real dangers of excessive screen time. I’ve experienced both a life with and without my phone (I didn’t get my iPhone until Christmas of sophomore year in high school). When in control, a phone is incredibly useful and makes life so much easier. But, as you have seen, it is very easy for one to lose that control, as I have. Coming from someone who considers herself disciplined beyond her years, this is saying a lot. Please please please take my story as a cautionary tale- limit your screen time, for life can be SO much richer when you simply choose to glance up.