Spring Quarter Week 5 Reflection: Mental Health, Loneliness, and First Tattoo?!

Hi guys! Hope you all are having a great Saturday!

I apologize for being totally AWOL lately. I know I haven’t been keeping up with my weekly reflections this quarter like I did in previous quarters, which is ironic, since this is the easiest quarter I’ve had at UCLA thus far.

I wish I could say I was doing well… but I’ve been struggling with mental health problems these past few weeks. My mood has been so, so unpredictable. My mother likens my emotions to the stock market– constantly in flux. I have moments of high motivation and ideations of being able to “achieve anything I set my mind to”. But lately, I’ve been feeling a constant lethargy and low motivation. I feel lost, lonely and doubtful of my ability to succeed in life.

I think a big part of my mental health problems stems from the lack of daily structure characteristic of this quarter. I took a lighter course load this quarter so I could focus on dance and improve my mental well-being. I’m beginning to notice a personal trend– when I’m not constantly busy and immersed in work, I get depressed. I lose the regimented structure that I am so familiar with, and in turn, I feel lost. My ten years as a gymnast epitomize the kind of structure and discipline I need to feel most effective and productive. Since leaving the sport, I don’t think I’ve been able to recapture that regimented lifestyle. I ask myself why I can’t create my own structure and keep myself busy, even if I don’t have much schoolwork to study. The fact that I feel at a loss of things to do when not burdened with externally-imposed goals/tasks– i.e. homework assignments, papers, dance competitions, etc.– shows that, perhaps, a lot of my life’s achievements have been extrinsically motivated. Studying hard to get good grades. Training hard in gymnastics and dance to win competitions. What is it that I’m after? Other people’s approval and praise? If I was truly intrinsically motivated to achieve, I would set personal goals and embark on passion projects for my own enjoyment, exploration and learning, rather than robotically completing tasks and challenges laid before me.

How did I get in to UCLA? I studied hard, did well on standardized tests and demonstrated high achievement and dedication to my extracurricular passions. I knew how to play the game– or rather, I was raised in an environment where everyone was furiously playing the same game to ultimately make their ways up the social ladder, via education. But what if all those long nights of studying and hard work amounted to just that? Playing a game. I don’t think I was ever truly invested in learning. I never found a vested interest in any of the subjects I studied in high school. I never had an itch I really wanted to scratch. I studied hard because I wanted to get into a good college. Because that’s what everyone needed to do to become successful, right?

I’m starting to wonder– can I even call myself an intellectual, an academic? On paper, you’d hardly question that I did well in school. I got into some great universities and have been excelling here at UCLA. But simply doing well in school does not make one an intellectual. For my brother Chris, the traditional classroom did not reveal his true bright colors and potential. Disorganized and sloppy at times, he was the kid who’d do his homework the day it was due and forget to turn it in. He has always beat to the beat of his own drum. He’s the kid in the classroom who, instead of frantically copying notes from the board, will raise his hand every ten seconds to ask seemingly out-of-the-blue questions, to the chagrin of his teachers, who often couldn’t provide adequate answers to his inquiries. On paper, he is less than outstanding, at least in comparison to his siblings. He didn’t even get in to UCLA, whereas his sibling both got in as Regents Scholars. But the truth is, of the three of us, Chris is the only one with a true learning mind. If it weren’t for my mother’s constant urging, I’m sure Chris wouldn’t care about his grades. He’s in the classroom to learn. His intentions are pure. My parents used to worry a lot about Chris, because on the outside, he seemed to be the one who didn’t have his sh** together. I don’t think they have anything to worry about, though. His artistic talent is undeniable, his critical thinking skills unrivaled. Chris has a beautiful mind and, more importantly, the warmest heart.

I look at Chris, and I admire him so much. In him, I see a reflection of what I am not. Never have I gone to school out of my own volition. School was just something I had to do. A deterrence to what I really loved– gymnastics and dance. I am here at UCLA, but really, is my heart in my studies? I feel like a horrible person for admitting that, despite being graced with the opportunity of being at UCLA, my heart really just wants to focus on dancing, and see where that path leads me.

As you could all imagine, my parents are NOT happy with my decision to leave UCLA to pursue dance further. Every time I call them to discuss the matter, emotions heighten and we end up fighting. Each conversation ends the same way– my parents frustrated, me hurt that they don’t seem to support me in my pursuit of dance. They are letting me take one quarter off from UCLA, not because they support want me to dance, but rather, so they can keep a closer eye on me and my mental health.

A couple days ago, I went to the ER for a psychiatric emergency. My dear friend Emily walked me to Ronald Reagan hospital, a mere five minute walk from campus, and stayed with me until I was stable. The weeks leading up to that day, I was progressively spiraling lower and lower. My rocky relationship with my parents was one emotional trigger. I hate disagreeing with my parents. All my life, I’ve done what they’ve asked. I was never the “problem” child. I studied hard in school and performed well as as gymnast. I never partied, dated guys, drank, smoke or did drugs. I was a good, clean girl. For the first time ever, I am going deliberately against my parents’ wishes by choosing to explore a career in art. To me, my parents are the voice of reason. They’ve always seemed to know what was right for me. So long as I listened to them, everything was fine. Safe. Stable. But, coming to college, I realized that my heart was definitely not in pre-med. In fact, it probably was somewhere else altogether, beyond college.  And I owe it to myself to follow my heart, right? To be happy. It’s too bad my parents’ definition of happiness (education as a means to attain financial stability) does not align with my own. I am a dreamer, a fantasizer, a young and reckless soul. I’m scared as hell to go against my parents’ better judgement. Maybe I’ve chosen a path that inevitably leads to a wall. I could resign myself to a conventional, stable life of graduating from UCLA, going to medical school and becoming a doc, whilst dancing as a hobby. Not that there is anything wrong with such a life. Most people choose this path, and with good reason. The archetype of the “starving, tormented artist” is not something most people strive to be. In any case, I’m going for dance, simply because I owe it to myself to go for my shot while I’m young and still have this narrow window of opportunity. I don’t want to live in regret. And even if I don’t find success as a dancer, at least I can say I gave it a valiant effort.

Another trigger that led to my latest mental breakdown was, as aforementioned, the light course load I’m taking this quarter. Without needing to constantly be studying, I’ve had more time to sit and ruminate about my decision to leave UCLA and give dancing a shot. During midterm season, everyone around me was studying like crazy. I, on the other hand, had only one theater midterm to worry about, and thus was taking it very easy. I think a part of me missed experiencing the midterm-hype. I know, sounds crazy to say, right? But when all your friends are too busy studying to hang out, and you are the only one on campus taking it easy amidst a heated environment, you feel like a fish out of water. Believe it or not, I felt… lonely. This is the first quarter at UCLA in which I was no longer on the rigorous pre-med track. And maybe, just maybe, a part of me missed it. I know why I took a break this quarter. To focus on myself, my mental health, my dancing. To do some serious soul-searching. I knew I couldn’t possibly decide what I was truly passionate about if I was buried neck-deep in organic chemistry, my perfectionism forcing me to obsessively study in the tunnel-visioned pursuit of getting into medical school. So I took myself out of the academically rigorous environment. In doing so, however, I think I faced a mini identity crisis. For the first time in my life, I felt like… an academic underachiever. Why wasn’t I studying hard like my peers? What the heck was I doing? Was I wasting time, like my mother so often said? Was I doing the right thing?

These past few weeks, I’ve been feeling lonelier than ever. Emotionally divided from my parents, soon to be distanced from my friends. I can’t help but look at my friends and think about how I have only five more weeks left to make memories with them, before it’s back to the Bay. I wonder if the friendships I’ve nurtured this past year will last once I’m no longer in LA. College was the first time in my life that I’ve been able to develop true, meaningful relationships. My heart is full as I recount the many instances in which my friends were there for me, and I for them. I can’t imagine another time in my life where I didn’t feel like an outsider, a lone wolf. Here at UCLA, I’ve discovered the beauty of sharing life experiences with people you love. Life isn’t a single-handedly fought battle to achieve goals. Friendships are not just a “waste of time”. Here at UCLA, I finally feel like I belong to a group of people. It hurts that, just as I had begun to find a second home in UCLA and earn my place in people’s hearts, I will be leaving behind this place and its multi-talented, ambitious, kind people. A part of me has been interested in exploring the so far uncharted territory of dating, but I hesitate to start something right now, when I’ll be leaving in five weeks.

Going back to a couple days ago, when I decided to go to the ER. I was feeling particularly low, empty and unstable, and I feared for my own safety. Even though I was deemed well enough to be released from the hospital after a few hours, my parents decided that I needed to come home so they could be there for me when I have breakdowns such as these.

So now, I am most definitely leaving UCLA for an indeterminate period of time. To my parents, I’m coming home to fix my mental health, while focusing more on dance is a mere “bonus” feature of my primary reason to leave UCLA. To me, I am coming home to dance. If it were just about my fixing my mental health, I would be able to build a support system in LA, without needing to leave behind my friends and the school I love. But, if I go home, I know I’ll be able to continue my growth as a dancer under the tutelage of my teacher, Daniele. For the first time in my life, I’ll be able to put everything into dance. I am excited to see how far I’ll go.

Because I will be moving back home in a matter of one month, I feel a desperate need to relish my freedom while I still have it. Yesterday, I got my first tattoo, on the right side of my ribcage, below the bra-line. It is the word “Endure” printed in black ink and cursive letters. I think the word speaks to the human condition of pushing through in the face of inevitable suffering. The world is a cruel, dark place. I’ve lived in a sheltered, pristine bubble my whole life up until college. Moving away from home exposed me to another side– a darker side– of the world. A side where people take advantage of you and drop you once you’re no longer of use to them; where, no matter how hard you work, success is not a surefire guarantee; a world where the limits of reality constrain you from pursuing what you truly love. College itself is still a bubble. I have yet to brave the “real world”, and I expect it to be even crueler and even darker than college. Such is life. Life is freaking hard, and at times, it takes nearly all I have in me to not let adversity beat me to a pulp. This is why I’ve ingrained the word “Endure” into my very being. We are all enduring, every damn day.

To those of you who’ve known me for a while, you’re probably shocked to hear that I’ve inked my body, as I may very well be the last person you’d imagine to do such a thing. I, for one, am very happy with the way the tattoo turned out, despite the 15 minutes of sharp pain. Shoutout to my friend Linda, who let me squeeze/scratch/twist her hand while I gritted my teeth through the pain of the whirring needle. The place I got my tattoo is called “Shamrock Social Club”. My tattoo artist was Mike, and he was super nice and professional. Shamrock is a bit on the pricey side, but the quality is impeccable. With something as permanent as a tattoo, I didn’t want to risk the artist messing up or using a dirty needle. I called my mom today and told her what I had done (yeah, try as I may, I can never keep big secrets from her). She replied, in a tone laced with disapproval, that her opinion no longer matters, as whatever my parents tell me to do these days, I won’t listen. I’m sure she is referencing the whole dance decision… but either way, I am 19 years old, and I have the right to do what I please with my body and my life. As long as I am safe and make wise decisions, I don’t see anything morally wrong with getting a tattoo. I grew up in a conservative Mormon family, spurning the practices of drinking coffee, consuming alcohol, smoking, using drugs, gambling, desecrating your body with tattoos and multiple piercings, and engaging in sex before marriage. I automatically assumed that all such behaviors were innately wrong. Coming to college, I have become a lot more tolerant towards people who do engage in such behaviors. I am no longer quick to judge people based on their lifestyle choices. In fact, I’ve personally explored some of the above experiences, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, as long as you are safe, there is nothing wrong with having a little fun once in a while. I do know that going home will mark the end of all such behaviors, at least for a long while. It’ll be back to the pure, disciplined life I led before leaving home. But, if that is the cost of pursuing dance, then so be it.

Alrighty guys, I need to head to bed soon. Gotta wake up early tomorrow to study! I just remembered– I forgot to talk about my first day of work at Bruin Café. It was a fun experience indeed! Expect a blog post on that coming tomorrow, as well as on my current status on dating/romantic relationships. Lots of juice on the latter topic.

Meanwhile, I am combating my depression by creating a set structure for each day. Keeping busy helps. Starting work at the café has kickstarted me back into the structured grind, and my mental health has shown a marked improvement since. I’m also going to update my blog on a weekly basis once more (I’m telling you guys this so I’ll be held accountable, should I feel myself slipping). I’m determined to end this last quarter at UCLA with a bang, both academically and experience-wise. I’d love to go to Santa Monica beach, attend a movie premier at the Bruin Regency Theater, swim in every pool at UCLA and try every exotic restaurant in Westwood. Mostly, I want to remember my year at UCLA as a positive one of immense growth and maturation.

 

 

Best,

Belicia

 

 

 

Big Life Decision!!!

Hey guys! Long time no talk! It’s currently Friday at 9:47 p.m. as I begin this post. I’m sitting at a table in LAX, Gate 52E, awaiting my flight home. I’m going home just for the weekend to take dance lessons and try out with a potential dance partner. Ahh, dance… Lots have been going on regarding dance lately. But first, we need to catch up on the  past three weeks of spring quarter at UCLA!

I started off the quarter taking 22 units— 3 GE classes, 1 theater class and 2 fiat lux freshman seminars. After week 1, I concluded that, if I wanted more time to dance and care for my mental health, I’d need to lighten up on academics. I ended up dropping my theater class and philosophy GE, so I’m down to 13 units, which is 1 above the minimum number of units required of full-time students. The old Belicia would have reprimanded herself for taking it easy and not pushing herself to the breaking point academically. She would have compared herself to her fellow classmates, many of whom are taking difficult classes this quarter, and worried that she’d fall behind. The new Belicia has realized that she needs to do what she has to do to maximize her well-being and happiness, and if it means taking a lighter course load this quarter, so be it. Health comes before all else.

Some highlights of the past three weeks of spring quarter include: Dance Marathon, OSP and my neuroscience freshman seminar class.

Dance Marathon

Every year, UCLA hosts Dance Marathon— 26 hours of dancing and other activities— and raises thousands of dollars in support of pediatric AIDS. DM lasted from Saturday 11:00 a.m. to Sunday 1:00 p.m., during which time, dancers had to remain on their feet. I know, sounds intense. But truly worthwhile. Present at DM were around 200 dancers, moralers (people who cheer on the dancers to stay on their feet), pediatric AIDS ambassadors (children born with pediatric AIDS), celebrity guests and live bands. I decided to leave after 12 hours, as I figured that I had done my part in raising over $300 for the Pediatric AIDS Coalition, and any extra hour I spent dancing was icing on the cake. Plus, I was coming down with a cold that weekend and had a lot of homework to do. So I left the venue Saturday night at 11:30 p.m. Highlights of my experience included listening to a freshman at York University speak about her personal battle with congenital HIV, seeing celebrity guests Tia Mowrey and Bradley Steven Perry (I waved hello to Bradley and he waved back!), dancing/jumping/bobbing my head/singing at the foot of the Pauley Pavilion stage to reverberating, near-deafening music of live pop/rock bands (it was my first time being at a live concert), helping my color team, team Pink, answer trivia questions about HIV (the GE Cluster seminar on HIV I’m enrolled in gave me a slight edge in the game), taking a swing dance lesson and infiltrating different dance circles to flaunt my Latin moves. It was a fun 12 hours, but I made the mistake of not pacing myself on the dance floor, burning out 4 hours in. Next year, I’m aiming for the full 26!

OSP

The Overnight Stay Program is something UCLA’s Regents Scholar Society puts on each year for prospective UCLA students admitted as Regents Scholars. OSP is divided into four 3-day-long sessions, spanning the first two weeks of April. When OSP happened, I couldn’t believe that, exactly one year ago, I was that wide-eyed high school senior experiencing UCLA student life for the first time. I remember treading the UCLA campus, wondering how the heck I would find my way around alone. I remember being shocked to see students eating “late night” food past 11pm, and feeling like a rebel myself as I slurped down my late night cookies-n-cream gelato that my host had so kindly “swiped” for me. I remember looking up to the OSP coordinators, all college freshmen, amazed at how mature and responsible all were. One year later, I am that very same college freshman— more mature, responsible and self-aware than I was before college, but still struggling to find my life path. I derived meaning in imparting advice to the eager prospective students, many of whom were choosing between UCLA and some other great universities. For OSP Session 2, two fellow Dancesport club members and I had the opportunity to showcase the performing arts side of UCLA. We performed cha-cha, rumba and salsa, and even got the prospies up on their feet and dancing. My roommate, who was one of the coordinators for session 2, later told me that the prospies really enjoyed our performance and even expressed interest in joining Dancesport if/when they come to UCLA!

Neuroscience Fiat Lux Seminar

UCLA’s motto is “Fiat Lux”, which translates to “Let there be light”. In these 1-unit seminars, students— mostly undergraduate freshmen— have the opportunity to engage closely with professors in discussions on various topics. This past year saw fiat luxes on creative writing, Jane Austen, meditation, dystopian literature, deep sea creatures, the Trump presidency and many more! This quarter, I enrolled in 2 fiat luxes: “Why We Disagree and Can’t Agree to Disagree on the Trump Presidency” and “Shall We Dance? How the Brain Controls Movement in Health and Disease”.  I’m having so much fun in both seminars, especially the neuroscience one. The title of the neuroscience fiat lux was slightly misleading, as the focus of the class is not on dance, but movement as a whole. Nonetheless, my 10 peers and I are learning so much more than just neuroscience. Professor Chandler has given us invaluable advice on how to best succeed at UCLA/life. Time management and balance between studying and extracurriculars are his two mantras. One of the requirements to pass the class is a 20-minute partner presentation on any topic related to the brain. Last week, my partner and I delivered our presentation on Seasonal Affective Disorder. Considering how little time we spent on preparing, and the fact that we were the first group to present, I’d say we did a pretty good job. After the presentation, classmates remarked at how “eloquent” I was in my speaking— a compliment I gladly embraced, considering my longtime struggle with public speaking anxiety. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous for the presentation in front of the professor and my 10 peers, but I can confidently say that my shyness is shedding, rapidly. That same day, I went to Professor Chandler’s office hours for a one-on-one meeting. What was supposed to be a 15-minute session turned into a conversation that lasted over an hour. I knocked on his office door, and he told me to come in. When I proceeded to sit down, he told me, in a stern tone, “You will stand when you speak to me.” I thought he was serious, so I quickly stood up, reminded for a second of the intensity and discipline of gymnastics. He quickly told me he was joking, and I relaxed. I saw pictures of his two daughters and asked about them. He offered me some pistachios, but I declined his offer. We exited his small office and sat down in a lounge area in the lobby. He asked me how I was liking my time at UCLA, what my favorite and least favorite things about the university were, and how my transition to college went. I expressed to him my continual struggle to find my calling. Is it medicine? Is it dance? Is it something else? I’ve asked myself these questions so many times, I swear I sound like a broken record. Professor Chandler simply told me to “chill out” about finding a career path. He told me that the degree you get does not determine your career path. His younger daughter is a case in point. She graduated college with a degree in accounting, and now works as a CPA in a large firm. Is she necessarily super passionate about what she does? No. But she’s making decent money and using her accounting experience as a stepping stone to reach her ultimate destination— business. Your degree is not a life sentence. And college freshmen needn’t know what they want to major in when they first start university. In fact, the average college student switches majors about 3 times! So, I should just chill, enjoy my time at UCLA and embrace the beauty of being young, with a whole lifetime of opportunity and open doors ahead.

Now, for the latest development in my life journey. I am almost certainly taking a leave of absence from UCLA to pursue my dancing. The university allows students a maximum leave of one quarter, after which they must reapply to UCLA. In taking fall quarter of 2017 off, I’d have all of summer, fall quarter and winter break— a total of 7 months— to explore dance further. You see, guys, I’ve gotten to the point where I just need to know— is dancing something I truly want to pursue? As a full-time college student, I simply don’t have enough time to pursue dancing to the full extent my heart desires. To dance as a hobby is one thing. To dance as a career is another. The past two quarters at UCLA, dance has been rendered to the level of a hobby, a “side-thing”. I dance only when I have time. And I realized that I’m not really okay with that. I need to give dancing a chance. I need to give myself the chance to reach my greatest potential as a dancer. My prime time is NOW, not four years from now, when I graduate college. There is a narrow window of opportunity for one to pursue a dance career; once that window has passed, you can never go back. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life regretting not going for my shot while it was still there. 7 months of dance immersion. I will train, coach and work to pay for my lessons. During this time, I will really see if a dance career is for me. Do I like the dancer’s life— in the studio all day, teaching and practicing? Living and breathing dance? If I do, then dance may be something to pursue. If not, then I can go back to UCLA in Winter 2018, continue with my studies and keep dancing as a hobby. I don’t want my UCLA experience to be tainted by the fact that I cannot dance full time. I don’t want college to be an obstacle, a roadblock, standing in the way of what I’m passionate about. But that’s the thing— am I passionate enough about dance to pursue it as a career? I can’t know this until I experience the dancer’s life firsthand, which is why I feel the need to take time off from school to explore dancing further.

I just want to take a minute to express how utterly grateful I am for my family, who are willing to do anything to ensure their children’s happiness. I am lucky to be having this dilemma between school and dance in the first place. Some parents would never consider the “ludicrous”, “silly”, “ridiculous” idea of supporting their kids in an artistic career. For some kids, college is the only path to financial security. They don’t have the luxury to take dance lessons while in school. Heck, some kids don’t even have the opportunity to go to college! I am beyond lucky. I am so, so privileged to have grown up in a family that not only has the resources, but is willing to support their kids in all their endeavors, unconditionally. I mustn’t take for granted what I’ve been blessed with. Having my parents support my education is a privilege, not a right. They could just as well tell me to work to pay for my own tuition. And the fact that they’re willing to pay for my dance lessons on top of that? Let’s not forget that I have two brothers the same age, also in college. My family is amazing.

Here’s what worries me, though. My dad is not getting any younger, and he is, understandably, looking to retire. I don’t want to delay his retirement by prolonging my time spent in college. I think I’ve been spoiled to the point of ignorance. Because my parents have always been willing to pay for my gymnastics career, my brother’s music career, my dancing, and our education, I sometimes forget that all this money doesn’t fall out of the sky. This is all my father’s hard-earned money. And I’m not entitled to it. I just happen to have especially supportive parents who love their children so damn much, that they’d do anything for them. That doesn’t mean I can just take advantage of my parents’ support. I am 19 years old. It’s time for me to be a little less selfish, learn independence and alleviate my parents’ financial burden, especially while money is tight. I’ve decided to start working at a school café to help pay for my dance lessons. I have an interview on Tuesday, so hopefully I get the job.

Alright guys, I must end this post here, for I have homework to do, followed by dance practice! I also need to clean my dorm room, which is a total pigsty right now. I’ll talk to you guys soon!

Love,

Belicia

Gratitude for Dance

Hey guys! I hope you all had a wonderful day filled with gratitude and time spent with loved ones.

Today was a groggy but relaxing day for me. I woke up at around 10 a.m. to the sound of my mother’s voice calling me to get ready for a dental appointment. The night before, I had stayed up late watching episodes 2 and 3 of the HBO mini-series, “Big Little Lies”. I’m absolutely hooked! Just before I sat down to write this post, I watched episode 4. There are only 6 episodes in the entire series, so I highly recommend the show to students on spring break, as you’ll finish it within a week.

Austin and I headed to the dental office at around 11:30 a.m. We got our teeth cleaned– I absolutely hated the fluoride spread on our teeth– then headed home for a lunch of homemade fried rice, prepped with love by my mother. I’m living in a university apartment next year, so I must learn how to cook at least a few dishes, like this fried rice, lest I starve to death.

At 2:30 p.m., Austin drove me to a local dance studio, where I put on my black Ray Rose practice shoes and danced cha-cha and rumba for almost two hours. Definitely not as hardcore as my former 5 to 6 hours practices at the studio, back when I was still in the competitive loop… but I’m easing back into dancing. When I first began dancing again at the close of winter quarter, I battled a lot of negativity during my short practices. I had gotten immensely out of shape during the past 10 weeks of minimal dancing, living at my desk and stress eating. I gained a lot of weight. My physical and mental stamina was gone. My progress as a dancer lost significant momentum since I began college.

So long as I am at UCLA, though, academics is my number one priority, as it should be. I know that my dad is paying big bank for me to get an education. Not to dance. I just… I just wish that, when I was still in high school, spending my after-school hours at the studio with no other care in the world, I had more greatly appreciated the pure-dance life I was living. Then, I never concerned myself with the financial cost of lessons. I didn’t need to worry about transporting myself to the studio. My parents saw that dance made me happy, so they were more than willing to support me, financially and morally, in my craft. All I needed to care about was my growth as a dancer. I was blessed beyond belief. But I didn’t realize it then.

In those days, I was so focused on improving quickly to do well at competitions, that I never stopped to think about how lucky I was to have the opportunity to dance, period.

I am a college student now, and I have more responsibilities. Dance is now a secondary priority. My education, career goals and personal/professional development are my current areas of focus. During the academic quarter, I’d be lucky to get in a single dance lesson each week. Uber and public transportation are the only means by which I can get to the studio. My heart sinks each time I withdraw a couple hundred dollars from my bank account for lessons. My parents are still willing to support me financially in dancing, which I am utterly grateful for. Yet, with the realities of being a full-time college student, I know I can no longer go back to the life I lived back in my pre-college days… when dance was my only care in the world.

But, I mustn’t harbor bitter feelings about the current state of my dancing. None at all. You know why? Because I am healthy. I have four flourishing limbs and it is a gift that I can still dance, especially after the gymnastics injury. It is a blessing that my parents are still willing to pay for my dance lessons. Do I wish I could be doing more dancing in college? Sure. Is the situation, as it stands, perfect? No. But what of these kids in the picture below?

These kids don’t have much. No fancy practice wear, no expensive dance shoes, no hardwood floor. Nothing. But they are happy, because they can dance. This is dancing in its purest form, and it is beautiful.

Next time I go into a dance practice, I should, first and foremost, be GRATEFUL for the chance to dance, for I never know when my last day as a dancer will be. Forget the negativity. Forget the misguided ambition to “make it big” in the dance world. If it happens, it happens. But don’t let the extrinsic motivation of achieving a dream of glory cloud the joy and beauty of dance. Forget the body insecurities. Forget the self-pity. Forget it all. I must cherish each moment I have on that floor and simply appreciate the ability to dance! So what if I’m only able to dance a couple times each week? Who cares that I’ve gotten physically out of shape since coming to college? All of those little “problems” don’t detract from the fact that I still have the gift of dancing at my fingertips. The beauty of dance is, you can do it anywhere. In the dorm room. In the bathroom. On the freaking street. Now, after writing this blog and, in the process, finding clarity in my thoughts, I don’t know why I ever complained or moped about college slowing my dance progress. I can still dance, and that should be enough for me.

I want to conclude this post by sharing with you guys a lesson I am slowly learning. Here it is:

In focusing more on what I have and less on what I don’t have, I will be happier and more grateful for my many blessings. This goes for everything in life, not just dancing. Take school, for instance. If I get an A- in my chemistry class, it’s no A+… but come on. An A-? That’s still pretty darn good. I should be happy with that, acknowledge that I performed well and not be too greedy for more. Will I strive to do better the next time around? Sure. But, my best should be enough. There’s no such thing as a perfect situation or a perfect life, but we all do our best within the confines of individual circumstances and reality. And that is enough.

 

 

 

 

Winter Quarter 2017 Reflection

It feels like just yesterday I stepped foot on UCLA for the first time, awestruck by the beauty and warmth of the campus– a place which I am proud to call my second home. I am now two-thirds of my way through freshman year, and I’ve grown tremendously during these past seven months of college. Especially this past winter quarter.

Finals went well. I fought hard, tried my very best, and all I can do now is hope for good results. Straight A’s would be very nice, but I’m mentally preparing myself as best I can, should I fall short of the goal. Will I be disappointed? Of course. I’m only human, aren’t I? But, all I can say is, I have no regrets whatsoever, as I gave this quarter my all until the very end, even sacrificing my mental sanity in the fight to perform well academically (not something anyone should be doing, by the way). The first five weeks of the quarter was an overwhelming juggling act between school and dance, with a new Latin dance partnership and commitment to two different on-campus dance groups taking up a significant chunk of time. There were nights when I’d get back to the dorms around 10 pm after several hours of dance practice, wanting nothing more than to sleep, but pulling an all-nighter instead to get in the necessary studying. Coffee and Red Bull, both of which I had never drank prior to this quarter, became staples of my diet. I knew I was struggling when I took my first set of midterms around Week 5. While I didn’t perform terribly, I knew I could have done better, had I devoted more time to my studies. The latter half of the quarter, then, was a game of catch-up. I slowed down with dancing, ending my new dance partnership and leaving the Latin dance team. Ideally, I’d be able to do both school and dance and perform well in both. Coming in to college, I thought I could do it. It wouldn’t be easy, but my whole life has been a constant juggle between school and competitive gymnastics or dancing. Why would college be any different? So I gave it a shot, only to realize that the realities of UCLA’s quarter system and its academic rigor simply wouldn’t allow me to dance as much as I wanted to. Moreover, college is not like high school. It’s a whole other beast. Not only is the competition tougher and the stakes higher– you are also living on your own for the first time and learning what it means to be an independent adult. You are faced with new responsibilities you’ve never had to worry about while under your parents’ roof. Simply put, college is hard. Thus, I was overly ambitious to think that I could take on academics, competitive dancing and the transition to college life, and perform well in everything. During week 5 of this past quarter, I realized that I was sinking. My mental health was shot. I wasn’t sleeping nearly enough as I needed to. Every day was a battle against fatigue and mental breakdown. So I did what I had to do– reevaluate my priorities by cutting back on dancing and focusing more on school. Did I necessarily want to dance less? Did I want to end my dance partnership? Did I want to leave the Latin dance team? No, no and no. But I did as I must. This is called compromising to the limits of reality, and it’s a lesson I am slowly learning. I’m beginning to recognize that, in life, you can’t do everything at once, no matter how great your work ethic or drive, or how crazy you may be. Gymnastics conditioned me to believe that I could do absolutely ANYTHING I set my mind to. That I was a superhuman. I now see that such a mindset is a reflection of youthful, naive innocence… the inner dreamer. College has shed some of that innocence. I still expect a lot from myself, and I still hunger to make my mark in the world. But I now realize that, to achieve success, one must set oneself up for success. Prioritize. Don’t spread yourself too thin, to the point where you aren’t sleeping or taking care of your mental and physical health. Don’t hold yourself to completely unrealistic expectations, for you will simply set yourself up for disappointment. It is a great thing to strive to be your best… but a key ingredient to success is to KNOW YOUR LIMITS. As I realized this quarter, it simply wasn’t feasible for me to dance several hours each day and earn straight A’s. I know that, with time and experience, I will learn to manage my time better and study more efficiently and effectively. In the future, I will be able to understand a difficult chemistry concept in three hours instead of six. I will develop better study techniques and find out what daily routine works best for me. College is a time of trial and error, and that’s the real beauty of it. No one expects you to be perfect as you make the gradual transition to adulthood. Here in college, mistakes are forgiven more easily. Complete opposite of my gymnastics days, when all that was ever expected of you was perfection. But more on the suffocating nature of perfectionism later. 

Regarding my chemistry class, Chem 14B was more difficult content-wise compared to Chem 14A, which I took fall quarter. We covered topics like thermodynamics, electrochemistry, kinetics and organic chemistry. Eventually, all the concepts ended up making sense in my head, but only after many an hour of highlighting and outlining the textbook, going to TA office hours and peer review sessions, watching Khan Academy videos, collaborating with classmates and drilling myself with practice problems. Organic chemistry was a totally new realm of study, so I was a bit intimidated going into this unit. In the end, it didn’t turn out as scary as I thought it would be.

As I’m taking four GE classes spring quarter, I am very much looking forward to taking a hiatus from chemistry and math. There’s a chance I may never have to take a STEM class again, should I decide to switch to a non-life science major! However, I really liked my math professor this past quarter (reminds me of Mr. Skrable, a great high school math teacher), and I’m thinking of taking his multivariable calculus class sometime in the future. We scratched the surface of linear algebra this quarter in my LS 30B math class, and I found the subject pretty intriguing, so I may take a more in-depth linear algebra class in the future. 

My spring quarter classes:

  • Philosophy 7: Introduction to Philosophy of Mind (GE)
  • Theater 10: Introduction to Theater (GE)
  • GE Cluster Seminar: Sex and Rock’n Roles: HIV over Life Course (GE)
  • Theater 20: Acting Fundamentals (random theater class… thinking about minoring in theater)
  • Fiat Lux Seminar: “Shall We Dance? How Brain Controls Movement in Health and Disease” (1-unit class… literally my two worlds, dance and medicine, coming together as one!)
  • Fiat Lux Seminar: “Why We Disagree, and Can’t Agree to Disagree, on Trump Presidency” (1-unit class)

I have stretched myself quite thin for next quarter, with 22 total units, but all of these classes genuinely interest me. I’m especially excited for Theater 20, as I’ve always wanted to learn how to act. Such an art will brighten my stage presence on the dance floor and aid me in channelling the different characters of each dance. Acting is also super out of my comfort zone and directly combats the shy and self-conscious part of me that has cast a shadow over my life for so long. 

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again– there is beauty in leaving your comfort zone, even if you are afraid. This quarter, I’ve had many out-of-comfort experiences. I’ve adopted a YES mindset– that is, grabbing opportunities that present themselves, even if it means venturing into the unfamiliar. As a person with anxiety– social anxiety, in particular– I sometimes feel uncomfortable with being vulnerable to the judgment and scrutiny of people. However, I distinctly remember making a promise to my 16-year-old self, when first diagnosed with this anxiety disorder: I will not allow my anxiety to hinder me from being the best version of myself I can possibly be. The follow is a list of some of the times I’ve pushed myself this quarter to do something scary:

  1.  I took on the role of dance instructor in UCLA’s new Dancesport club, which is rapidly expanding in size. Having never formally taught dance to others, let alone in front of a large group of people, I had my insecurities. What if people didn’t like my style of teaching? In all my teaching experiences, be it academic tutoring or coaching gymnastics, I’ve always reared more towards the stricter side, as discipline in training is the way I was brought up, and I want nothing more than to see my students succeed. However, I couldn’t expect everyone to welcome this strict style of instruction. And what if I was unable to effectively convey the necessary information? With only two years of Latin dance training under my belt, was I really qualified to teach? The familiar voice of doubt and fear was there, but I chose to silence it and, instead, focus on the PURPOSE of what I was doing– sharing my passion for Latin dance with others. When I turned the spotlight away from me, and more towards the bigger picture of how my teaching would positively impact the lives of fellow Bruins, I felt emboldened. 
  2. Questioning medicine. My whole life up until this past quarter, I envisioned myself becoming a physician. I came to UCLA as a “crazy pre-med student”, as one of my high school friends described me. As a senior in high school, I bought an MCAT book and began studying it. I practiced sutures on fetal pigs and styrofoam skin. In choosing UCLA over UC Berkeley, I thought I had cemented my decision to become a doctor over a professional dancer. Little did I know that, coming in to college, I would question BOTH career paths. Now, I don’t know if either dance or medicine is my calling. When I first experienced this uncertainty, I felt overwhelmed, to say the least. I was so scared. I find solace in planning out every step of my life. Knowing exactly what lies ahead of me… I spent many sleepless nights agonizing over what would come of me. What career path would I pursue, if not medicine or dance? What is my calling now? Then, something changed towards the end of the quarter. I began to lean into the uncertainty… to embrace it as a defining feature of college, of youth. I don’t need to know my entire life story by the age of eighteen. I began to realize that life is more than just setting goals and achieving them. Life is not just about the destination. It is the JOURNEY along the way that gives life its meaning and begets inner satisfaction. I know I’ve repeated such words many times before… but in all honesty, I’ve never truly believed what I preached until this past quarter, when thrown into a state of uncertainty and discomfort. 
  3. As my life is currently at an unstable equilibrium of exploration, self-discovery and enlightened uncertainty, I find that talking to more experienced individuals and hearing their opinions on what entails a “successful” life will help me in developing a personal definition of success. I made it a goal of mine this quarter to find as many mentors as I could in individuals who stumbled into my life. This meant going out of my way to network with professors, TA’s, doctors, dance instructors, UCLA alumni and other UCLA students, no matter how intimidated I may have felt in speaking to strangers. There was the kind neurosurgeon I accosted on Bruin Walk; the oncologist guest speaker; my professors and TA for my human aging class; caregivers at the service learning agency I volunteered at; random Uber drivers; 4th-year pre-med students; medical students; dance instructors; UCLA Athletics coaches; fellow floormmates. Through the many conversations I shared with such a diverse group of individuals, I’ve internalized multiple perspectives, mulled em’ over in my head and taken what I found useful. On Friday, during lunchtime, I spotted esteemed UCLA gymnastics head coach Valorie Kondos-Field in one of the dining halls and, despite being nervous (I’m a huge fan-girl of UCLA gymnastics), I approached her and introduced myself. Miss Val is the sweetest person ever. I expressed to her my admiration of her team and told her of my rhythmic gymnastics background, to which she replied, “You look like a rhythmic gymnast– you’re beautiful!” Funnily enough, Miss Val was never a gymnast– she was a ballerina. Knowing this, I yearned to get a sense of her motivations behind her decision to become a dancer. Her story: she was blessed to have a father who was also an artist. Upon graduating high school, Valorie’s father told her that, while academics was indeed very important, she could only dance while she was young. So if she really loved ballet, then by all means, she should chase her dream. Valorie herself told me that her body was not made for ballet. She didn’t have long legs, she wasn’t flexible and didn’t have natural turn-out. Yet, she decided on dance because she loved it. Her soul danced. To her, there was no decision to make. Her resounding message that moved me greatly: You don’t have to be the best at what you do to still have a meaningful career. If you love something enough, simply having the opportunity to live your passion is enough. Thus, should I decide on dance as my career path, I need not be the next Latin dance world champion to have reached career “success”. For you are the sole perpetrator of your own success. You define what it means to have lived a successful life. 

So there you have it– three challenging things I’ve done this past winter quarter. In leaving the comfort of certainty and anonymity, I’ve grown. A minor digression– I watched Beauty and the Beast after completing my last final exam, and I couldn’t help but admire what a brave soul Belle is. She jumps at adventure, doesn’t flinch in the face of danger, sacrifices her personal freedom to save her father and couldn’t care less about the judgmental opinions of those in her “provincial town”. Watching her on the screen, I wondered why I couldn’t be more like Belle. Fearless. But now, looking back at the person I used to be– unwilling to take risks, afraid of uncertainty, living for others’ approval, socially inhibited and withdrawn– and comparing that person to the woman I am now, I do believe I am brave, for I’ve overcome much to get to where I am today.

If there is one thing I wish I could have changed this past quarter, it would be to have taken better care of my mental and physical health. When you’re in a competitive environment like university, it’s easy to get sucked into a tunnel-visioned mode and put academics before your personal well-being. Surrounded by gunner pre-med students, I got carried away in the fight to earn those highly-coveted A’s. To beat the curve. To prove to myself that I was smart enough and diligent enough to thrive in college. It became an obsession, really. I adopted a very, very unhealthy mindset of equating my achievements to my self-worth. If I didn’t get straight A’s, I would, by default, be deemed a “failure”. These past couple days, I’ve had the time to look more deeply into why I am this way. Why, when uprooted and placed in a competitive environment where people are brighter than me, more talented than me, harder-working than me, I go crazy. By crazy, I mean obsessed with achieving. Obsessed with winning. It is, at the core, a need for external validation. Why else do I get depressed during times of rest, where there’s no end goal to strive for? Winter break is a case in point. So is the second semester of my senior year of high school. When the competition dies down… when the fight is over… when all that’s left to do is bask in the fruits of your hard work… I have nothing to live for. Because I put everything– my identity, my worth, my purpose– in the pursuit of achieving. So I set goal after goal for myself, never allowing myself to rest.

Why am I this way?

Well, I believe that, behind this “straight-A student, passionate dancer, socially confident” mask I put up… I am deeply insecure. This is my confession to all. I don’t know if I love myself. I’ve never been satisfied with the way I am. I want to be better. Academically. Socially. Physically. And the hunger for self-betterment is a good thing, but only when the motives are pure. If you are doing so for yourself, and only yourself. I think, because I struggle to find value within, I look outwardly for approval from others. I need other people to tell me I am worthy, before I can feel worthy. A lot of it stems from gymnastics. When, all practice long, you’re screamed at by your coach for everything you are doing wrong, isn’t it understandable for little ten-year-old you– wan in the face, breathing heavily, on the brink of tears from exhaustion and frustration– to hear is a few words of praise? Something. Anything. Just so you know you aren’t a piece of trash. Perfection is intertwined into the very core of competitive gymnastics, and athletics in general. Perfectly executed routines are rewarded with perfect 10’s. Validation from a number. Validation from judges. From coaches. From spectators. As a competitive athlete, you are conditioned to strive for perfection, and nothing less.

I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered from the unhealthy perfectionism gymnastics instilled in me. Gymnastics is not the sole perpetrators of my obsession with perfection, however. A lot of it is my personality, as well as the family dynamic I was raised in. Growing up as one of a set of triplets, my brothers and I were naturally competitive with one another, as we yearned to be distinguished as individuals through our achievements and talents. Adding up all those factors, I now understand where my perfectionism and obsession to achieve stems from.

Last year, when I received notice of my acceptance to UCLA as a Regents Scholar, I was dumbfounded. My first thought was… how? Do I even deserve this? I worked hard and did well in high school, but was I really worthy of earning such a title? I became a victim of what’s known as the “imposter’s syndrome”. Never thinking myself worthy of my achievement, I set out to prove to myself that I was, indeed, as capable as the admissions’ officers thought I was. I set out to be perfect. I worked as hard as I could to do well academically. These past two quarters, I felt that I needed to live up to my Regents title, lest my mask be unveiled. What if people looked at me and thought, how is she in Regents? With my fragile self-esteem, I didn’t think I could take it.

I’m glad I’m getting to the root of my perfectionism. After all, the first step towards healing is to find out where the problem lies. I’m being vulnerable with you guys because I hope my story will resonate with other high-achieving individuals who, despite their many accomplishments, feel immense pressure to be better. To those who’s definition of success is but a moving target, I want to tell you that, you are enough. No matter what you achieve or don’t achieve… you are worthy. I will keep telling myself those words each morning. I am worthy.

Spring quarter, I will prioritize my health before grades. I will find a therapist in LA and make weekly visits. I will try my best to curb the unhealthy thoughts that inevitably give rise to unhealthy behavior. I will study hard, but not fall apart if I fall short of personal expectations. I will adopt yoga and meditation as key features of my daily routine. I will do more things that make me happy– dance, writing, introspection, spending time with friends. I will stop preaching words I don’t believe, and start practicing what I preach.

I know this blog post was a lot. If you’ve made it to the very end… I thank you, wholeheartedly. Words don’t do justice to how much gratitude I feel to those who read my blog.

I’m emotionally drained after writing this, but I feel as if a large weight in my chest has been lifted. Writing is so cathartic, and I strongly encourage everyone to write for themselves.

It’s about 11:54 p.m. now. I’ll conclude this post here, dance a little bit in my living room, then go to bed. Have a great night, everyone!

 

 

 

With love,

Belicia

Today Was a Wonderful Day

Hi guys! I hope all of you are doing well! Winter quarter has officially ended, and I am now back home in the Bay. Man, does it feel great to be reunited with my family (aside from my brother Chris, who is still in school). This entire day, I couldn’t stop hugging and kissing my grandmother, mom and dad! I guess being away from your family for an extended period of time really puts things in perspective. It’s the little quirks of my family that I miss. Like Mom’s distinctive footsteps up the hardwood stairs, signaling the arrival of fortifying fruit or hot soup, or just a nice mother-daughter conversation. Or the sound of the garage opening late in the evening., indicating Dad’s return from a long day at the hospital.

Just today, I was swimming at our local gym, when I was pleasantly brought back to the memories of swimming alongside my brother, Chris. We’d race each other in freestyle, me always beating him by a fraction of a second. We’d space out our laps with little “walk-and-talk” breaks, in which we’d hop / float from one end of the pool to the other, whilst talking about all sorts of things, like planning our annual summer trips to China, the physics of space-time, and our excitement / anticipation for college. We’d end our swimming work-outs in the hot tub and continue talking about anything– everything. Sometimes, Chris would splash me in the face with hot, sudsy, chlorinated pool water, just to spite me. I’d get very annoyed at him at the time… but now, I smile in fond nostalgia. I miss Chris. I wonder if I will ever have that kind of relationship with my brother again. Has the distance of college, time spent apart and individual transitions to adulthood forever tainted our dynamic? Will nighttime swims, pointless storytelling and playful pool fights be a thing of the past, locked away in a treasure chest of childhood memories, never to be reopened? Such is life, I suppose. People grow. Relationships mature. There is very little in this life that remains at a constant, stable equilibrium. Change can feel painful at times, like this realization that my brothers and I are growing apart. What started as a single shared path is now branching off into three very different roads. But I have faith that, no matter where our respective journey’s take us, my brothers and I will remain the closest of friends. We are tied together by blood. We came into this world together. We will live our lives supporting one another unconditionally. At least I will, for my brothers.

This morning, I woke up late– around noon. Austin and I were so exhausted by the travels of the previous night. Our flight back home was delayed for a few hours, so our 8:00 p.m. flight was became an 11:45 p.m. one. To pass the time at the gate, I began working on a new blog post that should be up by tomorrow. It’s a big-picture reflection of this past winter quarter at UCLA. Definitely a quarter filled with growth and learning from mistakes. But more on my college adventures later.

My mom prepared a nice brunch of sliced kiwi and papaya, purple yam, marinated chicken breast and, of course, her world-famous smoothie! Never thought I’d say these words, but since leaving for college, I’ve really missed drinking her smoothie– the same one I so greatly despised back in high school. We reunited with my grandmother, who is doing pretty good for 82. She’s been having some knee pains lately and had to see the doctor for what’s suspected to be a heart murmur, but other than that, my grandma is alive, happy and well! A couple of my friends lost their grandparents this past quarter while away at college. This made me realize that my grandmother and I may not have much time left together on this Earth. A morbid thought, but also reality. I can’t begin to imagine how I’d feel if I received a phone call from my parents one day, telling me that my grandmother had… My goodness, I can’t even write the words. And if I wasn’t there to say goodbye, I don’t know how I could be okay with that. I guess the moral of the story is to love with no reserve. Never stop telling your loved ones how much you care for them. Cherish each moment you have together. Be in the present moment, and live it to the fullest with the people dearest to you. Only then can we possibly make meaning in an inherently meaningless world filled with death, hate, injustice and evil. Love transcends all. And with that, I conclude my philosophical tirade (I’ll save the rest for the Philosophy 7 class I’m taking next quarter)!

At 3:00 p.m., my mom, Austin and I took a walk on the levee. We remarked at the mesmerizing beauty of the Redwood Shores scenery. Our surroundings sung the song of spring. The grass was luscious and greener than ever, thanks to the recent downpour of rain; little birds perched on flower branches sang their hearts out; the water glistened and gleaned, diamonds of light dotting the surface of the low-tide lagoon. I’ve taken countless walks, runs and bike rides down the dusty, rocky path of the levee. Observing my hometown through a fresh perspective, however, I realized that the physical perfection of the Shores is a metaphor for the bubble I had been raised in. For 18 years, I was sheltered from the harsh realities of the outside world. My brothers and I are fortunate enough to have been able to live in the Bay Area with an amazing family and boundless opportunities. I will say this, though. Going to college and leaving the bubble of my home has made me realize the extent of my naivety and ignorance, and the dangers that stem from living such a sheltered life. I’ll tell you more about what I mean exactly, in a later post.

Man, I keep getting side-tracked by the flurry of thoughts in my head. Need to get it all out somehow. Sorry, sorry– must focus. Let’s finish off this post with the conclusion of my wonderful day. 

After taking a walk, my mom, Austin and I headed to the local gym. Austin drove the Volkswagon, while I drove the Lexus (with my mother in the passenger seat). I drove with great caution, as I had not been behind the wheel in three months. I also may or may not have had my driver’s license on hand… Anywho, we arrived at the gym unscathed, though my parking job was “trash”, as Austin proclaimed. My workout consisted of cardio (five minutes of treadmill, thirty minutes of elliptical, ten minutes on the bike), ab exercises (my mother noticed my growing paunch and commented that I needed to lose it) and swimming! At around 7:00 p.m., Austin and I headed home– Mom left the gym after an hour, as she had to go home to prepare the hot pot dinner!

Hot pot was fantastic, as usual. The workout had built up my appetite, and I indulged in boiled beef, chicken, fish, rice noodles, tofu and greens. Dad came home at around 8:00 p.m., and I greeted him with a big kiss. He looked completely exhausted. At the dinner table, I asked him if he enjoyed his job as an internist for Kaiser. His reply: at this point, every morning he wakes up for work, he wonders when he can retire. Burnout. Not uncommon among physicians, especially those who’ve been in the field for so long. Makes me wonder if I want to pursue medicine, seeing how drained my father is. I asked him what he hates most about his job. He said, he hates the stress of being on call, constantly being needed somewhere. Sometimes, he’ll be in the middle of diagnosing a patient, when he’s paged to see another! He hates waking up each morning knowing he will be “cobbled” at the hospital with an enormous number of patients, and an even greater amount of paperwork to be completed. The medical field is undoubtedly stressful, and I think any aspiring physician should really think twice before deciding on such a long, costly path that may ultimately lead to burnout and exhaustion. But hey, if you are passionate about the human body and healing people, then go for it! If you love a profession, you will be able to put up with the politics, bureaucracy and stress of it. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” career, just as there’s no such thing as the “perfect” spouse. My dad always told me, stress is part of the package in all professions, not just medicine. Stress is a part of life. There’s no avoiding it. He told me that, at this point in time, he doesn’t believe I have what it takes to handle the stresses of the “real world”, let alone medicine. My mother agreed. I guess they’re referring to my several mental breakdowns last quarter that stemmed from my unhealthy obsession to be “perfect”, and the ensuing self-hatred when I fell short of such unrealistic goals. Also, I’m only 19 years old. I’m learning how to deal with life. College is a controlled environment where mistakes are forgiven more easily, so long as I learn from them. Still, I expressed to my parents the hurt I felt when they told me that they didn’t think I could take on the real world just yet. I know I’m not the most street-wise person, but I would like to change that. This is actually one of my biggest insecurities– not being street-smart. A lot of it comes from my sheltered upbringing and my ten years of total immersion in gymnastics. For most my life, I turned a blind eye towards what was happening around me, under the guise of being “busy” with gymnastics and classroom education. Indeed, my commitment to the sport left me little time or mental energy to think of anything outside of gymnastics and academics. It was a very small world I knew. But now, four years removed from the sport and transitioning into the role of a responsible adult citizen, I know I cannot remain in the dark forever. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve lacked the initiative to educate myself in politics, economics, foreign affairs, etc. All this must change, though. I want to be able to fend for myself once I leave college. To live independently. To protect myself from men with bad intentions. To learn to keep close tabs on my finances. To learn how to say “no”. To be more assertive with people, and have those difficult conversations, instead of relying on passive aggressiveness as my default coping mechanism. I want to read more, about everything. Politics. Current events. Essays. Classic novels. I want to be able to engage in deep conversation about a wider spectra of topics aside from dance, gymnastics and my personal life. Since coming to university, I realized just how little I knew of the world. I’ve acquired a newfound hunger to enrich my mind. I now realize that I am worth much more than just my physical abilities as a former athlete-turned-dancer. I have much potential mentally, as do all young people. I just need to unleash that potential. It is at university where that magic happens. Plus, the beauty of training the mind is that, unlike physical pursuits, your mind never stops growing. Knowledge accumulates. There is no limit to how much one can grow as a scholar.

It is now 12:04 a.m. I’ve been writing for a good 2.5 hours. Ahh, the joy of spring break, and not needing to worry about studying. These next seven days, I plan to post on this blog every day, get back in touch with my inner self after a tumultuous 10 weeks, put my dance shoes back on and spend quality time with my favorite people- my family.

Have a wonderful night, everyone, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

 

 

 

-Belicia

 

 

 

Winter Quarter Pre-Finals Rant: Obsessive Achieving and Heartbreak

Hey guys! It’s currently Monday night at 11:43 p.m. as I’m writing this post. These past few days, my life has been consumed with one thing: studying. I have an exam for my GE on Thursday and a chemistry final on Sunday. My math final, thankfully, is not until next Thursday, so I’m not worrying about it yet.

I think at this point– week 10– most college students are dying a little bit inside. I know I am. I’ve been much too liberal with my diet (I’m too scared to even step on a scale at this point) and my sleep schedule has been pretty screwed up. This morning, I woke up late for my 9:00 a.m. math lecture and missed the first half of Professor Conley’s instruction. Thankfully, the lecture is “Bruincasted”, or recorded and posted online, so I can just watch it on my own time.

I honestly don’t know what prompted me to write this post. Really, I should be studying. But everyone deserves a little study break, right? These past couple days, I’ve practically been living in my floor’s lounge, suitcase filled with books, flashcards and study material laying open by my side. I’ve had peers tell me, “Belicia, I wish I were more studious like you,” or “Belicia, teach me how to be more disciplined.” I guess my response to these comments is, in life, you shouldn’t settle for anything less than your best. At least, that is what I tell myself each day. Finals are coming, and, like with every challenge I face in life, I tackle it with resolve and bravery. I want to walk out of that exam room knowing I gave it my all, and there was nothing more I could have possibly done to prepare for that exam. It’s a satisfying feeling, knowing that you’ve stretched yourself to new heights in the process of achieving. Of course, getting an A+ is a good feeling, but what is even greater is the peace of mind that you put your best foot forward in the pursuit of your goals, and the personal growth that ensues.

I spoke to my mom on the phone today, and I asked her, “Mom, what must I do to grant you peace of mind? What do you want from me? Good grades? Will you be satisfied if I get straight A’s in college? Because that, I believe I can do.”

My mother’s reply: “Belicia, while I would like you to do well in school, I also want you to be happy and live a balanced life. Don’t go too extreme in academics. Enjoy life– you deserve it.” I wasn’t really expecting to hear this from her. The same Asian “Tiger” mom who, throughout middle school and high school, pushed my brothers and me to always strive to be better. I just want to make my parents proud. I don’t want them to worry so much about me. But I feel like her asking me to “be happy” and “live a balanced life” is just too tall of a request at the moment. How do I reconcile my obsession to ACHIEVE with this romanticized societal ideal of work-life-balance? I’ve never been one to believe in balance, especially not when I’m young and brimming with potential calling to be fulfilled. Most high achievers and successful people share the same sentiment. I don’t have much of a concept of what it is to live a “balanced” life. I don’t know if it is right to assume that living a life of balance is the sole path to happiness and fulfillment for all. Some people derive happiness from pouring themselves into their passions and achieving greatness in their respective fields. Have you guys ever watched the movies “Whiplash” or “Black Swan”? In both films, a young artist devotes their lives utterly and completely to their respective arts. One scene in “Whiplash” resonates with me in particular. It is the scene where the protagonist Andrew, a young aspiring Jazz percussionist, is discovered by an esteemed (but highly abusive) mentor and is accepted into a prestigious music company. Motivated by this achievement, Andrew devotes every second of his life thereafter to his music training. He drags his mattress into his small, dimly-lit practice studio. Each morning, he wakes up at 4:00 a.m. and practices the entire day. He practices until his hands bleed. He practices to the point of mental and emotional breakdown. Next to his drum set is a bucket of ice water, in which he immerses his throbbing hands when the pain becomes too much. He breaks up with his girlfriend, telling her straight-up that he cannot be with her, as she will hinder his chances at becoming one of the “Jazz greats”. Some may call such behavior “obsessive” and “unhealthy”. Most would not make it a goal to emulate such behavior. Be that as it may, I have so much respect for individuals as devoted and passionate to their fields as Andrew is. Strangely enough, I can relate to Andrew in some ways. I know what it feels like to have a burning drive within that fuels you to wake up each morning with a desire to wring out every last droplet of opportunity each day presents you with. The kind of drive that pushes you to seemingly “crazy” and “extreme” behavior. I think back to the days when I’d wake up at 5:00 a.m. before school to practice dance, go to my high school’s dance studio during lunchtime for more practice, and jump straight from school to the dance studio for several more hours of lessons and training. Or right now, in college, when I live in the library or study lounge, obsessively preparing for exams. As I’ve mentioned many times, I attribute such work ethic to my gymnastics training, disciplined upbringing and innately competitive personality. What I wonder is, what is my motivation behind such obsessive achieving? Do I not feel worthy unless I’m showered with external validation, like good test scores or praise and admiration from others? There is definitely something there, and I will engage in some much-needed introspection over spring break to gain some insight as to why I feel the need to constantly PROVE my worth through my achievements.

Now, onto a whole other topic– boys! Lately, I’ve been experiencing my fair share of boy troubles. I know, you probably wouldn’t expect to hear that from a person like me. In high school, I was extremely focused on my academics and dancing. Everyone knew me as an “insanely focused student” who’d spend her lunchtimes in the library, studying. No guy would dare come near me. So in high school, I never experienced being hit on by guys. I never had a boyfriend. I never had a guy ask me for my number. I never even experienced my first kiss until last quarter!

College was my chance at a clean slate. I didn’t come into college actively seeking a romantic partner. Now, I’m not spurning romantic relationships completely; if a really wonderful guy whom I’m attracted to walks into my life, I am not going to outright reject him on the grounds of needing to stay focused. College is all about experiencing new things, and so far, I have had my fair share of venturing into uncharted territory (some places good, some places I’d never step foot in again). Finally, guys began to notice me! People started asking for my number, leaving notes under my door and shooting me flirtatious / provocative glances from afar. At first, I was quite flattered at this newfound attention from guys, and I played into it. I was appalled at the idea that guys would even LOOK in my direction. I don’t think myself unattractive or repulsive, but in high school, I never imagined myself as the “type” of girl that most guys would want to engage in a romantic relationship with. This world of being the subject of (romantic) affection was whole new world that I had been sheltered from for eighteen years. And at first, I really liked the view.

Then, last week happened.

Basically, I found out that the guy I liked for the past nine months did not reciprocate my feelings– and he let me know in quite a hurtful way. To spare my emotional well-being, I’d prefer not to rehash the gory details.

I can’t call this heartbreak, as there was never anything between me and this guy to begin with, but rejection– especially scathing and bitingly forward rejection– is never a good feeling. I was quite upset. For maybe a week. Eventually, the pangs of hurt subsided, and all that was left was bitterness. I know it probably won’t do me any good to hold on to such negative feelings… but it is only human to feel this way, right? Since the rejection, I’ve become quite skeptical of romantic love. I’ve resolved to focus solely on MYSELF for the time being, as college is prime time to grow oneself personally and professionally. There are SO many skills I wish to learn– become a more seasoned writer and speaker, learn Russian, hone my dancing skills, perform well academically, find my calling- and so much room for personal development. Where would a boyfriend fit in my hectic life? Besides, I wouldn’t want to start a relationship with someone, only to be unable to make time for this hypothetical significant other. I’m not saying I won’t engage in a romantic relationship at some point in my life. For the time being, though, I just don’t see guys as my priority.

Alrighty. It is time to go back to studying. I feel so much better after writing this blog post. So many emotions and thoughts have been pent up inside me for so long, and writing is my primary form of catharsis. As always, constructive feedback with regards to my life journey (or anything in particular) is greatly appreciated. Thank you all for your continual support towards me and my blog. I always say, if I can touch the life of a single individual through sharing my story, then I will be happy.

All the best,

Belicia

Winter Quarter Week 6-8 Reflection: Out of Control

Hey guys! I hope you all are doing well! I apologize for going completely off the radar these past couple weeks. Academics started ramping up, and I haven’t been taking very good care of my mental/physical health.

The first phrase that comes to mind when I think of this past fortnight’s events is, “out of control”.

Around week 5, I started to really feel the heat of midterm season. Being in a competitive environment, I slowly reverted to my former unhealthy thought pattern of needing to ACHIEVE to feel WORTHY. Therapy taught me to soften my unrealistic expectations of myself and to curb my perfectionistic nature. In using my academic achievements as a measure of self-worth, however, I was going against the very core of what I had worked on for the past year and a half with my former therapist.

So, midterms happened. They went alright, but I definitely did better last quarter. This is partly owing to the increased difficulty level of my courses this quarter. Also, during the first half of the quarter, I had spread myself extremely thin between dancing and school. In consequence, I didn’t have as much time to study as I needed. I’m no genius, and I know my limits- I need to go to lectures and office hours and study a little bit every day to understand the material. Having not devoted as much time and energy to my studies, then, my grades slipped. Don’t worry– I’m still holding on to those A’s (for now). I’m just not as on fire as I was last quarter.

But here’s the rub. With my sense of self-worth stemming from something as precarious and fragile as grades and numbers and external achievements, the minute I start underachieving, I begin to question the very crux of my identity. I know it is fallacious and a little bit ludicrous to measure my worth by how well I do in school. However, at this point, my mental health has spiraled downward to the point where I CANNOT feel good about myself unless I know that I am at the top of my game.

The thing with achieving is, you must set yourself up for success. With a new dance partnership, my commitment to Dancesport Club and UCLA’s Latin dance team, as well as the added difficulty of my academic course load, it is no surprise that, as hard as I worked, I simply could not perform as well academically as I did last quarter.

And what of dancing now? During week 5, I had to quit the Latin dance team because of increased commitment to my fresh dance partnership outside of UCLA. Two weeks ago, my dance partner and I mutually decided to terminate our partnership because our schedules and commitment levels didn’t align. As a college student, my number one priority is, of course, academics. While it is disappointing that the partnership didn’t come to fruition, I am learning that life is a series of judgement calls and day-to-day triage– that is, prioritizing what matters most. It is impossible to do everything at once and expect to do them all well. I’m glad to say I’m still continuing Dancesport club, though with considerably less vigor as finals week approaches. On February 18th, the UCLA Dancesport team competed at a collegiate Latin/Ballroom dance competition hosted by USC. I competed with a girl named Fay in the rookie/vet category, as the vet leader. It was definitely a new and interesting experience playing the role of “leader” at a competition. Being out on the dance floor rekindled my passion for dance and performing.

So, going back to the root of many of my anxieties: my perfectionism. As my TA and I discussed the other day, one cannot be the best at everything. It’s simply impossible, and I am smart enough to know this. I must choose my battles wisely, working hard in the things I’m most passionate about. Most importantly, I must be able to forgive myself when I fall short of perfection.

Last weekend, my parents and brother Chris drove down to LA to visit me and Austin. We ate at a steakhouse in Beverly Hills called “Ruth’s Chris”. I was very excited to see them, and we had a wonderful time catching up on lost time. Even though Austin also attends UCLA, I rarely see him during the academic year, as we are both so focused on our studies. His biceps had gotten considerably larger since the last I’d seen him, and I was quite impressed at his upgraded physique. Chris looked great as well– I hadn’t seen him since early January. Austin and I shared a heart-to-heart conversation with Chris, remarking that, intellectually, Chris is probably the brightest of the three of us. His memory retention skills are ridiculously impressive. He’s given 2-hour-long solo piano concerts by memory. He can sight-read anything. He was born with perfect pitch– the ability to identify every sound’s corresponding note. He is able to think critically about a wide array of subjects and utilizes his creative talents to problem-solve and think outside the box. He is a talented musician, writer, rapper and artist. He is also a great chef. The only thing Chris lacks in is his organizational skills. Because of his tendency towards forgetfulness and absentmindedness, Chris’s true light has never shown to its greatest power in traditional classroom settings. Hopefully college will be Chris’s time to shine. I know he is currently excelling in University of Michigan’s music program.

My parents and I discussed my potential career aspirations. Frankly, I am quite tired of hearing the question, “What do you want to do with your life?”, as I’ve asked myself the same thing only about a million and one times. What is my life’s purpose? What gives my life meaning? What is my definition of success? At this point, I am in exploration mode. I am the captain of my ship on this voyage towards self-discovery. I am in the middle of the ocean, and I can really go in any direction. EVERYTHING is fair game. Medicine. Law. Journalism. Psychology. Teaching. Philosophy. Performing arts. Of course, it helps to have at least a general idea of what I want to do. I know I love working with people and having direct contact with individuals.

I am so blessed for the many talented, hard-working and ambitious people who fill my life. Being at UCLA, surrounded by individuals who settle for nothing less than success, is invigorating and inspiring.

Finals are coming faster than ever, which means it is crunch time. I wish all my fellow college-mates the best of luck at the end of this academic quarter. Here’s to a next two weeks of sleep deprivation, stress-eating, studying, studying and more studying! And maybe a little bit of dancing.

 

 

Best,

Belicia