On 2018

Thoughts

I had a lot of plans for 2018.

Like, a lot. As in I spent an entire day in early January mapping out exactly what I wanted this year to look like; I identified my goals, planned how I would achieve them. There’s literally a page in my journal where I answered the prompt “This year will be special for me because…” with the answer, “I will MAKE IT SO!”

Well, turns out 27-year-old me was naive and optimistic, because now, one year older and wiser, I know that sometimes you can’t just “make [it] so.” Of course, I certainly tried – I advocated for myself at work and read “productive” books; I tried Orange Theory and played in a beach volleyball league; I carefully allocated my fun time vs. my productive time; I took 3 work trips and 13 personal trips, 4 of them overseas; I prioritized my grandparents, family, friends, wanting to be there for the “big moments.” In June, I even did a mid-year reflection, recognizing the goals I had achieved and renewing my resolve to work towards the rest.

And yet when I look back at 2018, it feels like none of those things mattered. Instead, it feels like the year got hijacked by this giant wrecking ball with “NAH” painted on its side in big fat letters, knocking me off my feet again, and again, and again and again and again, from different directions, in varying magnitudes, with relentless consistency.

I’m not mad about it, though. I have learned that the heart – my heart – is remarkably resilient. My parents, worried with everything that had transpired, started ending phones calls by telling me, “Stay strong.” I found that I didn’t need to hear those words, because I didn’t need affirmation that I was strong, am strong, and will be strong, and simultaneously weak and vulnerable and brokenhearted during the times I needed to be.

Because there’s no denying that there were way too many times this year when I needed to be those not-strong things. There is no staying strong in the grief that comes from the sudden and permanent loss of a close childhood friend. There is no staying strong in the helpless “why”s that permeate daily conversations with those who also love her. There is no staying strong in the pain that comes from video calling a friend in the hospital while she waits to induce her stillborn son. There is no staying strong in the terror of waiting for an ambulance, hoping to shield the baby in my arms from my own pounding heart. There is no staying strong in the devastating resolve of a decision that breaks your heart, a heart that’s been bruised so black and blue that you didn’t think it could take yet another hit.

There was no staying strong in those moments, but that’s the beauty of it: you’re not supposed to stay strong in those moments. And taking the time to live those moments, to feel them for what they are – that’s something I’m learning to love as much as I love feeling strong. I’ve begun to understand that contradictory feelings don’t have to be mutually exclusive, that it is not a zero-sum game of emotions, that you can have both, or all. It is this duality – plurality? – that I think of when I reflect on 2018: it was a year of many, many things and all of them are true, all of them are real.

I spent my mornings earlier this week run-walking by the lake, watching the sun rise and reflecting on the events that transpired this year. I took time to feel everything all over again, remembering images seared into my mind and letting them literally knock the breath out of me, still just as unbelievable and freshly painful as if they were yesterday. I’d then go home and shower, walk to work with music blasting in my ears, mulling over lyrics that hit too close to home. And then I’d walk into the office and be genuinely happy to see my friends at work, appreciating that if it was imperative for me to face the challenges of this fall, that these were damn good people to be surrounded by every day. I would feel happy, I would laugh; I would look forward to meeting friends in the evening. It is not dissonant to be both in grief and in joy, it is not fake, it is not wrong. It is life.

My old boss is always pushing me to think less, feel more; to enjoy the process instead of figuring out all the answers. I tried really hard to plan for 2018, and instead I’ve been forced to step back and live the process, at times even enjoy it. I learned this year not just to lean in, but to lean on, heavily; I learned to have grit but also grief; I learned to appreciate that I am still learning, and that is okay.

A friend shared the below with me a few months ago, and it has resonated so much; I keep thinking these words to myself. Despite everything, I still grow. I am proud of this, I am proud of myself, I am proud of this year, 2018.

 

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On Education

Thoughts

I did not cry when Donald Trump won the presidency.

Not because I agree with the insane things he says. Not because I believe that he is a good man (not even close). Not because I had any optimism about his presidency. But because, as irresponsible and as selfish as this is, I simply didn’t feel like whether or not he was president would directly impact my day-to-day life. As an Asian female, I’ve already accepted the racism and sexism around me as a fact of life: it was bound to happen from time to time, but I could deal with it. I’d already dealt with it.

I did cry, though, when these things happened:

  • In 3rd grade, I cried when I heard that my bus driver had been fired, because as an English-Language Learner, I did not understand what “fired” actually meant. Instead, I imagined my kindly bus driver tied to a stake and literally being lit on fire, and the thought of this awful cruelty was too much for my 8-year-old self to bear.
  • In 8th grade, I cried when a classmate threw a book at my head for daring to say that David Beckham was ugly. I cried because it was embarrassing. I also cried because my teacher failed to reprimand the book-thrower, who was one of his favorite students. My faith that I could unequivocally trust all my teachers was broken.
  • In 11th grade, I cried when my coach, whom I deeply respected and admired, yelled at me for skipping swim practice. I knew I’d messed up. I knew I deserved it. I cried because I cared so much about what my coach thought of me, and it devastated me to disappoint him.
  • In my senior year of college, I cried when I nearly failed the last finance course I needed to complete my major. I was terrified because failing meant one of two things: 1) that I’d wasted my previous three years’ worth of financial aid and tuition by failing to get my finance degree, or 2) I’d have to somehow pay for another semester to actually complete that degree.

The above events serve to describe the moments that made me as a person. These were the years – my K-12 years, my college years – these were the years that were formative in my development. These were the teachers and educators – for better or for worse (luckily, mostly for the better) – who have irrevocably impacted me.

These were the times when I prided myself on performing well on state and national assessments, unaware of the difference between growth and proficiency. These were the times when I confided in a compassionate counselor about my fear of school shootings, unaware of the bipartisan debate on guns in society. These were the times when I carefully filled out FAFSA, unaware of how crippling student loans could become in a jobless economy.

I’m aware now of these things, and much more – but I’m thankful I didn’t have to be. I was lucky because the system did not fail me: I trusted my family, my teachers, my schools, to seamlessly guide me through my educational journey, and they did. And so even though I was so unaware, it worked out for me: I just concentrated on being a kid, a student, growing up. Because I trusted the system not to fail me.

I am one of the lucky ones, and that is an awful fact.

The gaffes from the DeVos confirmation hearing make me think twice about what it means to trust the system. Sure, it all turned out fine for me – but every single child, every student, should have the opportunity to go through a system that’s built to maximize the probability of their success. With DeVos’s appointment as the Secretary of Ed, this probability is not being maximized: on the contrary, the system will be built against the only users who matter.

How many more will have to worry about progressing in their education because lawmakers are measuring them by metrics they’re destined to fail? How many more will have to worry about a peer bringing a gun to school because lawmakers are unwilling to make the claim that guns have no place in schools? How many more will think twice before taking out student loans because lawmakers have no idea how to structure a service they’ve never had to use, implement consequences they’ve never had to face?

How many more students – the ones who aren’t so lucky – how many more of them will be negatively impacted in these formative years? Because their needs are being ignored? Because they can’t trust the system not to fail them?

Maybe I should have cried when Donald Trump won the presidency.