Can I just say something? I hate that Yoda quote. The one that goes, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Ugh, whatever Yoda. I think TRYING is the essence of life. I think TRYING and even when it is painful to see all those gears grinding into motion is actually one of the most beautiful moments in life. You usually realize this in hindsight, how beautiful and weird and awkward and terrible it is to start things.
Something I joke about with my husband is how so many high schoolers don’t want to show you any emotion. They try to pull off these expressionless faces. They try to play it cool. I ask him, “Why do they have to do that? Why are they so afraid to show that they care?” It’s so weird. Was I like this too? Probably.
Now that I’ve turned 35, I feel like there is nothing wrong with caring. There is nothing wrong with raising your hand and asking a dumb question because otherwise when will this dumb question ever be answered? I could go the rest of my life with that dumb question trailing behind me. I am plenty aware of my weak spots, and where in high school, I would try to hide these, I now want to expose them and learn from them. My time feels more limited now, and I know that what I don’t know exceeds what I do know, and that before I go, I would like to feel like I was someone who really tried to understand the world.
Sometimes it’s hard to live in this particular part of the Bay Area because of its sheer density of successful people. Sometimes I see a car that looks really weird, and that’s when I know that it’s way too expensive for most people to own, that it’s like driving around in something that in any other part of the country would buy you a small house.
My guess, though, is that living in the Bay Area is enough to make plenty of people insecure. So many ways to be successful! So many things you could’ve done but you didn’t, couldn’t have done, and, whoops, you missed that exit on the freeway of life. You can see it manifest in the way parents are so competitive with getting their kids that edge in schools. Those horror stories you hear about parents in places like Palo Alto.
I do feel that what most of us lack from time to time is just good perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in the comparison game, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of things rather than the long view of things. Something I find helpful is to take time out of the day to look at things from the big picture perspective. What am I trying to do with my life, what matters to me, what kind of person do I want to be and become?
Lately, I have really gotten into my community college class. The one that I am taking pass/not pass. And it kind of embarrasses me that I am learning so much and having fun while doing it, and that I’m putting all this effort into, say, a group presentation. At my age, shouldn’t this be kiddie play for someone like me? Shouldn’t I be the expert? Instead, I’m learning from my classmate that shift plus enter gets rid of that extra space when I press enter in a PowerPoint slide. But the lesson I am learning is that you get what you put into something. All that difficulty, all that straining from the beginning of that semester has been so worth it. The effort has been worth it, even if the pay off was not immediate or obvious at first. Anytime you put in effort, you do eventually get something back from it. I’m in such a better place than when I first started the class. And I really thought taking the class was a mistake at first too.
I am often the most unhappy when I think I should already know how to do things. I was probably the most unhappy after my son was born because I thought I should automatically be a good parent, that these things are supposed to come naturally to us, basic maternal instincts, blahdy blah-blah. I didn’t realize then that there is a huge learning curve and that loving your child is not enough to get through those marathon days and, oof, all the other things that come after like teeth, food, sleeping, sharing, etc.
If we’re going to talk about regrets here, I’ll say that I regret I gave up on tennis. First, I gave up on tennis in high school so I could focus on journalism. That I don’t regret. But as tennis got further and further away from me and I started to feel like a bad tennis player, I just gave up on it. What’s the point, I thought, if I couldn’t be awesome at it? I gave up on piano for the same reason. I realize now at my age that you don’t do most things because you’re good at it! You aren’t going to be good at most things! When you’re little, it’s like bragging rights to Korean parents about how good you are at your sports or your musical instruments. That doesn’t matter. How does it make you feel, what does it add to your life?
I hit the tennis ball with my husband a few weeks ago, and so many muscle memories came flooding back to me: finding the sweet spot on the racquet, controlling the swing so the ball didn’t go out of the court (though it did go plenty out of the court), that sweet sweet feeling of hitting an overhead slam. And I ploinkily ploink ploink on my in-law’s piano when we go to visit. And I am terrible at it, but it’s not for anyone else but for me. How silly, how regretful that I realize these things now. How many years wasted not doing something because it wasn’t worth it to me unless I was good at it.
One of the assignments for the class is reaching out to people in the field we wish to be in and asking them for their advice. I’ve been slowly going through a list and emailing writers I like and admire. At first I was afraid to do this because I was worried about getting hurt if someone didn’t respond to me. The long view tells me that it’s worth reaching out to people even if I might get rejected by them or they may not respond. I have been getting some amazing responses so far, and I would never have gotten them if I hadn’t tried. The long view tells me that rejection is part of the process of getting to do the things that I want to do. If I can’t get past this, then I really can’t do anything because everything worthy comes with its risks. Who said putting yourself out there was easy? The long view tells me that trying is exactly perfect and right. Trying is worth it, even if the outcome is not success success success. There is no shame in effort. Rather, there is learning and growth.