It must be difficult for my parents to have a child with so much potential yet nothing to show for it. It must be so disappointing.
I know self-help books and motivational videos always say the only person you should compare yourself with is the person you were before, but that’s hard to do when your worth seems to be measured only by your achievements.
In grade school, I took on as many extracurricular activities as I could. I didn’t do it for the experience but for the points that would accumulate into my general average by the end of the school year. Girl Scout camping? Campus journalism? Dance competitions? Name it, I’ve done it. I did so much and believed I could be anything I wanted to be. The opportunities were flooding in—until they stopped.
When high school came, I knew I wanted to take my extracurriculars seriously; to learn and grow from them. But from getting more than 10 medals in elementary, I received no more than a diploma in high school. I didn’t get to join any campus journalism competitions; I wanted to pursue journalism then, but my high school wasn’t heavy on it.
So from being the girl who had so much potential, I became like a makahiya, aptly called “shame plant” in English: sensitive, curling, and fragile.
I was first in my class, but I felt like it wasn’t valid because we graduated in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. My school didn’t give out any honors at that time for that same reason. Instead of finishing proud, there was a lingering feeling of shame. I was aware there were other better students who could've outperformed me if it wasn't for the pandemic.
By college, I didn’t have the same credentials or experiences as some of my peers, nor did I have the same self-confidence and trust in my abilities. I didn’t even have an entrance test score I could be confident in.
When I got high marks and an internship, there weren’t any drastic changes that happened in any aspect of my life. Compared to how I expected it to be, grades, it turned out, were not everything. The semester still ends and the previous grades you got don’t count for your next. It’s no biggie.
Internships aren’t that big of a deal either, because the grass is greener on the other side. And there’s always more fun, more achievements, and more to life on the other side.
I wondered: why am I so busy waiting for others’ compliments and validations, rather than focusing on what makes me happy?
So just like the makahiya moments after it’s been touched, I uncurl. It wasn’t a work of nature. It’s a decision I consciously made; I believed it was the right thing to do.
I set myself free. I didn’t want to throw myself a pity party any longer. I wanted to do more and be more.
Actually showing up for myself was no easy feat. I found myself applying for the university’s school paper in the first semester. I didn’t get in, but what matters is I applied. I joined my very first writing competition in college. I was never proud of my work or believed I had enough of what it takes to actually call myself a writer. But I got first place. I wasn’t looking for anyone’s praise anymore. I celebrated accomplishing a goal that I knew I set for myself and no one else.
I was proud of myself for simply being.
In the second semester, I joined our college’s executive council as an undersecretary. I met people I could draw strength from, people fine with who I simply am. They were just as busy living their own lives, so I started living mine on my own terms.
I did things out of my comfort zone. I applied and got rejected. I studied and got a “mid” grade. I showed up and deemed it enough.
Some days, the grass still seems greener on the other side. But here’s a little secret that helped me through feeling average: I never felt enough until I thought I was. I just needed to believe it to eventually be it.
I was led to believe that my self-worth is rooted in the grades I attain and the things I achieve. But I refuse to set these as metrics of how I view myself. I refuse to see grades or awards as the sole basis of being “good” at something.
I realized my parents don’t mind if I have a shorter list of accomplishments. They just want me to be happy, and I finally am. I carried the weight of society’s expectations on my shoulders and I didn’t figure out what and who I wanted to be until I shrugged it off.
One summer in high school, I took an art class. I’ve always wanted to learn how to paint, but just as someone can have two left feet on the dance floor, I have two left hands. But Paint by Numbers exists, and I get to paint and be happy about it, even when it’s not my original creation.
And just this summer, I got to sing. Swim. Dance. Garden. Cook. And paint our walls however I wanted. I don’t have to be the best at something to do it.
I stopped thinking of what I wanted to be and started shaping who I wanted to be. And I want to be someone who’s happy with what she does, regardless if she’s not the best at it.