Dancing with Commitment.

the-star

The Star

Edgar Degas, 1878.


To say that I was chubby as a child would be a kind stretch. One of my favorite pastimes was eating. I liked peering inside the refrigerator door a lot more than watching television. To be fair, I really didn’t like watching TV as a kid. Not even the cartoons. That changed when I was in fourth or fifth grade though.

I wasn’t really socially aware of the stigma against being fat, nor did I give a fuck at the time. I expressed self-love by feeding myself whatever and whenever, because it was something I genuinely enjoyed doing. Yeah, I was aware that wasn’t as skinny as my peers, but honestly, who cared when there’s food? Life was a lot simpler back then. I did activities that I loved, and avoided ones that I wasn’t hyped about. Delayed gratification meant nothing to me.

Then as time passed, the subtle jabs thrown to me from my parents and relatives about my weight and not being able to find a man (yes, unfortunately, you have read this correctlybecause of my weight turned into hard stabs. If I were to stay the same way, no one would want to marry me – my life’s main purpose for them, so to say, was (is? was? I sincerely hope they do not hold this archaic belief anymore, because it’s undermines the female gender, no one needs someone else to complete him / her, and well…they’re also going to be sorely disappointed) to find a man to marry.

Groundbreaking.

I’ve had my fair share of tough love from my immediate and relative family members to my next door neighbors about my physical appearance and weight. It also didn’t help that I was going through adolescence, which was a period of heightened angst and self-consciousness that I would not want to go through again. Ever. I’d pay to avoid that stage in my life if I have to go through it again.

So, I did what a typical desperate, awkward, skinny-and-popular-wannabe middle school girl would do: I went on a diet. Not for a day or a week, but for eleven months at first; I developed body image, confidence, and eating issues along the way, which took years to partially sort out. I think I’m still somewhat trying to figure this one out.

That was the first time I’ve seriously crossed paths and danced with commitment.


Typically, the word commitment is associated with romantic relationships, but that’s really not the case most of the times. Anything and anyone that a person choose or choose not to identify with goes back to commitment, which is defined as (courtesy of Oxford Dictionary yet again):

Commitment:

1   [mass noun] The state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.

     1.1   [count noun] A pledge or undertaking.

2   An engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.

I’d like to redefine and disassociate the word commitment from romantic love the best I could in this post.

It’s true that one of the elements to a robust relationship is commitment from both parties, but it bothers me a little that more often than not the word is mainly used to describe relationships. Commitment isn’t just exclusive to love.

We quite often forget as to how commitment permeates us on daily basis. Every action and inaction requires some level of dedication. Some (in)actions are essentially effortless and occasionally quite enjoyable, but they provide little gain or overall satisfaction in the long run. Other (in)actions test and strain one’s stamina and sanity to the max, but their stakes are high as they directly reflect personal values, aspirations / goals, relationships, and future paths.

We start to learn more about ourselves as we go through different stages in life. It’s not an easy process though. In fact, there’s probably a lot more confusion and crisis than pleasure as we try to discover our identities bit by bit. Sometimes we knowingly and willingly toss every single speck of understanding of ourselves and start with a blank or semi-blank slate, because life just seems too overwhelming at times to handle (my quarter of a century crisis says hello to everyone). We happen to be all of the blind men trying to figure out what the elephant is like in our individual lives.

As children, our innate inquisitiveness led and guided us to our personalized likes and dislikes (with the constant supervision of our parents making sure that we didn’t accidentally kill ourselves along the way). We were wired to start off with small things such as picking out our favorite colors to finding out what the tastiest snacks were – then badgering our parents to buy them for us every time we went to the grocery store and throwing a low-key fit when they didn’t (okay, I admit, younger me felt very slighted by my parents when I didn’t get my snacks).

The moment we officially started formal education (this is including kindergarten, but probably not so much – however, I actually learned Zhuyin, the phonetic alphabet for Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan when I was in preschool. I have zero clue as to how I remember the sounds for each letter, but I’m thankful since I’ve never taken a formal Chinese lesson in my life other than that. Everything else is self learned and it’s pretty neat, actually), we were sent toward the path of figure out what subjects we excelled at and also were downright terrible at, whether or not we were interested in specific extracurricular activities and / or sports, and what type of people we liked / disliked associating with. Think of this process as testing everything out for once many times until you reach 18 and then weeding out the activities and people you are certain you do not want to commit to and associate with in your future.

For instance, I realized that I was pretty terrible at mathematics of all sorts when I was in second grade. I couldn’t grasp the concept of fractions until my teacher drew a pizza on the whiteboard as an example to demonstrate why 1/2 is more than 3/8. Then I kind of understood it, but my main question at the time was probably something along the lines of why would someone want to share an entire pizza with others. Even after all these years, I think the question second-grade-me asked is definitely still more intriguing than fractions.

I tried my best to catch up with math as the school year went on. It was rough and I vowed since then that I’d never be involved in a career that’s closely related to math, and that I will have a calculator with me at all times. Keep in mind – this was the prehistoric era before the existence of smartphones, and I made a promise to myself that I’d commit to bringing a calculator with me everywhere. I feel like I can truly end my post over here, because if this doesn’t describe commitment, then I don’t know what can. Really.

…but I know you’re intrigued with what else I want to say, so I guess I’ll continue.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for math as a subject, especially because it frustrates me so much. A lot of technological advancements that we thought were impossible decades, or even a couple of years ago, were created and sprung out with the help of mathematics along the way. It’s a beautiful subject that I will consistently regard as my permanent labyrinth. It has been and will never be my thing though.

We are constantly learning more about ourselves; we get less constrained to the superficial and vague knowledge as time goes by. Our magnificent brains (no, we don’t only use 10% of our brains – thanks, Lucy [the movie], for giving off the wrong impression to the public) somehow remember almost all of these likes and dislikes we have, and automatically use these heuristics (mental shortcuts) to learn about unfamiliar territories, objects, and people throughout our entire lifetime. Our preferences start forming and solidifying, which in turn gives us a rough sketch of our individual directions in life at different stages.

If what I just said gave you some sort of existential crisis and anxiety, don’t feel that way. Just because we know our personal preferences doesn’t mean that our lives are automatically mapped out and predicted. It’d be a lot easier if we knew our paths though, but where’s the fun if you were to know the exact moments shit goes down in life (note: full on sarcasm here)? We’re more or less equally clueless and we’re all going with or against the currents with what life throws towards us. But hey, at least we know what we like to eat or not to eat along the way, right?


waiting

Waiting

Edgar Degas, 1882.


Typically, one of our first and biggest turning points in life happened when we were either 17 or 18 – the time when most people moved out of their parents’ home, took a whiff of that fresh sense of independence and adulthood (then we painfully realize that bills, finding & keeping a job, chores, and maintaining a social life isn’t that easy at all, and that we still don’t have all of the answers we want in this stage), and headed to college (at least this applies to American and Taiwanese educational systems – I know it’s a bit different for some other countries).

To be fair though, when I was 18 and applying for colleges, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I was even indecisive about where I wanted to study at – should I apply for universities in Japan, Hong Kong, or just stick to my original plan and only apply to universities in the United States? I went back and forth a lot, but it was mainly just my insecurity screaming internally (and probably caused my external meltdown more times than I’d like to admit) because I was worried that I wouldn’t get into any university at all and all I would get were those heavy hearted rejection letters. Even my safety ones didn’t seem so safe anymore, and I’ve applied to five of them. In hindsight, the only reason why I would be rejected from my safety schools would be because the application got lost in the mail (don’t worry, I got into all five of them). My perfectionist side went full blown negative and assumed that it was due to my inadequacy before getting the acceptance letters though.

I picked out universities based on their overall ranking, location, and whether or not these schools offered strong art / language / science majors. My dream school was New York University, but it wasn’t somewhere I dared envision that I’d end up at during that precise moment.

I wanted my SAT and SAT II exams to be over, because I felt nothing but immense stress and angst about my scores as well as the defeating inadequacy as the days go by before my results came out. I was also terrified of eating and gaining weight, so I slept as much and as often as I could while juggling with homework, personal essays, writing prompts, recommendations, AP courses, extracurricular activities, and exams. According to my mom, there were a few times when she’s heard me sleep talk in a foreign language (it’s either English or Spanish – AP English and SAT II Spanish were massive headaches). I got sick really often and my fevers lasted for weeks until I got hospitalized and received IV and flu shots. I honestly didn’t mind being sick, because that meant that I had a legitimate excuse to avoid eating. However, it bothered and stressed me out that I didn’t have enough physical strength to study and work on my college applications as well as homework. Yes, I’m aware that I was a disillusioned teen who needed help then.

Who knew it was so difficult to commit to so many things at once?

It seemed impossible to manage my time properly with everything that was going on while staying sane and being well rested enough. To be honest though, I was probably crazy then. Other than high school graduation, college applications & decision, and schoolwork going on for me, I was also dealing with rifts in certain friendships (and from the test of time and painful experiences I’ve gone through, I can say for a fact that they were not my friends, I was just a fucking doormat who couldn’t stand up for myself, but now I have boundaries and I genuinely love everyone I consider a friend now) as well as my first heartbreak (and trust me, it was not pretty at all).

Life was extremely overwhelming for 18-year-old me, and I thought whatever I was going through at the time was the pinnacle of stress and that nothing in the future could and would top this. I can look back with certainty and say that I was so very wrong.

I had to pass through a lot of crucial crossroads during that stage of my life that would cause a domino effect in my future. These decisions ranged from which friends to keep in contact or cut off to which university should I attend for the next four years of my life. The university I picked would also in turn influence the people I meet, the opportunities I receive, as well as the classes I take. Those were just the parts of the tip of the iceberg, too. Pretty fucking huge, isn’t it?

Not that easy for someone who just turned eighteen. Not even slightly easier for someone who turned twenty-five, and that’s the age when one’s frontal lobe is supposedly fully developed.

[Note: The frontal lobe is the last part of the brain that develops, and it predominately controls decision making, judgment, language, and well, basically your cognitive skills. Think of it as the part of the brain that keeps you anchored, not crazy, and act like a mature adult when you know for a fact that you have no fucking clue what you’re doing and whether or not it’s right. I relate.]


I’ve crossed paths with my indecisiveness way more than a handful of times that I consider it one of my dearest friends.

No, seriously.

When I was submitting college applications, I applied to about 15 universities in total? I can’t quite recall now, but approximately that number. Well, I suppose 16 if I include my early decision at Vassar College. I wanted to major in something that was related to language or literature, and Vassar offers a really strong liberal arts program. In fact, I think it has one of the best programs in the United States. My brother encouraged me to apply, and so I did. At the time, I figured that since he’s at university, he probably knew his shit more than I did. In the midst of panicking, I submitted my application to Vassar on September 2009.

I got my light, yet heavily worded rejection mail about a month or two later.

I was devastated when I got rejected, and went into an even more intense spiral of self doubt and hopelessness. I couldn’t dwell on that for long though, because I had to fight for a new path as I had none at the time.

One of the universities I applied to was New York University. This happened post-rejection from my early decision, and I had a “fuck it” mentality. NYU seemed even more out of reach than Vassar, but I figured maybe there’d be a shot. I didn’t put much hope in it though, mainly because I didn’t want to feel so disappointed again. It wasn’t until long that I had to make a decision regardless of my options.

Why is decision making so difficult?

This is my realm over here. I’ve never really talked about my college major, but since I’m semi-dabbling in my past and education today, I studied psychology. Here’s a study that’s spot on when it comes to talking about indecision:

A famous psychological study titled “When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing? was published by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper in 2000. Essentially, for the first study in their research, a tasting booth was set up at an upscale grocery store. The booth either had six (described as limited) or twenty-four (described as extensive) different flavors of jam, and the researchers wanted to measure two dependent variables: the customer’s attraction to the booth as well as their purchasing behavior.

Basically, they want to know how decisive people were based on the number of options they were presented with, and how happy these people were with their decisions afterwards.

They’ve conducted a total of three unrelated studies but they were more or less the same as the jam experiment (I’m really hoping none of my psychology professors see this post, and I’m pretty sure they won’t, because the way that I’m writing about the study now is pretty much butchering the proper way to write a paper…whatever).

If you have never heard of this experiment before, what do you think the result was?

Is it something along the lines of how customers were probably more satisfied when they encountered an extensive collection of jam, because, well, more flavors, and that they were happier with their selection since not everyone likes apricots and / or strawberries?

The result, in short, was contrary to popular beliefs. If you were too lazy to read the entire paper (I mean, it’s twelve pages, I suppose it’s commitment), here’s the main point:

“These findings have led to the popular notion that the more choice, the better – that the human ability to manage, and the human desire for, choice is unlimited. Findings from 3 experimental studies starkly challenge this implicit assumption that having more choices is necessarily more intrinsically motivating than having fewer. These experiments, which were conducted in both field and laboratory settings, show that people are more likely to purchase gourmet jams or chocolates or to undertake optional class essay assignments when offered a limited array of 6 choices rather than a more extensive array of 24 or 30 choices. Moreover, participants actually reported greater subsequent satisfaction with their selections and wrote better essays when their original set of options had been limited.”

(Iyengar & Lepper, 2000.)

Despite the fact that we do like having options, having too many of them can overwhelm us, which makes it more difficult for us to decide. When we do finally make up our minds amidst all of our options, we tend to second guess our choice. Therefore, when we are presented with less options, we are more satisfied with our ultimate decision in the end.

[Note: The information above was taken from the abstract of said research paper. If you’re a student or someone who just wants to impress others with your extensive knowledge, the abstract is basically a 300 word (or less) summary of what the study is about and its results. It’s a time saver if you want to cut to the chase.]

We’re constantly searching for the right answer, the right direction, or the right person. However, the universal truth is that we’ll never really be able to know what the ideal is for us. We’re always going to wonder about these hypothetical situations, or the “what ifs”. Our minds wander back to the potentials and the routes that we’ve skipped past, and what could have been different if you were a different type of person. We all do that. Sometimes we get so engaged and engrossed within our thoughts that it’s hard to bring ourselves back to reality. I get it. We wear these rose tinted glasses when we start pondering about the hypothetical as it’s unlimited and endless. It’s pleasant to daydream, but it’s important to stay in touch with reality.

We’ll consistently run into indecision. We’ll also make many satisfying and dissatisfying choices along the way. There will be regret as well as bittersweet sensations when you look back to your past. Mistakes will happen more often than not. Accept these and don’t beat yourself up too much about them, because every misstep you take gets you just a bit closer to what you are looking for. Utilize what you have learned about yourself throughout your entire lifetime and make hypothesis about what might be most suitable decision for you.

I wish I knew about that jam research when I was applying for colleges. Fuck.

On second thought, shouldn’t high school courses somehow integrate these types of studies into the curriculum so students can alleviate some of their stress during this transitional period? Not that it would help me tremendously though, because I overthink and worry too much, but who knows? It might relieve others who are more level-headed than I am.

Anyway, I was about to make a decision between University of Washington, Seattle or University of Rochester until I got a package back home one day.

It was from NYU. And it wasn’t just a sad, little envelope.

It was a welcome package.

I ditched all of my harrowing thoughts at that moment and made up my mind immediately.


dancing-class

Dancing Class

Edgar Degas, 1871.


Once in a blue moon (or hopefully, more frequent than that), you know what the fuck you want or / and need to do. Sometimes we get lucky and there’s a concrete goal for us to reach. It’s seeing the end game, so to say. Sometimes we only have abstract silhouettes of ideals we try to achieve, and it’s difficult for us to envision a result of any sort. No matter what your aspirations are, I believe that one of the key factors to success is the ability to focus.

Again, courtesy of Oxford Dictionary:

Focus:

1   The center of interest or activity.

     1.1  An act of concentrating interest or activity on something.

Life is just one big process of elimination. Most of us are fortunate enough to have the resources to get proper education. Throughout these years, we’re provided with an abundance of information overload for us to solidify our preferences. Doesn’t homework, quizzes, tests, papers, and projects sound a lot better now that I’ve worded it this way? Yeah, okay, I know, it doesn’t. I’m still on team “I dislike assignments”.

When we were younger, we were essentially forced to concentrate on school, because let’s be honest – we didn’t possess enough, let alone any, self control at the time. If we could do whatever we wanted as children, I’m pretty sure studying and doing work wouldn’t be on top of our list. That’s for nerds (okay, jokes aside and subjective view here: being a nerd is attractive. It’s not only because I was one, but being knowledgeable is a great trait. Especially when it comes to the deeper subjects such as philosophy and science compared to fleeting tabloid gossip. To all the nerds or jocks or whatever groups they have in school now out there – don’t let anyone discourage you from doing what you like, because these people will be irrelevant sooner than later anyway).

As we age, hopefully as gracefully as a fine wine, we’ve gone through a series of significant, occasionally educated decision making based on what we know about ourselves. We’re granted freedom and time. There is a price to pay for that though.

Obviously, we’re eliminating the outliers over here first.

There are people who can do whatever the fuck they want at all times, because they don’t just stay afloat sometimes, they soar based on their family wealth or from leeching off of others or from the freak chance of winning the lottery (all three of these sources are not long lasting without care, but I’m pretty sure you can figure out which one dies off faster). They have no obligations / responsibilities or anything significant to worry about, but most importantly: they have time. We are all running on borrowed time here, so it is one of the most precious commodities that we cannot buy with all the treasures in the world. While others are investing their time into work, they are sleeping until noon and partying till dawn. There’s barely any sense of urgency in their lives.

Are you jealous?

Don’t be.

Other than my usual obligations that were oh so stressful, I had an abundance of time and disposable income. I could, and still probably can, get away with doing a lot of bullshit.

If you’re not born or brought into that type of situation, there will always be some sort of lingering envy there. The most mundane, time consuming activities that take up a significant chunk of your life gets eliminated immediately and you get to focus on your interests and hobbies. Hell, you’d even take a class if you were to have time, or go to an art or science exhibition at a museum. That’d shock your younger self.

Take off your rose tinted glasses for just a minute and hear me out. How many of these people (or adults who act like children at times) are actually accomplishing anything? This isn’t to say anyone who comes from a well off family or given certain wealth isn’t hardworking or focusing on important aspects in their lives. But seriously. Give yourself a second to think.

Thought of anyone yet?

Chances are, no matter what background we possess, we’re all inherently lost one way or another. We only have rudimentary sketches in our paths instead of full blown fortune telling happily ever after in our lives.

A lot of the times, the people who don’t even have to worry about the frightening prospects of the future turn out to be the ones without much going on for them.

I can honestly attest to that. I had no idea what the fuck I want. I had no sense of direction, and I was bored as hell. I wasn’t able to take a lot of people and activities seriously, and considered them disposable. I thought I treated others kindly and respectfully, but now that I look back, I can say that I was delusional.

People who are accustomed to getting what they want associate their personal gratifications with the norm. The concept of trying is foreign to them. They’ve always had a safety net to fall back to, and being accustomed to comfort is dangerous.

We don’t want to change when there’s a sense of comfort. We’re in familiar territory. Different aspects of our lives are seemingly under our control (they’re not), and change is scary. To be able to embrace the unknown shows signs of bravery, and not everyone can actively reach out and give that first try a shot. This explains why some people choose to live in the same town for their entire lives, or to stay in toxic friendships or relationships for a long time until they break.

So most people who aren’t born into extremely affluent situations and / or happen to have an extreme stroke of luck are forced to learn how to focus. There are people who are not willing to do so and they are the ones who usually have unsustainable messy lives.

In this case, I’m not referring to focus as being able to listen to someone when one’s conversing with him / her (but this is important) or the ability to read a book without being easily interrupted (also pretty crucial). It’s about one’s capability to find out what he / she wants to do through thousands of miniature, mediocre, and humongous eliminations in life that one has been dealing with since birth and actually committing to these decisions (until we realize that these choices are not aligned with who we are).

What do you want to focus on in your life? Have you ever thought of that? Don’t count the little pebbles just yet, but seek out the building blocks. Those are the ones that you concentrate on and then branch out. Think of it as the foundation to the building. It’s impossible to work on anything else prior to that unless you want the whole architecture to fall apart. What are your values? What are your needs and wants? Do you know?

More often than not, we fuck up. We mess up big and small things – multiple times. We go on paths and / or hang out with people who hurt us.

And you know what?

It sucks. We all know that. There’s the pain, the rage, and the entire selection of negative emotions gets hurled and burned into your palate and all you get is that nasty, bitter taste. I would be blatantly lying if I were to say that my life only consists of rainbows and butterflies and everything nice. I’m aware that I am more than significantly better off than most people in the world already, but that doesn’t mean the battles I face should be scrutinized and compared to other people’s.

Despite the memorable and devastating downhills in our lives, we need to recognize that there’s still the uphills.

It could be the friends who are consistently here for you.

It could be the family members who still love you and put up with the bullshit you pull off.

It could be that compliment a stranger graciously gave you that other day.

It could be the acknowledgment of your efforts at work.

I could go on, but these are some examples of the things and people that you should place your commitment and focus on. It might take some or a lot of time to find them, and you might get frustrated and want to give up, but the key is consistency / focus. It’s more than normal to fall as long as you remember to get up. These influences will drive you to become a better version of yourself. Commit to activities and people that nourish you instead of the ones that deteriorate you.

Remember the foul taste of the rotten parts of the apple. Toss those out, and don’t be afraid to take a fresh bite. It will be worth your while. Promise.

 

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