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Laundry On Sundaes

Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through.

Tag Archives: confessions

It’s a little more than 2 weeks away from graduation, and I’ve been feeling like I’m at the lowest point in my life ever. Isn’t this supposed to be the best time of my life? Then why do I feel like I’m going to have a mental meltdown every other day? Am I the only one who’s feeling this way?

Let me back up a little. I have had an absolutely incredible time at Columbia, met some amazing people, and I’m truly excited about graduating. But I’m also more anxious and uncertain than I’ve ever been. Over the past few months, I have seen my peers get into fantastic graduate schools, get great awards and scholarships, accept jobs and fellowships, get engaged and married. They all seems to have it TOGETHER and have life FIGURED OUT.

And here I am, this close to walking across the stage, and I feel like everything around me is falling apart. In a few weeks, I will be thrown out of my dorm and I have nowhere to sleep for a few days in New York City. Then I have to move across the country to a city where I know no one and start living together with my boyfriend. And I will have a super expensive and hard earned degree but still no job (and trust me, it’s not because I haven’t tried). And now parents tell me that my dad might switch jobs in the next few months and they might have to move again. Everything is changing and shifting and the future has never been foggier.

While I’m happy for all the successes of my peers, they are a constant reminder of the things I don’t have. Why don’t I have those things? Don’t I deserve them too? Shouldn’t I have something to show for at the end of my 4 years at an Ivy League school? Why can’t my life be at the point where everyone else’s seems to be in? I wish I, too, had good and exciting news to share with my friends and family when they ask about my post-graduation plans, instead of just a forced smile and admitting that I’m “still trying to figure it out.” I just feel lost and stuck. Stuck at the edge of a great precipice, forced to move forward with no paths to follow. At this point, I don’t even feel the need to “have it all” anymore. I just want ONE THING to go right, to be certain, to hold on to.

I have no conclusion to this post. I wish I did, I really do. Just like I wish I had the answers to the next chapter in my life.

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I have a confessions to make: I almost quit my research internship in Vienna the summer after my sophomore year. I was about a month into it, and there were many reasons I wasn’t happy with the job. One particular Saturday morning (yes, I had to work weekends – one of the reasons), a co-worker took over the lab where I was supposed to work in without looking at the sign-up sheet. At the moment, it was just the last straw for me, and I broke down, took off, crying the whole way on the tram back to my dorm. Back in my room, I cried and cried. I hit my pillow in anger and frustration. I was so upset that I took out my contract and saw that that day was the last day I could quit. And I seriously considered it.

I opened up a Word document and wrote down all the reasons why I hated my internship and wanted to quit.
It had a shocking 20 items and took up the whole page. As I stared at it, tears still running down my face, I wondered what more reason I needed to leave this job. But I was always the indecisive one, so I hesitated. And when I calmed down a little more, I called my parents and Yufei and told them that I wanted to quit. I was pretty sure that none of them thought I was serious, that I was just having a bad day and would move on. So then I did what I always do when I’m uncertain: I researched the topic online. And the overwhelming opinion was that you shouldn’t quit an internship, especially in the middle of it. At this point, I was starting to doubt myself. The practical questions started to pop up: what would I do for the rest of the summer? Would I have to leave Vienna and go home? What would the other interns think of me? What about the travel plans Yufei and I already made for after my internship? Who’s going to finish my project? And so on and so forth.

In the end, I got so tired that I just went to bed. So I didn’t end up quitting, and I’m so glad I didn’t. And here’s why:

– Things did get better at work
– My final project presentation went great and I won a prize at the symposium
– I got to have some awesome experiences travelling in Europe
– My PI ended up writing me recommendation letters for future internships
– Even though my project ended up being pretty successful, I’ve come to realize that research really, really isn’t the thing for me
– And most importantly, the experience taught me that I have the ability to overcome anything. I still have the file “Why I hate my internship and want to quit” on my computer, and all of those things on it still hold true. But now I know that if I got through such a difficult and miserable time, I can get through anything.

I’m not trying to tell you to never quit. Heck, giving up is probably harder than holding on. But there are some takeaways from my story:

1. Never make big decisions when you’re extremely emotional. I’m so glad I didn’t let my emotions get the best of me and make a rash decision to quit. Take some time to calm down and regain your ability to think rationally before making the decision.

2. Think through the consequences of quitting. And not just the consequences you would face, but also how it would affect others. Not only in the present time, but also down the road. Think about the things you could be losing if you quit.

3. Talk it out and write it out. Talking with my loved ones and writing that list really allowed me to vent a lot of my anger. Your friends and family might offer a fresh perspective on things too.

These lessons about quitting apply no matter if you’re thinking about quitting a job, leaving a relationship, giving up on a career path, or changing a major. So think carefully before you decide to give up on something, especially something big, even if it doesn’t seem big at the time. But of course, if after careful consideration, you come to the conclusion that it really is time to move on, then at least you can be assured that you’ve thought it through and made the right choice.

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“Wow, we come from vastly different academic backgrounds,” said Ian, my fellow summer intern, at lunch.

“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter anymore now that we’re here, does it,” I replied. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the statement was mostly aimed at myself.

If I dare say so myself, I was a high school superstar. I consistently got the highest grades in almost all of my classes, many of them AP, throughout high school, taking home the top student award every year from grade 9 to 12. I was on the debate team, was a member and later a coach of the math team, served on student council, and was involved in numerous other extracurricular organizations. I painted and designed murals and other things for my school. I volunteered. All the teachers and principles knew me and loved me. I took and won math and science competitions. I only lost 10 points total on my SAT’s, including 3 SAT subject tests. And to finish off such a high school career, I was my class valedictorian, the winner of the Governor General’s Award, and got accepted to Columbia University. And all of a sudden, none of that mattered anymore.

And I was okay with it. After all, I was expecting to be just average at a school like Columbia. I still got good grades, perhaps even better grades than I had anticipated. But I can’t help but feel like an underachiever at times. Like when I barely get above average grades on an organic chemistry midterm. Or when I lose a prestigious summer internship to someone who wasn’t even chosen as a finalist. Or when I’m home, looking at the bookshelf in the study that’s filled with my plaques, certificates, medals, and trophies from high school. Sure, next year my Columbia diploma will join their ranks, and maybe that alone is a bigger accomplishment than all the rest of them. But still, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’ve been somehow under-performing since I graduated from high school.

Maybe it’s simply the fact that, at this point in the game, you don’t get gold stars anymore for a job well done. A nice looking GPA and the words “Dean’s List” on your online student account just doesn’t feel as great as a big ceremony with presentations and plaques. And nobody really cares about your nice internships or leadership roles when everyone else has the same or even better ones. I understand all that, and I accept all of it, but why do I still feel like such a loser sometimes?

I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and I think I’ve come to a good conclusion. It has to do with losing sight of my goals. In high school, my goals were clear: get top student in physics class, get at least a 2300 on my SAT, get into a great college. I knew what I wanted and I knew what I had to do to get it. But now that I’m at Columbia, things have been different. I thought I knew what I wanted (to become a doctor), but along the way I encountered things that made me unsure. And so I’ve decided to become undecided, to just stay in the moment and focus on right now. But you know what? That doesn’t work for me. That’s not how I operate. I can’t focus on studying organic chemistry when I don’t see how it will contribute to a concrete goal. I just can’t. Recently I realized that what I need is something to work towards, something I really want, something that is going to motivate me and re-energize me. I miss the feeling of having a goal to work towards, and the rush of happiness when I know that my hard work has paid off. The reason why I feel like I’ve been underachieving is simply because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be achieving in the first place.

I’m not good at being undecided. It agitates me, worries me, and ultimately renders me apathetic and void of motivation. So this is what I need: a goal, a goal I truly believe and want to invest my time an energy in. By the end of the summer, I hope to have gained enough experience to make that choice with confidence. It’s high time I set my mind to something and just work for it. Because it’s only then that I truly feel like a superstar, even if no one else recognizes me as one.

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The truth is, I don’t have any friends.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. My Facebook profile page says that I have 540 something, but we all know that doesn’t mean anything. There are people in my life whom I consider good friends. They’re mostly high school friends that I talk with online once in a while and see twice a year. There’s my friend in China who’s known me since third grade. Then there’s my wonderful boyfriend, whom I love very much.

I guess what I mean is that I don’t have any girlfriends where I am right now. Any close friends. Any group that I’m a part of. Any BFF’s.

I was constantly moving around when I was younger. I was always the new girl. But when you’re 10 years old, making friends is easy. Back then, I always had one or two best friends wherever I was. That is, until high school, where I was the only person from my elementary school to go to the school I chose. In fact, I was also the only person who didn’t know anyone else there at all. This time around, making new friends wasn’t so easy. I didn’t have any close friends for the first 2 years, but by the end of grade 10, I’d made quite a few good friends, most of whom I still keep in touch with and see a few times a year when I’m home.

And then came college, and once again, I left behind my existing friends who stayed back home to come to New York. I never really thought much about the fact that I was going to have to make new friends. Isn’t everyone else in the same boat? Surely I’ll make friends. But, as I’ve increasingly realized, I didn’t.

I guess you can call me an introvert. I don’t open up to people easily, but once I do, I’m a different person. Large groups don’t do it for me; I much prefer small groups or one-on-one interactions. I’m not extremely social; I don’t want to go out clubbing every weekend. I’m also not extremely wealthy; I can’t afford to go shopping on fifth ave all the time. But there are things I enjoy: watching chick flicks and animated movies at night when it’s raining out, having long chats over coffee at Starbucks, sitting on a beach reading magazines and building sand castles, going to art galleries and museums, shopping at vintage and second hand shops, baking, crafting, gossiping. I just don’t have anyone to do any of those things with.

I know I’m partly to blame for this predicament. Looking back, I wish I had opted for a double room my freshman year and had a roommate. I wish I had joined more clubs instead of taking 20 credits each semester. I wish I had been more proactive and reached out more. But I didn’t. And now I’m not quite sure how to start. Already in my third year, nearly everyone else around me has already settled into their own group long ago.

I’m okay with it most of the time. After all, I consider myself a solitary person. Growing up as an only child, I’ve had a lot of practice coming up with ways to entertain myself. And I do sincerely enjoy my own company. But once in a while, there’s that pang of loneliness. I look on with envy as I see another picture of an acquaintance surrounded by a group of beautiful, smiling girls. They’re best friends, I can tell. And me? I don’t have any. I don’t have any girlfriends that I can just call up whenever I feel like talking, plan a weekend outing somewhere in the city, or have Sunday brunch with. No one is close enough to me to throw me a birthday party. And even if there is, who would they even invite? I don’t have any friends. Sometimes, the idea fills me with panic and dread. Who am I supposed to sit with at graduation dinners next year? Who’s going to be my bridesmaids if I ever get married?

I wish making new friends was as easy as it was back in fourth grade. Sometimes I wish that I had just gone to a university back home along with my high school friends. Sometimes I even wish that my ideas and interests were more like those of my peers, just so that I can fit in more. I feel like such an old soul at times. But maybe one day soon, a kindred spirit will come along, and I will no longer have to be a lonely girl.

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(Continued from Part I)

Sometimes, it would be painful. The classes were tough, the stress of getting research experience gave me headaches, the MCAT was always looming on the horizon, application process itself, the insane competition, and even after all that, medical school and actually being a doctor… it would all make me incredibly upset. But I still believed that it was part of the process, that really, it would all pay off in the end. So what if I had to slave away to get perfect grades, be stuck in a lab every summer, put my life on hold to be in school for another 8 or 10 years? I was ambitious like that.

It wasn’t until this summer that I began to honestly question my decision. I was working in a lab, as any good pre-med student should be. And I was miserable. I was so miserable one weekend that I left as soon as I arrived at the lab and went home crying. I began to question everything. Why was I doing this? Why was I working in another lab when I didn’t even like last summer’s lab experience? Because I needed to do it for med school. Why did I want to go to med school? Because… I didn’t know. I didn’t know why I had been working on a goal for the past 2 years. I did not like many of the pre-med classes I had taken, doing research in a lab all day is not appealing to me, the idea of taking the MCAT and the whole application process sickens me, and I definitely do not want to stay in school until I’m nearly 30. Besides, as an international student, the chances of getting into a top American medical school is pretty much nil. And at the end of it all, to be a doctor? A noble dream; but it was not my dream.

My life felt so wrong. This was not what I was meant to do. This was not what I wanted to be when I grew up. Finally, I was seeing my life more clearly than ever before, but it was not a pretty picture. I had been carried away from my center for too long. I had lost sight of what I truly wanted in life. I really had believed that becoming a doctor was what I wanted, and everything that came along with it, I had to endure. But I was wrong. Now I understood why I never felt as enthusiastic as the other hopeful future doctors, why my voice grew weaker each time I told someone that I was pre-med, why I did not look forward to the life ahead of me for the next 10 or 20 years. This was not what I was meant to do.

I took a wrong turn somewhere along the road, and now I was lost. I didn’t know where to go, what step to take next, who to turn to. I’ve long lamented the fact that I probably should have gone to art school, but it’s too late now. And to be honest, I do feel incredibly luck to be at Columbia; I just haven’t been doing the right things here. But what now? I’ve already come this far down a path I knew was wrong, is it too late to start over? And if not, how and where? And has everything I’ve done so far in college just been a waste?

(Continue to Part III)

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Setting: sometime last semester, co-ed college dorm bathroom, both brushing teeth at night.

Male friend: So my first issue of Gentlemen’s Quarterly should arrive soon.
Me: Your first what?!
Friend: It’s a men’s fashion magazine.
Me: Uhh… ok? What kind of fashion magazine is that? Why don’t you subscribe to something like GQ instead?
Friend: That IS Gentlemen’s Quarterly.
Me: … REALLY? Is THAT what GQ stands for? Huh. Okay then. Good.

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Seven weeks into my internship.

“Mobile” lab ≠ mobile lab. “Mobile” lab = molbio lab = molecular biology lab.

Duh. Labs don’t move. It finally makes sense.

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