Picking at calluses from climbing on monkey bars. Flaunting hundreds of Silly Bandz along our arms. Hearing clicking noises as our glittery Heelys rolled along the cracks of the sidewalk. Our childhoods were filled with blissful bursts of euphoria and life changing bits and pieces that make us into the people we are today. As children, we were passionate wandering and lost. Some of our childhood was spent in compromise for the future. Some of our childhood was spent enlivening and nurturing our interests. Some of our childhood was spent aimlessly trekking into the unknown, growing ourselves through trial and error, through righting our wrongs.
Now that we’re venturing towards adulthood, childhood is but a faraway memory. Now that we’re consumed by heaps of schoolwork and responsibility, we’ve lost sight of our childhood whims — of our past selves. Childhood blurs into the mesh of vibrant colors of our life, and we hardly put it upon ourselves to ponder and reminiscence about the past.
It’s perfectly normal to get caught up in the current chaos of life; after all, our past memories are exactly that — they’re memories, and we don’t need to be distracted with them all the time. However, it’s important to reflect on them once in a while and return back to our roots.
Let’s now take a trip down memory lane.
Photo illustration | Annie Zhang
What began as an ambitious attempt to one-up an academically-outstanding classmate in kindergarten transformed into my ultimate passion. The piano and I go way back; I remember how I raced to my Taiwanese teacher’s apartment on Tuesday afternoons for lessons, disciplined myself to give up playdates for practice time and experienced how my fingers trembled when I performed at my first recital.
As children, we were all faced with the question, “What do we want to be when we grow up?” It’s not surprising to hear answers like doctors, athletes and teachers. In fact, according to Forbes, some of the most popular childhood dream careers in 2015 were teachers, firefighters and pro athletes.
I dreamed of becoming a pianist when asked the question. At that time, I believed that there was nothing more satisfying than the thunder of applause on stage and the feeling of accomplishment after completing a performance.
When I was 5, my parents gave me the opportunity to try out swimming, dancing, drawing, soccer and piano. By the time I returned to America as a third grader, I stopped swimming and dancing. Two years later, I stopped playing soccer and attending drawing classes. As a high school freshman, I put a pause on every single activity I devoted time to in my childhood — except for piano.
I thought of many potential answers as I reflected on the reason for my persistence with piano: the rush of excitement during competitions, the ability to convey emotion through treble and bass clefs, the opportunity to collaborate with other musicians. While those reasons did inspire me to continue my musical career, in the end, I could only settle on one main motivation: my teacher.
The first day I met my current piano teacher, I went home bawling. Her expectations for her students were beyond my 10-year-old imagination. She would sing along with her students playing in class, make those who showed little improvement practice at her house after lessons and host rehearsals on the weekends to ensure that all her students were ready for competitions and recitals. I only paid for one hour lessons, yet she taught me for at least three hours every session simply because she believed that it is impossible to teach students five pieces of music within the paid time-limit.
As a beginner, I practiced the piano for hours because she made it clear that she would stop teaching those who lacked improvement and the ability to meet her expectations. Ultimately, this fear guided me to build a solid technical foundation in piano. Having her push me to become a better pianist brought me many unexpected opportunities, whether it was truly appreciating music, organizing chamber music, self-composing or teaching the instrument to others. And because of her guidance, there was not one second where I contemplated on quitting the activity.
Just a few days ago, I came across the video of my first piano recital. I laughed as I recognized the proud smile etched on my 7-year-old self, who, at that moment, felt like a professional pianist despite playing simple pieces.
This moment of reminiscence made me realize how important our childhood passions are. If I had not been so sure in pursuing a piano career as a young child, I could not have had the opportunity to play in competitions, perform in recitals and teach students the way I do today. In fact, I wouldn’t have been able to bring myself to appreciate music and the arts as a busy MVHS student if it weren’t for the piano.
The passion accompanied me for more than 12 years, taking me from Taiwan to America, practices to performances, audience to artist and most importantly, childhood to adolescent. I grew up with piano and I cannot imagine myself loving another activity more than playing music.
Childhood — a time when we couldn’t reach the bathroom cupboard, when we wore size five light-up Skechers and started on the bumpy dirt road of life.
We wandered aimlessly as children on a meandering route, trekking up and down hills to maturity. In this time period of self discovery, we tried to find and ground ourselves and make sense of the unknown.
While travelling this path, we encountered life trials that tested our moralities, assessed our capabilities and molded our personalities. As children, we were reprimanded when we accidentally smashed a pristine vase from a slip of our fingers. We were lectured at the dinner table that time we told a snowballed lie under the radar. We were corrected by our parents and guardians when we voiced our malicious thoughts. Over and over again, we’ve encountered trials that shaped our maturity and helped us transition from childhood to adulthood. On the daily, we’re greeted with scenarios — social confrontation, conflicting morals and troubles. Over time, our shoes become caked with dirt and grime, and we had to switch them out for a new pair of size seven Nike sneakers.
At MVHS, we are muddled with the “what-ifs.” What if we spent more hours on the black top playing kickball rather than staying inside jotting page after page of Kumon homework? What if we learned to be a bit braver when we tried out for that team that seemed way too talented for us? What if we told our younger selves that it’s okay to cry every so often into our pillows late at night? Where would be now? Less consumed in self doubt and deprecation? Driven and passionate rather than weighed down by obligations and duties?
However, without the difficulty that we’ve had to endure as older individuals as a result of the “mistakes” we made as kids, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn coping mechanisms and self-awareness before being thrown into the abyss of the “real world.” The pain, hardship and struggles we’ve been through set us up for growth and prepared us for the next stages of life we were bound to encounter sooner or later. And by the time we become adults in the workforce, we will be ready for new challenges because we’ve braved similar ones already.
So yes, it is absolutely possible that our lives would be significantly different and possibly easier if we had fulfilled what we wish we could’ve done as children. Childhood is a very sensitive and transitional time, prone to influence from cultural and environmental factors — it creates the necessary foundation of our identities.
If, as children, we had followed through with what we are now unsatisfied with, our path would be completely different, and not necessarily in the way we would think. We would never have had the chance to grow and become the complex people we are today — our childhood choices have gradually paved the way for self growth in the most counterintuitive ways. We’re given chances to remake and redefine ourselves as people through the obstructions on our trail of life.
With that in mind, it’s important to acknowledge that aside from the obvious morals and sense of identity that our childhoods have provided us, we have also been given more chances to grow due to the adversities caused by the decisions we made as children. And, as weird as it is to verbalize, that isn’t something that we should regret.
The path of life continues, and we’re ready to trek onwards. Our Nikes have been swapped out for dirty size nine high-top Converse that have braved bumps, stones and rough pavement. We may have new shoes, but they’re just a sign that we grew out of our old, glittery Sketchers, ready to brace the bumpy road again.
Like a hamster living in a small cage, a typical MVHS student eats, studies, sleeps and repeats. We stay in this cycle in hopes of fulfilling one thing: getting into our dream college. We have this goal because we believe in a simple math equation: You go to a good college = you are set for life.
No one finds it odd when classmates get less than a couple of hours of sleep but we’re rather surprised when they get more than seven. Lifestyle choices like these are not out of the ordinary when we are taking so many AP courses throughout our high school career 一 it would be more surprising for us not to take any. Educational success is often the only thing we want to achieve even at the expense of social, mental and physical health.
By being constantly fixated on the future, we tend to be oblivious to the present, where not everything leads to one ultimate goal. Instead, the reality of success in life is not correlated with getting into a good college. According to Stephen Guise, the author of Mini Habits, success requires large amounts of social connections and networking. At MVHS, our culture does not place an emphasis on socialization, resulting in fewer face-to-face interactions. Having little social life is also very closely linked to mental illness.
Improving your college applications may seem like the only way to a prosperous future, but it is not beneficial to reject your passions and activities though they might not look as impressive on a college application. Take volunteering as an example. If volunteering isn’t the cherry on top of a resume, would we still be spending our Saturday mornings dragging ourselves out of bed to an event? Being half-hearted about how amazing helping others feels might appeal to colleges, but it certainly does not hold value in the real world.
Success can’t exactly be obtained if all we care about is academics and extracurriculars as a means of embellishing our college applications. Sure, there are clubs on campus that allow for more social interactions and teamwork, but it is not unheard of for students to join clubs solely for college applications. At the end of the day, if we only half-heartedly join these clubs, we will never truly gain necessary life skills.
Upon finishing our high school careers and finally getting into that dream school (or not, but heading to college nonetheless), we are completely lost when we finally wake up to reality, where we cannot just eat, study and sleep; instead, we must engage in the reality through having social interactions, reading news and paying attention to our physical health.
Our goal has been achieved. We are at college, but what now?
We notice that our peers are more connected with society, seemingly more ahead in life. We begin to realize that our half-hearted motivation for success plays little role in actual success in life.We find out too late that communication, collaboration and resilience are the true skills that determine our future. In essence, all the hard work we put into college didn’t really guarantee us a perfectly stable life.
It is physically draining to live in a community completely different from high school and it’s so easy for us to forsake our bodies before getting to the harder milestones in life. The culture of procrastination has become so prominent in many of our lives that it’s easy to just deprioritize our health and other problems.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Society is harder to please than college administrators, and people can identify true passion and potential when they see it. Skating by our high school years with only the motivation of slapping it on our resume can change the definition of education and what we are gaining from it. This will eventually lead to greater difficulty when we join the workforce and have to develop skills we should have developed much earlier — that is, if we actually paid attention to them.
Trying to take more than eight AP classes just to get ahead for college may divert our focus from real relationships with others. Though we think we are preparing for everything we anticipate, realize that we are actually the biggest procrastinators in life. We brush off our health concerns and isolation until after we graduate since we think we can worry about these things later. However, when we procrastinate on these things, we end up missing the deadline. Once we face society, we don’t have the social skills or physical and mental health to work, or sometimes even get a job, leaving us hopeless for the future we have always wanted.