“…all by yourself/don’t turn your head back over your shoulder…”
– James Taylor.
I’m not going to lie, there are days when I feel ridiculously inadequate; I’m pretty sure every human being has that problem. I just happen to have it at a top-30 university, which takes the discomfort to an even more epic level.
I mean, a “church cousin” and friend on Facebook is a near-legendary Adventist violinist wunderkind. At least three of my classmates are pageant winners, one possibly on a national level. At least two friends have their own Wikipedia articles.
This doesn’t, of course, figure in the constellation of talent that manifests on any college – the sign-toting anti-caging activist you brush hands with will be the first Green Party Congresswoman from California, you should probably buy stock in that computer company your earnest CS/EE major neighbor’s starting, and the vivacious brunette who’s reading Gibbon in the back of your Socrates class will be Classics chair at Harvard in 2035.
Given, UCLA crawls with nascent titans of scholarship, athletics, and entertainment (given its location and reputation) but intellectualizing it doesn’t ease the occasional jarring sensation – oh dear God how the hell did I end up here? I don’t belong here.
And that’s not even talking about the people I already know! Web designers, computer programmers, would-be judges, politicians, scholars. My head swims every time I log onto Facebook.
Not that any of these people rest on or trade on their laurels (though they have every right to.) They are, without exception, charming, bright, engaging, and thoroughly pleasant human beings. And you know me – I’m not the type to drool (unless, of course, you happen to be Natalie Portman, in which case I plead guilty) but it can be godawfully intimidating.
But everyone’s journey is different. Remembering is hard, especially for closeted-overachiever me. While we can stop looking down (because elitism and snobbery are so obviously bad in our culture and get hooked to shame once pointed out and denounced) it’s much more difficult to stop looking up and feeling minuscule about how little you’ve done with your two decades.
(Seriously. I’m not a social entrepreneur, an artistic prodigy, or a genius. Go figure. Cal Newport, you were right – stick to one thing to build a reputation. Perhaps my inadequacy is tied to my scatterbrained-ness?)
But then I remember what I’m doing, and why. Asian scholars are relatively common; jokes aside, there’s plenty of us. Asian activists are rarer; Asian scholar-activists are rarer still – why do they have to be Adventist and trade unionists, too? And they want to go to law school? And write? Why, I don’t think it’s ever been done before. Because nobody’s been crazy enough to try.
Everybody has that kind of crazy. Embrace yours.
Walk down some lonesome roads, sometimes.