The Best Thing
I used to be a straight A student in elementary school. I remembered getting a triple A+++ (not one, not two, but three) pluses on a book report in 5th grade about the province of Saskatchewan. I was on cloud nine. My fifth grade teacher was probably my favorite one.
I’d remember my semester report cards would usually be A’s in most things. And I’d run home to my mom and dad feeling proud of my accomplishments. And sometimes, they’d reward me with $50 so I can go and buy a brand new video game for my Nintendo video game system. Good times.
School had always been my salvation since I was usually considered to be “top” of the class and all. Educational success defined me into who I am as a person. And it worked for awhile until college at Cornell University’s Engineering School rolled around.
I thought I had made it in life once I got into Cornell. After all, the experts say that it’s supposed to be the happiest 4 years of your life. And maybe for the first two months, I felt like that. I had a good group of friends that I could hang out with. Everything was going fine and dandy. I felt like all my burdens rolled away and I was just going to feel bliss for all eternity.
But eventually, while at the Engineering School, I realized that I was surrounded by absolute geniuses. People who could compute faster than I could. People who could learn better than I could. People who understand these abstract concepts much better and faster. I did not sufficient around them. And slowly, drip-by-drip, I felt my confidence flowing away from my grasp.
In junior year, I even ended up failing Psychology 101 and getting an incomplete in Optimization - needing to retake both courses over the summer. Failing Psych 101 was hard to do. So, in that way, it was quite an accomplishment.
And even though I eventually graduated, my confidence was shattered. I felt quite insufficient and slowly developed social anxiety. It just progressively got worse for a few years, and I didn’t know how to handle it. After all, socializing with friends was something that came so naturally for me for these 20+ years, and now - all of a sudden - I felt like I just fell flat on my face.
I didn’t know what to do at all in these social environments. At networking events. Or even with groups of friends and family. Sometimes, I would force myself into talking when listening would’ve been better. In other cases, I would be completely silent when maybe it was my turn to talk. Everything would feel completely awkward.
Sometimes, I’d lock myself in the bathroom for a couple of minutes, just to regroup and regather myself. This was not at all like the way everything was depicted on Facebook (still a burgeoning corporation back then).
I’d scroll my Facebook feed and look at all the groups of friends and families that were having a great time. They were at weddings. They were at the bar. They were at the club. Smiling faces among groups of people. With not a care in the world.
I couldn’t help but ask myself “why me?” Why do I feel so insufficient? Why do I have to be so socially anxious? How come I don’t feel this sense of happiness and satisfaction when I socialize in my group of friends.
Instead of feeling on cloud nine, I felt miserable, confused, agitated, and totally anxious. I don’t think I was ever diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder (conveniently named SAD for short), and honestly I don’t think my anxiety ever got up to that level if distress.
But, damn, it still felt horrible going out in groups.
I would have these episodes where I didn’t what to do at all. Why me? Why would cold beats of sweat flow down my face when I socialized in groups of friends? Why would my heart beat so rapidly when I engaged in simple conversations with families and relatives? Why would I feel so insufficient and strung-out when going into group meetings with co-workers? Why? Why? Why me?
You might not realize at that point. And no epiphany hits you. But slowly, step-by-step, you start to realize that you have to go through these episodes of struggle in life. Not everything can be fine and dandy all the time. Nor should they be.
Sometimes, going thru these episodes of struggle could be the best thing that ever happened to you. And looking back, this ‘struggle’ with social anxiety has been most likely the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
I remembered reading a book at Barnes and Nobles and learning about a group called Toastmasters. A place where people would help you with your struggles with public speaking and communication. And I checked it out back in 2006.
Slowly, I became a believer in their cause. Their mission to help members improve their public speaking, communication, and leadership skills in a positive and supportive atmosphere.
I’d feel wonderful going to these meetings, developing my own skills in public speaking, while helping others along the way. IT was a hobby. It was a passion. It was supporting a cause greater than simply myself. It was more than getting a A+++ on a book report. And I still go there to learn and contribute.
Partly because of this, I saw the value in extracurriculars. Doing things outside of work that you were interested in. Back then, my parents were the ones picking the extracurriculars for me - piano, taekwondo, Chinese school - which was nice. But from there, I slowly became more pro-active in looking for groups and causes that I enjoyed.
I got into meditation a few years ago. And I’ve been meditating consistently ever since.
I started going to the philosophy school. And I enjoy participating in the weekly group discussions on truth and wisdom.
I took improv classes and had a blast acting and singing to my heart’s content about random and admittedly stupid topics.
I joined my local classical music group. And participate in their recitals every once in a while - using my piano skills to help accompany aspiring singers.
I began to see the value in mental health. And I began to see the importance in causes that stretched beyond the realm of just me, me, me.
It’s been a roller coaster ride. And it hasn’t been a one-stop-shop-fits-all.
But sometimes, I do feel that struggle which began at Cornell University might’ve been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I would not have discovered Toastmasters. I may not have gotten into meditation. Signed up for philosophy class. Signed up for improv. Contributed to my classical music organization. And see value in mission beyond myself.
So sometimes, challenges, struggles, problems, uncertainty, agitation, sadness, anger (whatever you want to call it). Sometimes, these supposed negatives can be the best things to ever happen.
Without them, how can we possibly know what is the true meaning of joy, happiness, bliss, ecstasy, peace, harmony, and selflessness?
So, when you go through rough times, don’t worry too much! Just stay the course. It may not be pleasant. And it may be painful. But just know, that there is a light at the end of that tunnel of negativity.
And once you get past that tunnel, it may just be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.