The Only Barrier

I never bought in to the entire cultural idea that success and change could come from thinking in a certain fashion, mostly because I still think that is pretty stupid. I mean, hard work and dedication brings success, not idea diagrams and meditation camps, right? People who are simply lounging around, trying to discover their true calling, appeared to be either too privileged to have this “burden” or too weak to put down real pen to paper, or hand to stone, or fingers to keyboard. It is the people who put in the hours upon hours that create the things that make our world a better place, not just the idle dreamers.

And yet, that mental paradigm has started to shift over the past summer.

For a myriad of reasons, this past summer has been one of the best so far in my life – and that’s not to say anything of the next five weeks I will be spending in Seattle and Shanghai. But thus far, I’ve been to the major cities along the eastern starboard, discussed papers with the brightest of minds, communicated with numerous top level officials, and learned more than I believe I have in any other summer. I’ve been a high-school mentor, a pub-quiz player, a dinner-party host, a regular-gym goer, a planetarium host, a first-time-teleconference-call member. I want to attribute the events of the past summer to my own success, but each time I try to do so, I find that I fail. Determination alone could not possibly account for all the blessings I have been given.

Despite all of this, I have found myself waking to existential dread in the morning, feeling inadequate as I browse through the dual cesspools of Facebook and Twitter, finding myself scrambling to meet hard deadlines, swimming lap after lap and watching as 60-year-old grandmas pass me in the fast lane. I have led telescope pointings while doubting if I have ever learned enough about the stars to be remotely considered as a fair educator to the public, and have stared at my computer screen for far too long, feeling at times as if the work that I am putting in is merely a momentary distraction and that it would never amount to anything. Hours have slipped through my fingers as minutes inch by, even as slow panic seems to accumulate.

For all of my newfound freedoms that I cherish deeply, I have found one thing that prevents me from enjoying them – the only barrier to my happiness is myself.

Which doesn’t make any sense, right! To subscribe to a ideology of hard work means that it doesn’t /really/ matter whether we are sad or happy. As long as the problems get done, the solutions found, and the papers written, success should flow. Certainly, there is luck, personal factors, and accumulated experiences, but the overall message is that things happen one at a time.

No doubt, this belief stems from my culture and my experiences. I witnessed my parents put in tireless hours to first get the best education, and then to apply it to their work. I have seen how our family has changed and grown over time, not just from my parents, but from my parents’ parents, to where I am today. This steady climb of humble dedication, treating others with fairness and kindness, will no doubt shape who I am for the rest of my life. I believe that the best parts of me come from this upbringing, and that my core character is strongly aligned with beliefs of equality rather than of innate talent. And yet…

I have come to understand that in all things, there needs to be a more equal balance. In my (short, uninspired) journey through life thusfar, I have noticed that the times when I was most happy was when there was most balance in my life, while my most stressed times was when I had thrown all of my chips into one basket, or put all my eggs in. Time passes quickest when I am doing something without thinking about why I am doing it, or if I find myself wallowing in the same rut of thoughts. Becoming stuck, refusing to look past the moment, leads to my melancholy blues.

But when I go back and examine all of my troubles and concerns, there is only one common denominator: myself. Who whispers into my ear late at night that I am not good enough? Who thinks that another person’s creation leads directly to the devaluation of my work? Who is the force keeping me from getting up, thinking that it would be pointless anyway? I am my own worst enemy; I sneak and sabotage my greatest thoughts while they are at their weakest.

There is a bright side to this. I am the only thing in this world that I can fully control. The winds and the tides may not care what I have to think, but I can persuade (gently, gently) myself to be more positive and to enjoy things. But it is hard. It is much easier to let the world take you wherever it wishes, and to simply be satisfied with whatever that is handed to you. Through those bouts of luck and random chance, a life can just fall into place.

I think that’s why I tend to have these “boom-bust” cycles in my life. Too often, I don’t take enough control of myself and tell myself what I really desire. Too often, I just let it go for my mood to be so quickly influenced by external factors. It isn’t that I want to master my emotions – I would feel that that is entirely antithetical to my point. Rather, I want to feel the world around me and still preserve my own voice through it all. I am learning to first break down the barriers I have once set for myself, and then to prevent those barriers from rising again.

I am boundless and free; there is infinite potential along the horizon. Wherever I look, there are opportunities and challenges, rewards and tribulations. If I am bold enough to push forwards, hungry enough to want something greater, and humble enough to realize that it isn’t all about me, then perhaps I will soon step beyond my only barrier. Perhaps I will soon step into the light.


I’ve finally realized that perhaps there is not enough peace in my life. Every moment seems to be going from one place to another, and there simply has not been enough time to sit and think – to reflect on what I am doing, and then to contemplate why I am doing it. Being pushed to go from one task to another is too much like running a marathon. There is no chance to slow down, because slowing down would show weakness and failure.

That isn’t to say that I have had no time for rest. On the contrary – I feel more well rested and happier than almost any other time in my life. Yet, there is a gnawing discomfort. Because even in the times when I am resting, my mind wanders to the tasks of the times to come. My personal time is spent still doing things, albeit things that are not directly related to some task that I was given. A secondary guilt complex even begins to kick in – I start to feel uneasy as soon as I truly have nothing to do. I begin to aimlessly rewatch old YouTube videos or re-read the same familiar stories.

Oddly, for the longest time, I’ve been meaning to write a blog on losing my voice, because I have had the sensation that I can no longer speak in the same way that I used to. Instead of broadcasting my thoughts freely and with wild abandon (as fifteen-year-old high school students do have a tendency to do), I’ve become much more reserved and calculated. It feels that even my blog, one of the most treasured parts of my personal high school experience, has turned into something else. With the banner displaying my official name, instead of my screenname, and with a in the domain name instead of the good ol’, I’ve become more hesitant in publishing my thoughts.

Bo Burnham has recently published a new comedy special, “Make Happy”, with many segments posted on YouTube. The part that seemed to resonate the deepest was when he talked about performance – he noted how everyone has been forced to become a performer, whether that is through witty tweets, accomplished Facebook pictures, or stunning Instagram photos, everyone performs constantly. And then everyone is forced to watch everyone else’s performance, evaluating and comparing how they have done.

Irrationally, I feel like that – as if my actions and words are being put out on the stage. Simple statements are cross-examined, to ensure that I am who I think I am. Without finding peace, it is hard to say if I really am doing what I want, or if I have deluded myself into believing that I enjoy what I am doing.

And yet… it is quite difficult to describe. At the same time that I worry about what my life looks like from the outside, I feel happier than I have ever been in the past. I’m able to explore new ideas and places at my own leisure, while engaging in interesting conversations and learning more about amazing people. I recall reading an article from a psychiatrist regarding this syndrome, where young adults in their twenties were showing up, seemingly without a single problem. They were college educated, had good white-collar jobs, and got on well with their parents. Yet, there was an existential void in their lives, where they felt unhappy, but had no idea why.

I don’t think I’m remotely close to that stage. I recognize that my happiness tends to be cyclic and irrational, and that I still have mysteries of life that I am content with figuring out slowly. But perhaps by finding a small area to slowly rest and rejuvenate, I would be more at peace with everything else in my life.