“Tell us a bit about yourself.”
I clenched onto the cuffs of the gray blazer that threatened to swallow me. I’d heard this request too many times and still could not find a satisfactory answer. Worried that my hesitation would produce an indecisive or suspicious impression of myself, I hurriedly forced a “business” smile and rambled on about my experience in competitive clubs in high school and my great work ethic, which helped me pull through numerous challenges. The interviewers’ expressions remained unchanged from before the question was thrown out, and I continued my self-introduction aimlessly, in hopes of producing a smile or at least a nod from one of them.
I got none.
The rest of the interview blurred by, with the interviewers’ mouths changing in shape frequently and producing a series of monotonic syllables filling up the heavily air-conditioned room and my voice following immediately, phonetically expressing things I couldn’t remember five minutes later, in the same sense of aimlessness as before. I walked out of the room wondering for the hundredth time what I had come here for and treaded back to my dorm in high heeled shoes that rubbed harshly against my toes.
This was an interview for one of the many selective student organizations I applied to in the first month of college and subsequently got rejected by.
Looking back, I feel as if I ran through my last two years of high school in a pair of high heels.
Graduating in the top 1% in my class with a 4.0 GPA, holding the NHS (National Honor Society) presidency and three other leadership positions, and taking weekly piano and voice lessons, to name perhaps half of my accomplishments – my high school success was made possible by my unhealthily busy schedule. My day typically started at 5:30 a.m. to plan NHS service projects with the adviser and other officers and ended at 2:00 a.m. as I finished up the heavy load of school work and any other responsibilities from my extracurricular involvements. I led this lifestyle throughout junior and senior years – with the same intensity nearly every week – without a break.
Whenever I brought this lifestyle up to someone else – often with pride – I would receive a reaction of amazement.
“Wow. That’s really amazing that you can pull it off,” they would say.
And yet, in retrospect, while it seemed “amazing” and fueled some of my already inflated ego, it seemed to lack a point. My heavily sleep-deprived schedule was largely a reaction to the similar schedule everyone around me abided by, and, as a result, I was left with many health issues that persisted in college with the habit of sacrificing sleep for the sake of completing work. My involvement in school and my community was also a reaction to high school teachers and counselors and random College Confidential users’ advice to “Get involved.” My fixation on getting straight As was a reaction to my peers’ drive to obtain them and the advice adults had given at various times during my life that I should always achieve the highest academic results possible because I was a “good student.” While my drive might have presented me as a person who “had their life together,” I had very little idea what I wanted to do with my life, and my life until this point had been essentially a construction of other people’s opinions, with very little input from me, the main character. This lack of input from myself showed in interviews, where I was unable to even provide a basic introduction of myself and was clearly going for the organization not because my personal values aligned with it, but because I was trying to follow everyone else’s advance when they said, “Get involved.”
I ran through high school in a pair of high heels labeled “Good Student” that, as glamorous as it looked, left me with many blisters on my feet, burning me out slowly with the pain they inflicted; and I did not even understand why I wore them in the first place or why I continued to wear them throughout those two years.
To a large extent, the American society is made up of people like me who have been wearing a pair of shoes that – though captivating on the outside – are creating blisters on the inside and have been worn without a clear reason from the wearer. Many of us go to college, yet few of us can explain a reason more elaborate than it is the right step to take to achieve success in life – as we are told. Many of us pursue particular degrees – accounting, for instance – because it is highly probable that we will land a job right after graduation, as opposed to more skeptical degrees like music – as we are told. We often put on a pair of shoes chosen for us by the society to walk the path that is our lives; if the shoes do not fit, we continue to walk in them, in fear that by switching to a different pair of shoes, we will lose some “perfect” option. We tread on, not knowing what it is that we are to do with our lives or how exactly to approach that challenge, simply hoping that if we wear these shoes long enough, they will become our own shoes and, eventually, will not leave us with blisters or pain.
However, instead of believing in the possibility that our current shoes will work out in the end, we should try on shoes we believe will be comfortable to wear, regardless of how they look or how they are perceived by people around us. While some may argue that the paths others have suggested for us are not always poor options – as they have been through life and have gathered more wisdom and experience than us – their advice should still not be blindly followed or hinder our selection of the right path for us. What is right for us is not always what seems elegant to others – I might have looked good wearing high heels throughout my junior and senior years, but only I, the wearer, understand that they are not a good fit for me and have ultimately burned me out. When the path to walk is life itself, we should select shoes that do not burn us out from early on, but, instead, encourage us to take on the journey further with each step we take. I was always told to reach for a brand university, yet my first month at Arizona State University has been inspiring and challenging, to say the least; while others may criticize me for not having gone to a top tier school, I know that I have made the right choice by coming here. Though I am still unable to pinpoint my career path, I can take advantage of the variety of student organizations here and join the ones I genuinely take interest in, without being motivated by prestige.
As shoe buyers, we may not know what we want now, but through the process of trying on different shoes – whether sneakers, sandals, slippers, or high heels – we will perhaps understand what we are looking for, and what will please us the most. It may take a lifetime, but it is nevertheless worth doing and our feet may not hurt so much along the way.
After all, how could I “tell a bit” about myself when I don’t know myself yet?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.