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Raising a family in Palo Alto
Palo Alto is known for its startups and reputation as the heart of Silicon Valley. As a child, however, being raised in this environment also encompasses stress and pressure to succeed.
In this article, Alex Feng reflects on his own story of growing up in Palo Alto. Through his experiences, he finds reasons why he would come back home to raise his own families.
DEVELOPING SKILLS FOR FUTURE SUCCESS
“I got 45 minutes of sleep last night.”
Does this sound familiar? Is 45 minutes of shut-eye even considered sleep or is it just a nap? Does hitting the sheets at 7 a.m. count as last night or this morning? At this point, I’m too tired to know or care.
While the sleep deprivation certainly hurt in the short term, embracing it as a teachable experience ultimately created more room for me to grow. Living in Palo Alto has provided me with plenty of similar stressful situations, but by staying open-minded, I have learned how to more quickly and effectively adapt. In today’s world, where being able to healthily manage commitments and activities has become crucial to mental wellbeing, I hope that my own children will be able to leverage the balance of stress and opportunity Palo Alto provides to become the best version of themselves they can be.
According to researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands, under the right conditions, children raised in stressful environments could perform significantly better at efficient information gathering, solving unconventional problems, and other reasoning abilities than those brought up with less stress. Palo Alto is by no means a perfect town, but a certain combination of drive, stress and available resources can yield something far more valuable than a letter of acceptance to a college: skills that will last a lifetime.
Everyone knows that student juggling five APs while being the president of two clubs and still finding time to play sports. Sometimes, it even feels like you’re surrounded by them. Like many other students, I felt the all-too-familiar pressure to be “smart” and “successful” even before entering high school. My response was to emulate what others who exhibited those qualities seemed to be doing: pursuing what they enjoyed outside of school.
I’ve always been a motivated student, but admittedly, without this external pressure, I doubt I would have pursued my interests outside of school or even engaged in the occasional dabbling. Joining extracurriculars that reflected my interests put me in a system where I was exposed to other like-minded, similarly motivated individuals while also improving my initial “I want to see where I can go with this” to “Dang, that’s where I can go with this.” The structure provided by these activities channeled an originally directionless drive towards a concrete goal.
I will confess that as my commitments outside of school increased, so did my stress. But the support system and relationships that I had built for myself through these activities kept me afloat even in the most maddeningly busy circumstances; I had more experienced friends who had also juggled similar workloads and who I would often ask for advice, as well as friends who were going through the same thing who I could just decompress and talk to.
I stayed up late more times than I would like to admit, missed assignments and got sick multiple times as a result of how I initially handled my circumstances. Instead of resigning myself to the fact that I might never be able to handle the workload as well as others I pushed myself to become better. Leveraging the experiences as well as work habits of others set allowed me to ultimately refine my discipline, time management skills and ability to compartmentalize.
Palo Alto did toss me a lot of balls to juggle, but it also included an instruction manual on how to juggle them. Were it not for this balance of stress and solution, I would not have developed these life skills as early as I have.
Instead of shying away from the challenge, I hope anyone who grows up with similar stress levels will embrace it as an opportunity to learn and improve. There is no instruction manual for getting someone ready to tackle the world by 18, but the lessons I have learned from Palo Alto are certainly good places to start. I hope my children will enjoy a childhood filled with more than academics and a resume, however, gaining crucial life skills at the price of a more stressful adolescence will only serve to help them lead a more balanced life in the future.