Letters to my 14 y/o self: Bravery & Tenacity
by Allan Wang
I just graduated from high school a few days ago and have been doing a bit of reflecting, especially with many middle school memories coincidentally cropping up recently. I’ve chosen a few lessons that I wish I’d known (or taken more seriously) as a 13-14 y/o and distilled them in a few essays I’ll be posting this week. This is the first.
During high school, we’re given ample opportunity to choose new paths for ourselves and develop. If you’re a freshman, or even a sophomore, realize your upcoming years are wide open for everything and that the things you do now will set the foundation for college and career choices. Nowadays, the success stories of young people are common, and the expectations are correspondingly greater. Luckily, so are the opportunities. Want to be an artist? Lawyer? Politician? There’s something for you. Love science? Want to learn how to code or engineer? Heheh.
Your greatest challenge may simply be willing to embrace these new opportunities and sticking through with them. And it’s even harder for those attending a larger high school or moving to a new neighborhood. The pond has become a lake, and with it comes new wildlife, greater depth, and a very real fear of drowning.
To swim, you’ll need two vital traits - bravery and tenacity. You can’t have one without the other; simply being brave is fruitless if you won’t muck through the hard times, and tenacity is useless without the initial spark of courage.
Be fearless. If you feel scared, that’s ok. Mask that fear with confidence and don’t be intimidated. Remember that you’re not alone - everyone around you is scared, too. Yes, there will be those pricks that try to bring you down, but if you don’t challenge yourself, you’ll be at a severe disadvantage in a few years. Not doing anything is guaranteeing failure.
So forget your fears and embrace your abilities. It’s fine if you don’t have any passions or skills at the moment - now is the time for you to discover and develop them. In high school, you have a combination of three things that you probably won’t ever have together again at the same time: highly concentrated opportunity, parent-subsidized board, and a judgement free zone. So take advantage of them in any way that you like. Play a new instrument. Audition for your school play. Pick up a circuit board and tinker. If you don’t know where to look, ask around. That’s what your school’s teachers, counselors, and administrators are here for. Don’t be scared to ask upperclassmen - they’ve been through the struggle too. Browse the interwebs. You’ll find programs, online courses, informational blogs, instructional videos, and so much more. Email the offices of successful professionals in whatever industry you’re interested in and ask for advice or, if you’re brave enough, even an internship. Heck, do it with your friends. There’s nothing like trying something new with familiar faces, though if you’re really hardcore, go all out and dive in without any helping hands.
The first time trying something new may be a bummer, and so might the second. Go for a third or fourth, even a fifth. I know how hard it is to keep going, but often it’ll click when you expect it the least. As Ernest Shackleton, a polar explorer who led three expeditions to the Antarctic and one of the most obsessively determined people ever, once said, “I have marveled often at the thin line that divides from failure and the sudden turn that leads from apparently certain disaster to comparative safety.”
It’s the same even if you initially succeed. Situations almost always regress to the mean or just fall off the cliff. Again, I realize it’s very tough to keep going when everything goes wrong or when what initially seemed like great fun has slowed into a grind. Just remember that all the problems you face, as overwhelming as they may seem in the moment, will disappear in the rearview mirror so long as you keep your foot on the gas.
The best way to build these two traits is by actively straining your bravery and tenacity muscles. That means having the guts to try something new over and over again. That means mucking through tough times and grinding through problems, even if you’re exhausted. If you happen to succeed, excellent! You’ve now discovered a personal passion or at least something you like doing / are good at! But regardless of whether you do well or not, you’ll meet some great people, learn some new life lessons, establish parameters on your own abilities, and train your B&T muscles. So, even if you lose, you’ll still win. You’ll always come out stronger.
Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow and possibly a part 3 later this week. As always, feel free to ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments about anything. Always happy to help! :)