Monday—basketball. Tuesday—soccer. Wednesday—saxophone lessons. Thursday—math tutoring. Many of our childhood schedules were booked with activities—but not with ones that we necessarily loved. As a result, each day came with an uncharacteristically whiny group of complaints: “Why? Can I just not go? Please?? I don’t want to go.”
As a child, our extracurricular options were introduced to us by our parents, and regardless of our opinions, they made decisions and pushed us to try new things. Although we may have initially rejected some of these commitments, years of the activity continued, and our tolerance gradually increased. Now, many of us can say that our developed interests play a major part in our lives. Because we were obligated to listen to our parents in the beginning, now our activities have shaped our personalities, our thought processes, and even our aspirations. However, without the initial “push,” these enforced interests would never have become our own. As we continue to grow older, we also continue to develop our own opinions and hobbies, either sticking with our parents’ desires or trying something completely different.
For example, take the typical stereotype of Asian students. Not every Asian child instantly loves, or ever loves, Math Olympiad, Science Bowl, swimming, chess club, violin, or piano. It was the same for me: as someone who grew up in an Asian household, I did not appreciate many of the activities my parents forced me to commit to. I ended up playing guitar, while my friends continued with piano. I tried out for a competitive math team, and then decided to quit. However, my parents forced me to continue just one activity—swimming. To my surprise, as the weeks went by I developed a growing attraction for it, even though I had initially hated the sport. Now, I consider swimming to be a prominent part of my life, and had it not been for my parents insistence that I continue, I do not know where I would be today.
Distinctly, I remember another friend who participated on my club swim team for one season and suddenly quit, never to return again. I imagine that her first day of swimming was much like mine: being pried from the security of firm ground beneath our feet and launched into the pool by parental insistence. For whatever reason, our rendezvous with H2O did not end the same way; she continued onto a different path while I resolutely stuck to swimming. Although our hobbies differentiated as years continued, she was not affected by the absence of swimming in her schedule, nor was I affected by the other activities in which I did not participate; it was our parents who stressed certain activities and created the difference between us.
On the other hand, there are some parents who always listened to their child’s request, even if it meant wasting money and quitting an activity at the child’s whim. In middle school, Ben Johnson ’16 decided to take up fencing, Chess Club, lacrosse, crew, and Community Service Club. In the end, he stuck with none of them. He said, “[My mom] wanted me to try new things, but I don’t know why I quit almost everything. I guess I was little and indecisive.” As children, we may not have known what was truly best for ourselves, and therefore it was up to our parents to take the initiative and begin shaping our futures.
Although our parents expressed different opinions on our extracurriculars when we were younger, now it is truly up to us to choose what our hobbies are. Exploring new pursuits may be a challenge for some of us, especially with parental and peer pressure, but sticking with unpleasant, old activites will never open doors for what opportunities lie ahead. The more things we try and experience, the more we get to know ourselves. For example, does playing squash fit in the scheme of who we are? Is it something we enjoy? Or is it something that just wouldn’t work in the long run? As we come to different realizations about everything we try, we come to better know what type of person we are, and in this way we can grow.
Up to a certain point, our parents should guide our development. But as we age, we cannot let them continue to take total control of our lives. In order to truly find our identity, we must continue doing what our parents did for us when we were younger, by exploring a multitude of activities. Who knows? Even professional juggling could be in your favor.