Op-Ed: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

Starting a new year is usually exciting; for most people, it means a clean slate and a fresh start. However, when something unfortunate and heartbreaking happens around this time of year, it’s hard to get moving. This clean slate can get messy real fast. This was the truth for me this year, entering 2014. The transition was slightly chaotic and things only got worse during the first two weeks of January. What I’m about to describe does not only apply to the beginning of a new year but more generally to any time when everything piles up and just hits you like a truck.

I went into the new year quite disoriented. My mom was missing from my family for the first three weeks of 2014, flying back to Taiwan a couple days before the new year at sudden notice. While adapting to this change, other seemingly major events—at least they seemed major at that time—occurred upon the return to school after winter break. It was a time of intense emotional stress. Between feeling pressured to meet certain expectations, awaiting decisions on certain applications, dealing with deteriorating relationships, and facing general disappointments, I was ready to hide from the world and hibernate for a very, very long time. I woke up every day that week, wondering when it was all going to end, not wanting to face the day, nothing really motivating me to even roll out of bed. Somehow, every day, I managed to get out of bed, get to school, and make it through the day. And eventually, the hectic week passed.

I share this with you not to receive your pity but because I—along with many other high schoolers—have faced and unfortunately will have to face these sorts of obstacles time and time again. I believe that anyone can learn about how the world works and how much feelings can impact certain responses from enduring these times when everything seems to be crumbling to pieces by adopting a positive, hopeful, and above all accepting perspective. I generalize lessons and specify perspectives, but in truth, the lessons learned and the attitudes adopted vary for everyone depending on each situation. These events are unexpected and there isn’t just one way to be fully prepared for stress, but holding onto the “right” attitude makes these times easier to get through.

One question continuously ran through my mind those weeks: why? Why do so many disappointments and losses exist? Why is there so much stress all at once now? Why did these things happen? As a Christian, I believe that there is a reason behind every single moment of our lives and that everything is part of God’s larger plan. Whether you are a believer in fate, karma, and the likes, or simply a non-believer, there is still value to be found in asking this one simple question: why? My natural instinct was to blame external factors—the limited amount of time for everything and all the other stresses in my life—in an effort to create excuses and reasons for my failures and disappointments. It was a way to criticize the people who I thought were bringing me down. Eventually, I tried to move away from this way of thinking and turned inwards instead.

Asking “why” forced me to reflect on my character, my personality, and my circumstances. I knew I harbored some bitterness and anger toward everything and everyone that I believed were stopping me. I knew I shut people out whether or not I was justified or unjustified in doing so. I came to realize that holding on to the bitterness was one of the reasons that things felt futile throughout the week, and so I tried to let go. Instead of focusing on the anger, frustration, and the other darker feelings, I focused on letting go of my less admirable qualities. “Letting go” makes it sound easy, but it’s not as quick and simple as dropping a penny from my hand into a fountain, wishing those nuances away. It is a long process that I am still working on and it can be a struggle, but I persist, knowing that in the end, the world won’t miss the bitterness and anger I kept for so long.

That’s not to say I became a hermit and isolated myself from the rest of the world to meditate and self-reflect. I instead remained involved and channeled my energy into the things that still needed to be done. Focusing on certain tasks and staying physically active helped hold me together. These other responsibilities served as a constant reminder that the world was not falling away, that time continued, and that the hurt would not remain forever.

I’m not saying you need to do all this during periods of high stress or that it will work for you, but when these times do come, try not to forget that there are always people there for you—from close friends to trusted adults—even when it doesn’t feel like it. I hope you will try to remember that there are larger things to focus on, things that will help define your identity, things like family and faith that matter more than the ephemeral feeling of success and the occasional disappointments. Unfortunate things are going to happen, so the best way to come out of these situations is to let them shape you into a stronger and better person.