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As a teenager, I think we all experience the “spotlight effect;” a way of thinking that the world stares at you and never stops. I often feel that, should I be put into a situation that’s precarious, the world will watch and judge and laugh if you screw up. As a teenage girl, there are certain images that fit the words; skinny jeans, long, glossy hair, perfect smile, lots of girlfriends.
As a student, I’m expected to live up to a certain standard, a certain GPA, a certain lifestyle. I’m expected to wake up and go to school, come home and do my homework. I’m expected to have friends and think about college, to get a job and take the SAT’s.
As a Chinese American, I’m bridging the gap between what’s dubbed “FOB” (fresh off the boat) and “too white.” While most of this is my parents, who are second generation, there are some traditions that are foreign to me that shouldn’t be, some thoughts that don’t make sense to my friends. I have family that speaks Chinese at home, and others that speaks only English. I have grandparents that follow a different set of rules when it comes to traditions and weddings, funerals and birthdays.
As a Christian, I’m thrown into a whirlwind of right versus wrong, light versus dark. How I act in situations is different than someone else. My responsibilities are different. My friends at church expect me to act one way; my friends at school another, in politics and current events. I listen to different music. I read the Bible everyday, and it’s something that’s second nature, not out of the ordinary.
While I am all those things, there are parts that I change, that I tweak a bit to fit myself. But sometimes, it’s hard to tell which parts are safe to move; if I cut my hair short, will I be judged, or will it be seen as a new trend? If I let my grades slip a little too far, will colleges see that as a failure? If I say something “too white” or “too chinese”, how do I salvage the cultural mess? If I say something too liberal at youth group, or too conservative at school, how do I fix the image I project to the world that stays true to me, but isn’t too radical?
How do I stay true to myself while taking risks beyond the norm?
We struggle with this idea of being “uniquely the same”, going far enough but not too far. And when we take risks, if you ever want to follow through with them, you have to block out the idea that others might judge you. Block it out, ignore the spotlight effect, and you’re invincible.
Last year, I realized that everything in the popular girl circles hinges on your reputation. I also realized that those reputations can be destroyed by one person, in a single text, in a single post. I got tired of walking on eggshells.
So, long story short, I left. And I found a new group.
Now, don’t think I’m so brave. If I wasn’t forced out, I don’t think I could’ve found the group I did now. But I did. And I’ve learned my lesson, that if you’re willing to brave the spotlight, there is something even better waiting at the other end of the stage.
It’s a bit of a harder lesson with cultural norms. Chinese culture and American culture are starkly different; anyone who knows anything will realize that. But bridging the gap is a whole other ballgame.
In school, we are offered a choice of three languages to take: French, Spanish and Chinese. With not much choice, I started to take chinese. And I knew it would be weird, because “don’t you speak Chinese at home?” and “didn’t your parents teach it to already?” But I knew I would benefit from the class in the future, so I took it.
At my youth group, I’m one of the few non-white people there. It wasn’t the first thing I noticed, but I did notice. And after awhile, once I started getting to know people, I began to notice that I was treated differently. Not badly, but differently. Because I stood out. Because I was in the spotlight. But I took it all in stride; that’s what I was taught to do. “Don’t ever say anything against other people,” my mom would say. “No matter how ignorant they are, don’t ever be rude back.”
So I didn’t.
But when there were ways for me to tell them to stop, or show them my perspective on things, I did. I’ve learned that when opportunity knocks, you take it no matter what, because it might not come again. And when you’re in the spotlight, you set an example for those coming after you.
But how do you tell when something is an opportunity, or just your emotions getting the better of you? Between the internet, social media and the news, it's hard to sift through the sand to find the buried gold. What’s right and whats total BS? What’s fact and what’s fiction?
For me, that’s where God comes in.
There are so many sources, so much input, so many of them wrong. Church, school, phones, what you read, what people tell you. There’s the Bible, which I believe is right, no matter what. There’s my gut instinct, which I’d like to think is right no matter what, but we all know it’s not. God helps shine a little light on the gold, makes it light up with a special bling, and it lets you know what’s real and what’s fool’s gold. And the bling is irresistable. It might not seem perfect, but it’s special in a way that makes you want to jump up and grab it.
When opportunity knocks, you open the door.