We asked GEL students and GEL alumni to share a belief in the form of an essay. The GEL program has long been one that helps students take stock of themselves and find their way through social and moral landscapes. Instructors in this program often assign This I Believe essays, sometimes as entry points into these landscapes and sometimes as souvenirs. Out of many, seven This I Believe essays stood out to a reading committee made up of students, faculty, and staff.
This I Believe is a popular essay genre that allows the writer to share a personal belief and, through a narrative, explain that belief’s origin or a time that belief was put into action. The essay genre started in the 1950s on a radio show with Edward R. Murrow and was continued by NPR in 2004. Many have enjoyed writing and reading these essays ever since. You can read or listen to tens of thousands of This I Believe essays at This I Believe.org.
Throughout my life, I have always thought of myself as a failure. I was a failure for not being smart enough, friendly enough, or pretty enough. Always, I criticized myself for not putting in enough effort in order to work up to my full potential. Though, this wasn’t about working up to my full potential, but for not fulfilling the unrealistic expectations that I had burdened upon myself and by the people closest to me. The burdens that I carried weighed me down like how an anchor holds down a boat. Only, it was attached to my mind, instead of my ankle or a ship. The weight of the self-hatred and low self-esteem that I had made me feel like I was drowning. There wasn’t a bright horizon that could be seen in the distance, but instead more black and gray clouds that would bring another storm my way.
Day after day, I would look at myself in the mirror, tearing myself down. I would tell myself every night that I was never enough. I believed that I was a weak and worthless individual, a waste of time. This kind of hateful thinking made it a struggle to stay afloat. Before I knew it, I was weighed down by anxiety and an eating disorder. Each morning I would wake up to only to prepare to endeavor the difficulties of my illnesses.
At one point, I was fully consumed by the storm of my dark thoughts. I had trouble getting through each day. It was a struggle to pretend that everything was okay. I couldn’t even fake a smile anymore. During this time, I began to wonder what it would be like if I no longer existed. When I was staring at the cold and harsh waves of Monterey Bay one night, I realized that I didn’t want to drown. All of a sudden, I remembered all of the people in my life who helped me throughout the different stages of my life. I didn’t want to let them down. I thought about how I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life struggling to get through a single day. I didn’t want to go through life isolated, because of my anxiety. I wanted to live a life where I could be happy and be surrounded by people I admire. That moment of staring at the waves of Monterey Bay was when my determination to not only to just live came back, but my will to enjoy life came back.
I had to first learn from myself to begin to let go of the dark and anxious thoughts that had plagued me. Once I accepted that I would never be able to fulfill those unrealistic expectations that I had, I acknowledged that I needed to seek help by talking to mental health professionals. I couldn’t remain alone in the open sea forever, but needed to climb onto the lifeboat and communicate with people in my life.
Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t a failure. I actually was successful in many ways: for making it to CSUSM; being able to be there to those close to me; and having the beautiful gift of having the freedom to be the person that I am today.
I believe that I am enough. I am good enough for society. I am good enough to be myself without the burden of negative thoughts and unrealistic expectations. I am good enough to get the help that I need from others. I am good enough to live a happy life.
I believe in my mother’s cooking.
Ever since my mother realized I would have to cook for myself in college, she dedicated her summer to teaching me the ways of the kitchen. Whether it was educating me on how to operate a pressure cooker, showing me the best ways to peel of the skin of garlic, or demonstrating the right way to steam potstickers in a wok, the resilience my mother had in passing down as much as she knew was admirable. She insisted that the exact measurements or the exact ingredients weren’t necessary and cooking was more of an art than a hard science, but I still felt I would undoubtedly obliterate any flavor or texture with a single misplaced grain of salt; no compromise would yield perfection. Still, she persisted I pour rice into the cooker without a measuring cup and my heart sank with disappointment as I watched the watery, soupy mess fall heavily into the trash can.
“Sometimes, things won’t be perfect,” is what she told me, “and you just have to roll up your sleeves and realize that finding a different solution is the only way to save the dish.”
From then I started to see the compromises and solutions my mother would speak of, not just in the kitchen, but in her life around her.
My mother wanted to make us a traditional Taiwanese dinner, one her mother would make for her before she left for America. However, the pallet of my younger brother, only appreciating the complexities of chicken nuggets and pizza slices, refused to eat our cultural family infused feast. Next time my mother wanted to recreate the dishes, she opted for the frozen potstickers from Trader Joe’s with beef and American broccoli instead of cabbage and bok choy. Although this satisfied the tastes and likings of my sibling, I couldn’t help but despair over the changes to the recipes that I held so dear, despair over the compromise of our culture.
When I went away to college, my mother dutifully packed a freezer bag full of our pre-prepped food from home, and sitting on top of the frozen dishes were the Trader Joe’s potstickers.
Having roommates in college was a large enough compromise in itself, but food proved especially difficult. Caught off guard by roommates asking for tastes of my meals, I found myself naturally flowing into compromise the way my mother did, cooking for everyone and incorporating their preferences and restrictions. Egg noodles instead of rice. Less sesame oil and more soy sauce. Even though I didn’t welcome these changes to my dinners at first and feared the substitutes would produce a subpar dinner, I slowly found myself liking the alternatives more than the recipes. I continued, adding fried eggs, bean sprouts, spinach and spam to the prepackaged ramen noodles that only called for powdered flavor packets, and even my roommates began to show interest towards the unorthodox combination.
Although I find the exact measurements of recipes comforting, I do my best to add a pinch of this and a dash of that in my meals every so often. It’s how I get to go outside my comfort zone every day. And I see in myself a newfound wisdom: it's ok to go off the beaten path, you can experiment, compromise can lead to something new and beautiful. My mother’s cooking taught me that and I expect to bring that with me wherever I may go.
I believe in healing. I believe in the enduring process of healing. September of 2017 I had an experience that has made the last year very difficult for my family and I. I long to heal and at times I feel like those steps towards healing are possible because I believe in hope, and that hope is part of healing. The idea that if I am not okay or not happy in this moment but have the capacity to become happy and become okay in the future is a motivating force for healing. I am in a place where I welcome the hurt and the pain because I understand that it is part of the healing process. I also welcome laughter and new opportunities because I believe allowing myself to be paralyzed in unhappiness will paralyze my healing.
I believe that as a person I am capable of allowing love to heal me. I believe that when my dog lays on my chest, she is healing me; when I tuck my younger brother in, he is healing me; when I hug my parents, they are healing me; when I watch “While you were Sleeping” for the fifteenth time, it is healing me. I am in the process of growth, and what I mean by that is I am “Filling my cup until my cup runneth over” I am choosing to fill my cup with understanding. The process of healing is like filling my cup with one drop per day, desperately agonizing, but desperately necessary to appreciate a full cup.
I have been visiting Mexico almost every other weekend, I see a lot of poverty, mothers are seated on the ground in the hottest and coldest of temperatures, with their babies and toddlers on their laps, trying to sell gum for any spare change. I had never been exposed to that level of poverty, and yet the babies and the toddlers were playing, laughing using rocks or a single action figure they had to share to create a fantasy, a game. That is when I realized that they were healing. Kids heal because they believe that good outweighs evil. They so willingly hope and neglect the possibility of failure. As adults, that diminishes. Experience takes it away, trauma takes it away, insecurity takes it away. Healing is taking it back. Taking back hope, taking back the unwavering belief that things will not always be bad. That there is always room for growth, always room for healing. To understand why things happen and appreciate the things that cannot be understood. There is strength in that, strength I hope one day to possess. I believe in change, I believe in growth, I believe in healing.
I believe that nothing in this world is unattainable if an individual works hard to achieve his or her goals. I have witnessed first-hand how much power perseverance has and how it can completely alter a person’s lifestyle and mindset. As an aspiring surgeon, I realize that it will take more than just good grades and volunteer experience to become someone who saves lives. Dedicating my life to helping patients will require a tremendous amount of sacrifice, self-control, and determination. In 2016, my father had a stroke, which permanently disabled his ability to walk and speak. At that time, I was enrolled in four A.P. classes, two dual enrollments classes, A.V.I.D., and I participated in three clubs on campus. I was also volunteering at Loma Linda Hospital on the weekends and singing at church on Sundays. The sole reason I was able to maintain a balance between all of my academic and extracurricular activities is because I believed in myself. I believed that I was capable of working harder than usual to juggle my school life and my family life together. I stayed up late to study for exams and woke up early to take my younger brothers to school since my mother had no other option but to work two jobs after my dad had become physically disabled. I do not know who I would be today if I had not pulled through these rough circumstances and persisted through high school regardless of the tragic events that occurred in my life. I wanted nothing but to wallow in my self-pity and feel horrible for all the setbacks that were persisting in my life. However, I made the decision to keep moving forward, and it was the best decision of my life.
I slowly began to see that my mindset played a huge role in determining how much work I could get done and where I would be in two years. I told myself to have a positive mindset and be patient, since I had seen the direct results of how well that played out in my life. Even today, I am faced with both internal and external struggles that would have normally held me back and prevented me from following my dreams, but a small voice of motivation in my head tells me to keep pushing through. As a 19-year-old female, I am proud to say that I have reached many milestones in my life that were on my to-do list, and it makes my passion for becoming a doctor intensify even higher, all thanks to diligence and patience.
Now, whenever someone asks me if I am really willing to undergo 14 more years of school—including residency and training—to become a surgeon, I say “absolutely, without a doubt.” Hard work has not only been a tool for success, but it has also given me a sense of purpose for my life. It has taught me how to have good work ethic and to always aim higher in everything I do. It has also shown me that I have the power to change my own life and determine who I could be in this vast world. Success is not measured by the position a person is in, but rather how much hard work a person put in and how many challenges had to be overcome. With this in mind, I am willing to put forth as much effort as it takes to achieve my goal of becoming a great doctor and an even greater person.
When I was six years old, my father, an undocumented immigrant was deported. I never knew that that was the reason why he moved to Mexico. I always thought that he just grabbed his stuff and left. Three years later, my mother was also deported. I remember when the ICE came into our room at 6 am in the morning. We were sleeping, then all of a sudden one of the ICE agents gets my sister and I dressed up and sends us to my aunt's house. I didn't understand anything that was going on. I mean I was nine, and my family would never speak the subject to me until a year later.
Every night I would pray to God to make sure my Mom was healthy. It was my faith in God that made me strong these past years. My mom would send me letters but she would never call because she was in a detention center. In those letters, there were prayers inside. Prayers of us seeing each other soon, and for us to be safe and healthy. I had all my faith in God, I would pray that I could see my mom. Having hoped to see mom again gave me strength. I tried my best in school and I always stayed focused. I wanted there to be a purpose for me being a first generation in the United States of America. I never let any opportunity go by.
I wanted to make my parents proud, and I still do. Even though they weren’t here physically with me throughout the years, I still received support from my mom. I had a few rough times in life that almost made me get off track. Through them I had my mom help me get through the difficult times, she would always give me love and support. You see, the most important thing a person can have is love. Having faith gives you a chance of having hope. Because of my faith, I never gave up on working hard in school.
I believe that faith and hope are a beautiful thing. When someone tells you, "I hope you do good." or "I hope everything will be ok for you." , that in my opinion, is the best feeling. I feel cared for and motivated because of it. It is true what they say, "it's the little things in life". Having hope makes me motivated in achieving success. In the Bible, the verse Corinthians 13:13, states: "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love". I had faith in God, which gave me hope. Faith and hope motivated me to succeed in my education. Without it, I wouldn't be where I am today, at California State University, San Marcos. I am here to receive an education and to graduate with a Bachelor's Degree in order for me to have a stable job that I will love doing. But without my mother's love, I wouldn't be who I am today, a first-generation college student. I believe in faith, hope, and love. I believe that by giving or receiving these three things, it can make a better you.
I believe in loving myself. As a millennial, I am part of the majority of people who use social media. I was convinced that it was necessary to have platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. I thought nothing harmful could come from an app, but I was wrong. From scrolling through pictures of girls who were living lavish lives that I would never have to compare my body to models photos that were most likely photoshopped, I was destroying my confidence slowly.
I grew up loving myself like any other kid would with so much innocence and happiness when I would sink my teeth into my favorite foods. What I would do to go back to a time where I could care less about what I was eating because it could affect the way my body looks. As I got older, I started to get more interested in fashion and makeup, I was more inclined to go on social media to get ideas and inspiration from online influencers. I thought there was no wrong in doing this because everyone my age was doing the same thing. People were posting all the adventurous trips they were going on as well as the most thrilling parts of their day. I was starting to notice how unsatisfying my life seemed compared to everyone else. I started questioning why I wasn’t living nearly the same exciting way they were. Not only was social media making my life feel dull but it was making me judge my body a certain way. The more I found myself spending time standing in the mirror looking at myself and obsessing over the fact that my body wasn’t skinny enough was making me lose my self-worth. The mirror was starting to become a daily chore where I would point out every little detail I hated. I was viewing myself completely different than I really was, and just causing destruction inside of me. I no longer wanted to go out or hang out with people because I thought people would see what I was perceiving and not enjoy me anymore.
I remember one morning when I woke up and saw a stretch mark on the inside of my leg and I fell apart. All I could think about was how models don’t have stretch marks, so why do I? I was a mess about this and just wanted total isolation. I knew I could not keep filling my head with unhealthy acquisitions about myself. I decided that it would be beneficial to remove all my social media accounts to see if I would feel more valuable.
As time would pass that I wouldn’t be checking my phone and wouldn’t be comparing my body to others, I was loving myself more. I started to wear clothes that I felt truly beautiful in and adapted my own style, not the style social media told me I should wear to feel sexy. I had completely created an ideal body in my head of what was perfect and no one can achieve that realistically. My body is unique and no one else has the same one as I do. Through the process of loving myself, I have been able to help so many of my friends to do the same, and the glow I started to see within them made me feel so content. Through loving myself I have learned inner peace and what it means to not rely on anyone else but myself. I believe in loving myself because my body is constantly working to keep me alive and healthy. I believe in loving myself because I deserve to think in a positive way instead of negative. I believe in loving myself.
I believe infatuations are necessary to strengthen desire, passion, and happiness in life. It’s a word that describes admiration for a short period of time. Infatuations is a viral emotion that can occur without notice. Whether it’s a job you’ve seen on television, following the footsteps of your idol, or getting your crush’s phone number. The word does not have to be involved romantically. Infatuations may end in disappointment. Sometimes it may become an excuse to never attempt a dream again. Time flies by, I have somehow made it this far. Thanks to these admirations.
I believe infatuations are all a part of a process that makes me an open book to opportunities. It’s hard to see it as a positive outcome, but the illusion of being disappointed begins to fade when a new opportunity is presented.
I can recall experiences that consist of undesirable outcome and disappointment. But I choose not to because who would like to hear me complain about my past. I am nowhere qualified for a podcasting career. But I do want to share you my past experience because I do believe it’s the reason why I hold my passions to live a successful life. My infatuations have always been a time when I do something uncharacteristic. It is usually my mother that notice my actions first, more than anyone.
In ninth-grade, I tried out for the varsity basketball team. My mom called me out and said, “why bother, your physically and mentally unathletic.” Boy, I wanted to prove her wrong. This would’ve been the best underdog story you’ve ever heard. I was cut from the team after the third day of try-outs. I was out of my comfort zone, literally and physically. Yes, it ended my dream following Kobe Bryant’s legacy. But I couldn’t imagine myself getting out of my comfort zone again without being in this position. Rejection is my greatest fear, but without it, I’ll never know how to cope with failure ever again.
In eleventh grade, I finally came at peace that basketball will never be a reality, and I accept it. So, I came back to my passion for public service. I ran for a position in ASB, not once but twice. When I told my mom that I wanted to return to public service, she told me, “you got to be kidding me, you’re not going through this and lose it all again.” She called me out for not being mainstream to win in a high school setting. But of course, my infatuation got the best of me and submitted my campaign to run for president. It is a huge commitment to run for public service. The front-runner was no other than the popular girl on campus. I was committed to winning, but the high school population was too overwhelming. I can certainly tell you my mom is a fortune teller, I lost the election by a landslide. Cheers to democracy.
My obsession achieving a dream influence actions outside my comfort zone. I accept that infatuation gets the most of me. The short-term desires reveal uncharacteristic actions. It is a bittersweet process, but I am thankful for it. While most outcomes result in heartbreak, it also reveals new characteristics of me. I take advantage of it, so when the next desire come, achievement might actually be a possibility.