We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofLillyanna Yim

In a success oriented family like mine, making mistakes can feel like a crime. Considering that my mother is an elementary school teacher, it was an unspoken tradition for my siblings to attend the same school she worked at and have her as a teacher. My friends viewed this as a lucky perk. I did not fully agree with them. 

When I was little, I always felt monitored by my mom and the other teachers, since they knew that I was “Mrs. Yim’s daughter.” I did not want a bad reputation to embarrass my mom in front of the other teachers. As a result, learning for me felt less important than refraining from making mistakes or getting into trouble. While I was the loudest student during lunch, I was a shy student in class. I remember my parents used to tell me to be good when we were out in respectable places or when family visited. Ultimately, I took these principles from home and applied them in other situations. Things like this I never confessed to my parents. I did not want to add more trouble for them as it was already troubling enough.

By the time I was in middle school, I felt like I had to keep up my persona. My grandparents used to be teachers in the middle school I went to, so most of the teachers knew them and were friends with them. I was worried that they would tell my grandparents if I was a bad kid. Becoming successful was a goal of mine along with my family, but as a kid the process was confusing to me. Were mistakes something I couldn’t make?

I did not believe this question could be answered until one afternoon in 8th grade when my mom asked to speak with me. At the time, I was behind on my accelerated class and was stressed about it. My mom must have noticed how anxious I had been lately. I had expected her to be disappointed, instead she wrapped her arms around me and reminded me that there is beauty in the struggle. She told me that grades should not be the only priority in my life. “Yes you should do good in school, but I want you to be able to cherish memories with your classmates as well. I will never be mad at you for trying your hardest.” Once I heard those words, I felt the weight lift off my shoulders. I was relieved and happy.

When I went to high school, for the first time in my life I studied at a school my family had not taught at. I felt like I had the chance to challenge myself without worrying about making mistakes. I  enjoyed this new independence. When I realized how easier life was just by doing things for my own well being, I made friends with the help of being myself. I learned to balance my academics and social life by picking friends who also have the same intentions as me. I picked up courage to try out for sports and with that I gained life affirming qualities like working with others and developing leadership.

I realize now that there was nothing I should have been worried about when I was younger. As I started to get older and wiser, I started to carry the cheerful memories as a kid.  Now that my mom and I have built a closer bond, I cherish her more and the memories we make. I also value the importance of making mistakes even though it sounded bad to me in the past. What I gain from mistakes are the lessons that give me the opportunity to become a better person. Knowing that I can be myself not only makes me proud but also my friends and family. 

© Lillyanna Yim. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.