We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

← Back to all stories
Photo ofSabrina Teng

I always thought I was too late. It was too late for me to start this sport, everyone else my age was so much better. It was too late to join that group, they’re all already such close friends. If I had just started when I was younger, I could have played this instrument, but I can’t anymore now, I’d be too far behind. I would never be good enough, and I would never catch up to everyone else, so why even try? I didn’t want to be the worst and most pathetic member of the team, and I was afraid to give it my all and fail. 

One summer I had nothing to do. Most of my friends were away on vacation or off at camp, but I didn’t have much planned to look forward to. I would scroll through my phone and see what everyone else was doing, and I’d think, “Oh wow, she just won this award!” or “Oh, I can’t believe they all went to Maine together!” I was bored and jealous, and again, like always, I thought, “I wish I had done that before, so I could do it now too.” But that day, I remembered I had said that last year too. And the year before. I could have had a year’s worth of practice to be better at figure skating, be closer with friends, or have a higher rank in orchestra; but what stopped me then was the thought I couldn’t, when now I see that I could have. If I had actually picked up _anything _a year ago, then now the experiences I wanted wouldn’t be so impossible for me to have, right?

I wallowed on my couch, and let that sink in. I thought to myself, I always think I’m too late to start. But the more I tell myself that, the more impossible it ends up being for me. If I keep thinking I’m too old or unskilled compared to everyone else, then later I’ll just be even further behind, and it’ll be that much harder to ever participate if I wanted to. It was true; I probably could’ve been better at anything if I started at a younger age. But it wasn’t just unfortunate circumstances to blame: I was actively destroying new opportunities. I let life pass me by, and I complained, but never even tried to intervene. 

So, with this ominous new thought looming over me, I felt pushed to say yes to every new opportunity that came my way. I joined a new sport, something I had thought would be fun in the past. I hung out with my friends’ friends, even though I knew I dreaded how awkward it might be for me. I spoke my mind more often, blurting out my thoughts before I started overthinking everything. I asked questions. I talked to strangers. I got up in front of groups of people and participated. I filled up my summer, but more importantly, I had a new frame of mind.

Through the rest of the summer and onwards, it felt like I let myself breathe. I wasn’t so afraid to fail that I wouldn’t genuinely try. It was still really embarrassing when I wasn’t good at something, and sometimes I would seriously regret doing anything at all. But at least I wasn’t standing still. Even if I did decide not to continue, I was glad I tried new things. When I took a step away from myself, when I stopped thinking and caring so much, when I put aside my self-consciousness and pride, I got to stretch my world view, and handle my failures better.

My new mindset could also be the start of a dangerous, slippery slope. But after reflecting on my experience, I think I have a steady enough conscience to know when I should and shouldn’t say yes. And if not, I trust my friends and family will step in and stop me when I can’t see the situation clearly. After holding myself back so tightly, I feel letting myself go did me more good than harm.

I don’t want to say I’m a whole new person or that I always push myself, because I’m not and I don’t. I am still self-conscious, and I know I still let opportunities slip through my fingers. There’s still a lot left for me to learn, but I’ve been able to broaden my horizons and understand more about myself. I’ve discovered a lot of new activities and people I enjoy, and I would never have been able to get there before thinking more proactively. I will never get anywhere if I don’t try. And I’ll never be able to try if I don’t let myself be vulnerable first. I’m really only as late to anything as I make myself, and having courage and being open to failure can only make my life more rich and rewarding.

© Sabrina Teng. 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.