I will be attending my thirtieth high school reunion this summer, and I’ve had some time to look back on the past three decades. How have I done?
Success, achieving the prize, being number one, was NOT the best thing to happen to me in school—it may have been the worst. Success and maintaining a 4.0 grade point averages meant I spent my time in school, fearing the fall from perfection.
Beginning from sixth grade and ending in twelfth grade, I would not allow myself anything less than an A. My classmates may be surprised to learn that I was competing with myself—I did not compete with anyone else, except, of course, on the real playing field of sports, where it was okay to cleat or get cleated going for the goal. But after maintaining 4.0 GPA for 7 long years, right through senior high, I decided NOT to apply to the "best" colleges. I was tired of walking on a tight wire. My immigrant parents were certainly economically low enough on the ladder for me to be offered a full ride to a private school on either coast.
What I did was to apply to University of California at Santa Cruz. Back then, they had an evaluation system. No grades. (UCSC was very difficult to get into in 1978 because of the evaluation system: students were expected to be self-motivated). So I had no grades except for junior year abroad in Scotland where I studied biochemistry and--yes--went for that pointy A+ (I should have skipped the biochem and taken golf).
In looking back, I know I made the right decision. I realize those degrees from Harvard or Stanford are very impressive but that’s a judgment of value made by society and not by me. I have made several catastrophic mistakes in life, but stepping back from the crowd was the perfect decision. I would have pushed myself even harder to the point of mental distress as the demands grew stiffer. And once I emerged from university, the bigger world would have pressed me to reach for prizes offered by others—goals that were deemed important to reach by strangers. I would have churned my legs until the end of my days, my desires defined by my peers.
At 18, I was not strong enough nor had I individualized enough to run with the crowd. If you are, indeed, strong then you can go into society and garner what you, as an individual, need. I hadn't a clue.
So, I dropped out of life to save my life. I traveled until I was 30. I became an artist-- writer and painter. (I have never voluntarily entered my art in a contest.) I am an eccentric, in the best sense of the world. I look in from the perimeters. I am not in the center. I have a better view. Freedom from the center is priceless. And I have done the immigrant thing, which is to find a little niche to occupy, doing a job someone else can’t do. My graphic novel in progress, “Forget Sorrow,” is a story only I can tell and draw.
In looking back these 30 years, I am successful. It is my own judgment, not anyone else's. I am doing exactly what I was congealed from clay, earth, mud to do.
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