Monday, April 4, 2016


Towpath by the Thames behind my flat.
(This is an essay I wrote for a college application, and I thought I'd share it here.)

Like most days in Oxford, the sky was overcast and grayish. The streets were full of jostling crowds of people, rushing black taxis, delivery trucks, and buses. The old buildings loomed over their modern lower-level faces. I had a song stuck in my head as I walked back to my flat: “I Feel Good” by James Brown. I did not have the song on my iPod, so I put on one of my favorite playlists instead. As Michael BublĂ© crooned “Feeling Good” through my earbuds, I could not suppress my goofy smile. Once on the less-populated canal path, I danced as I walked.

I am an introverted perfectionist who fears the unknown. My introversion is partially learned. My interests as a child—history, reading, mythology, ancient warfare—did not win me friends. In junior high and high school I was reticent. But in ninth grade I joined a drama troupe. Four years of drama instruction, performing on a stage and making friends helped me become more expressive and open. In 2013 I attended a two-week long leadership and worldview conference. The old hotel where the conference was held was crowded with people. I had three roommates. I did not want to stay. But I did, and two weeks later, not only had I learned a wealth of information, I had made friends and was less afraid of new and uncomfortable situations.

My jobs have helped as well. I worked for three years as an administrative assistant and receptionist at an assisted living home. I disliked phone conversations, but I did well. I had good relationships with the staff and the residents and their families. When I helped a family member just by listening or made a resident’s day, I loved it. The job was draining, but it was not just a job; I was investing in a community. In my current job I supervise a computer lab at my college. The joy when I help a student has reinforced my decision to be an instructor. Both of those jobs provided me opportunities to grow.

My perfectionism is more ingrained, and partly based on the appellation “the smart one.” I started piano lessons when I was ten. I caught on quickly and advanced through multiple levels the first few years. I performed in three honor’s recitals. And then my progress slowed as the music I played got tougher. Anything less than perfect felt like failure. In other endeavors, from art to academics, learning I am not perfect is an ongoing process. Now, instead of letting my perfectionism drive me to despair, I try to use it to motivate me toward success.

My fear of the unknown is a struggle. Foreign experiences are both exciting and terrifying. Not having a clear plan is stressful. I applied in 2013 to study in Oxford in the fall of 2014. That semester abroad was expensive, and when I applied, I had barely a fraction of the money. I worked and saved for a year. Once I earned my AAS, I picked up more hours. I did house and yard work and mailed dozens of fundraising letters. At times I felt hopeless. Through dedication, the generosity of friends, and financial aid, I made it. In the process, I learned a little about faith and coping with the unknown. Living in Oxford for a semester, with all the new experiences and friendships that entailed, was without parallel. I found when thrown into a challenging situation, I thrived.

That is why that walk home that day in Oxford is etched in my memory. I had just left a medieval history tutorial. My tutor was impressed with my essay. As I wove between pedestrians, his words played through my head. “Be smug. But not too smug.” In that moment, I had overcome. I had overcome the financial barrier so I could walk beneath those old buildings. I had overcome my nagging feelings of academic inadequacy to write a paper I could be proud of. I had overcome my shyness to be completely comfortable in my one-on-one tutorials and to make close friends. When my introversion or perfectionism or fear of the unknown threaten to bury me alive, I can look back on that moment as I danced next to the canal while Redbone thrummed through my earbuds and know: I can overcome.

I have done it before.

I keep overcoming the odds--maybe this should be my new motto.

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