US author and entrepreneur Jack Canfield once said something that has really stuck with me: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
I picture fear as a voyage, one where I have to break out of my comfort zone and head out in the hopes of gaining something better. It’s something that I have needed to learn.
I’ve always been shy. For people like me, there are rules that we follow – we try our best to avoid standing out in a crowd, to avoid more attention than we have already attracted. If people were a herd of sheep, then we’re the ones that believe in doing what others want, not what we want. We follow – we don’t lead. As a result of this sort of thinking, I’ve never had a clear goal in mind of what I want to achieve in life. I’ve never aimed to be first in my maths exams, I rarely actively join school competitions – the list goes on.
Other students would have made better use of the countless times I’ve spent procrastinating or scrolling through my phone. These people are the ones that I have always been jealous of, because they’re not afraid to step out of their comfort zone – to leave the herd, as it were. I have always been the type of person to hide in the middle of the herd because I’ve never been able to get past my fear, even though I’ve wanted to.
There’s a Chinese quote that translates directly as “one cannot have both the fish and the bear paw”. It means you can’t have everything you want at the same time. You have to choose. Between staying in my comfort zone and my desire to be seen, I have often chosen the former – but that choice has left me feeling a bit empty inside sometimes.
Then, something changed in Secondary Five. One day, while scrolling through YouTube, I came across a great movie called Coach Carter. The film is based on the true story of a basketball coach who, rather than focusing on their sports training, wanted his student athletes to push themselves in their studies. His reasoning was that he wanted them to have a strong academic foundation to build on after they left school. This is especially important because his team were mainly black Americans, and he was worried about them falling into a life of crime after they graduated if their grades weren’t high.
Before Carter came along, his students didn’t think or care about their futures after school. Carter gave his students something to fight for and to work towards. This film struck a chord in me. Even though I don’t play basketball, I realised I could also find something to fight for. I could work towards a goal, too.
That’s why I decided to improve my academic performance. At the time that I made this decision, I realised that my grades were way below average. I decided to improve my DSE scores to 30 points (the requirement in my chosen university division), and I started studying for four hours every day. It was tough – some days I gave up entirely – but the prospect of doing something that would leave me feeling powerful and like I’d achieved something instead of feeling empty inside spurred me on. So I worked. I even tracked my progress with a chart on my wall to remind myself that I can’t waste any more time. Slowly, I became more proactive, and began doing things outside my comfort zone. I started off on my voyage, and realised that I could push past the fear.
To the younger me, and those of you who are still like the person I used to be – it doesn’t matter how scary that voyage is, because it gets easier. You just need to take that first step. Just remember: if I can do it, so can you.