On Confidence

“Strange about learning; the farther I go the more I see that I never knew even existed. A short while ago I foolishly thought I could learn everything – all the knowledge in the world. Now I hope only to be able to know of its existence, and to understand one grain of it. Is there time?” — Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

I have always been unsure of myself and the world around me. I’m even unsure of my unsureness. I don’t understand how any non-delusional person can truly be confident in anything — we know so little, and everything has some degree of uncertainty.

We should be humbled by the expanse of knowledge we don’t know and will never know, and learn to be content with what we have while wanting more. Our obsession with confidence must end because it is simply a method to look like we know what we’re doing, causing us to equate confidence with truth. Sure, presentation does matter, but content matters just as much.

At the same time, having the right level of confidence is important — too much, and your ego will explode; too little, and it’ll be hard to reach your full potential. But instead of trying to just “be confident,” we should strive for self-acceptance, compassion, and awareness. Confidence is just a byproduct of these qualities.

Skepticism cultivates curiosity, and questioning the status quo is the only way to improve. Confidence is settling. And I don’t ever want to settle.

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On Leadership

True leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a good leader. I used to think that a good leader was just someone who could complete a task without being excessively cruel or arrogant — someone who was respected through their actions.

This past couple of years, I’ve learned that leading a team through a task is a lot more complicated than doing the task itself. The task must be broken down, each piece delegated to a specific person or group of people, and then integrated together. For larger projects, this process must be repeated until the final task is completed. Most importantly, I learned that leadership is about understanding people.

Leadership isn’t just managing or leading by example, and it’s more than competence in completing tasks. It’s not doing things on your own — the whole point of leadership is to get people inspired and to help them become significant in determining the outcome of the project. It’s having a vision and knowing how to execute it. It’s being both reactive and proactive, and being one or more steps ahead of others in order to guide them in the right direction. It’s listening to and respecting all voices, but having the courage to make the final decision. A good leader is someone who doesn’t lead for the sake of leading, but with the passion for serving the team and cause.

This year, I want to focus on learning how to become the best leader of my ability. I want to lead with more charisma, assertiveness, and awareness. These qualities don’t come naturally, but I know I can do it.

On Worrying

One of the hardest yet most rewarding lessons I’ve learned is to only invest energy into things I can or have the potential to change.

When I was small, my family called me the “little grandma” because I loved to worry. Worrying and processing the world around me gave me a sense of control — if I had more knowledge of the world around me, I felt safer in moving towards my goals. For most of my life, my tendency to tread lightly has served me well and it’s become a large part of who I am.

But this past couple of years, there have been moments when my thoughts would consume me. I would think about something and not be able to let it go, playing it over and over in my head until it became a part of my existence. Worrying was a way to cope with external changes, but I realized that this constant churning was too draining. What used to give me a sense of control started to control me.

On another, external note: there are a lot messed up things in this world. People and animals get tortured and die every second. There’s so much pain in this world, but worrying about them doesn’t change a thing. It’s okay and even necessary to feel deeply about these injustices once in a while, but we also have to remember that there’s a delicate balance between being selfish and protecting our own mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes being “selfish” and apathetic in the short-term gives us more power to fix things in the future.

I can’t change other people. I can’t move mountains by thinking. But I can take action. I can embrace uncertainty, find comfort in not knowing, and trust in those around me. Life is long enough that these worries will be insignificant in the context of my existence, but it’s also short enough that I need to seize and make the best use of every minute.

History Class Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

I find it surprising that AP US History is quickly becoming my favorite class this year. And that’s saying a lot, since all of my other classes are great and history class was always by far my most dreaded class.

I always knew that history was an interesting subject, but up until this year, it was taught in a way that was incredibly boring and disparaging of the subject. We would mostly do pure busywork, and only occasionally would I be truly interested in what we were learning. Now, after almost every class period, I walk out of the classroom thinking, Wow, who knew history could be this fascinating? I think school should be a place where I spend my time getting my mind blown rather than counting down the minutes until class is over, and I’m glad that this course is allowing me to do the latter. (Actually, I feel like APUSH would be more interesting if it covered some areas in more depth and increased class discussions, but I still think it’s significantly more interesting than any other history course I’ve taken.)

The main difference this year is that we’re looking beneath the surface to ask the Why and How. In all of my past history courses, we focused more and the Who, What, When, and Where. But since we learn the facts outside of class for homework, we get to spend class actually synthesizing and analyzing the information we learn at home. Taking this course made me realize how heavily history is based on cause-and-effect and why it’s so important to learn. It taught me that history is a truly beautiful map and a complex, interwoven, and fascinating story.

Knowledge is a tree, and in the past, my knowledge of history and politics was largely based off of the media and articles I read. These “little leaves” of information never gave me a complete understanding of how the world actually worked. Rather, this information, when taken alone, contorts our views on reality, giving us a false understanding of the world around us. To truly “know” any piece of information (in any subject), we must comprehend the whole tree, down to its roots, and understand how every part of the tree contributes to its overall structure. This is why we study history: in order to maneuver in the world we live in, we must also understand the roots of where we come from.

Another reason I am starting to love history is because it simultaneously emphasizes the importance of the little details and the big picture. I know people complain when we have to memorize “trivial details,” but it is these little details that makes history so interesting. And really, how detailed must details be to be considered “details”? Because for us, we consider things to be details when they make smaller impact on the outcome, but for people back then, those details were everything. Just like poetry, photography, science, politics, and pretty much any subject you can think of, it is these nuances that create substance. It’s not just the momentous decisions in our lives that define us, but the day-to-day details that build us up and determines our destiny.

I also find it fascinating how you can see that each culture had a prevalent mindset, or way of thinking, and how this mindset affected people’s actions. And I realized that it’s easy to see other cultures’ mindsets and how different they are between cultures, but it’s hard to see our own culture, simply because we’re so blinded by it. So I guess history teaches us how brainwashed we all are by society and allows us to judge the mindset of our culture against those in the past. It also teaches us about the fluidness of mindsets and how the basic beliefs we accept without question are not what have always been or will be.

I feel that at my school (or at least around the people I interact with on a daily basis), there is a definite devaluation of humanities classes. And I find it sad, because although I want to become an engineer and/or scientist when I grow up, I find that the humanities and the “soft skills” we learn are incredibly important in building character and teaching us how to think with different perspectives. These are skills that are vital not only for society but also for internal happiness, which is arguably all that really matters.

On a larger scale, I think it’s important for students to take a step back and understand the relevancy of what we’re learning, and how the subject ties into other seemingly unrelated disciplines. It’s our obligation as students to try to see the value in the topics we learn because the more we comprehend the importance of what we learn, the more we realize how miraculous our world is.