Notes To My Teenage Self

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Written by Chloe Lee

I was that typical Asian teenager: hard working, over-involved, always polite, and the best people-pleaser in the room. At least, I was like this on the surface. 

As good as I was at staying up until 1 or 2 AM every night to make sure I re-did every single problem in the study guide and read through my notes multiple times for a 10-point quiz, I was just as good at beating myself up for performing at less than an A-level. 

It took me years well beyond graduate school to realize that I was not managing my responsibilities, but reacting to them from overwhelming fear. I was so scared that anything less than achieving straight As in the highest level classes, winning every music and figure skating competition, and serving as the president in every club meant I was a failure and an utter shame to my parents. Being an only child who happens to be a girl meant I carried the unspoken cultural burden of perfection and the pressure to outperform any sons. I started wearing makeup every day my junior and senior years of high school because I felt so ugly. 

In my current role working with students and parents on a daily basis–and after working with over 500 students–I wish someone had said the following in response to these false, negative thoughts that dominated my teenage mind. Instead, perhaps these responses can give you insight into navigating self-imposed performance pressure and handling unwelcome thought patterns.

  • Negative thought: OMG, everyone is staring at the gigantic pimple on my chin! 
  • Reframing: Are you staring at her pimple across the room? No. So no one is staring at yours. Plus, stop picking at it!  And in a few years, they will all disappear and your chin is going to be fine. 
  • Negative thought: Why are my ACT/SAT scores not going up? And much lower than my GPA? 
  • Reframing: The test is asking you to do a sprint when you are a marathon runner. It is testing just your skills on taking the test. Any skill is learnable. Think about ways to approach the questions, given that you already know the equations. Any vocab you don’t know, for example? Just make a list and study. Make sure to come up with your own sentences.
  • Negative thought: I hate AP Euro. It is just so hard no matter what I do!
  • Reframing: Read smarter, not harder. Take effective notes focused on who, what, when, where, and why rather than thinking everything is important. Spend just 30 minutes every day studying rather than avoiding it all together because it feels painfully difficult. 
  • Negative thought: I’m tired….it’s already midnight, but I still have to finish homework.
  • Reframing:  GO TO BED! Get up half an hour early to finish your work. If you do it now, it will take over an hour and you will make silly errors. Use your time smarter. Try prioritizing sleep!
  • Negative thought: I’m missing my friends’ movie night on Friday night again because I have to go to my piano lessons.
  • Reframing: I love you for loving piano so much. But make sure you find time to hangout with your friends, too. But do NOT feel guilty either way.
  • Negative thought: I got a C on my AP Calc Quiz? But math is my strongest subject!  I’m so stupid. I am such a failure. My mom will think I am stupid. 
  • Reframing: Stop beating yourself up! You had to prioritize studying for AP physics, finishing an English essay, completing a history paper proposal, and attending marching band practice because you knew the quiz counted the least. This is just a quiz, so a C won’t kill your grade. You still have the time to learn the material and do well on the test next week.  And you are doing this for you, not for your mom.
  • Negative thought: I did not get into any Ivy League schools. I have failed. Like my mom said, I am a disappointment and it’s shameful to discuss it.
  • Reframing: University and college experience is just that – another experience I get to have in life. My worth or value is NOT determined by the selectivity or the name of the school. I get to value me for the lessons I have learned and the growth that I have had as an individual. I get to craft my own success. 
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