My Year of Change

Hey friends!

Lately, I’ve seemed to be stuck in a bit of a rut. I had so many goals and plans for this summer… as usual, though, I overestimated my ability to achieve so many things, and I’ve been left feeling discouraged at my ineptitude to follow through with most of my commitments. I haven’t felt truly proud of myself in a long time, and this is because I haven’t been pushing myself to my limit, the way I used to do.

I think a big part of my problem as of late is my tendency to stretch myself too thin, resulting in mediocrity across multiple disciplines. I’d much rather be really good at a couple things, rather than be a neophyte at several hobbies. One word: FOCUS. This is how goals are achieved.

Starting from today, July 22, 2018, I am determined to accomplish the following goals during the next year:

  • Get back into shape/take care of my body. This means exercising on the daily; refraining from unhealthy food, like fried foods, sweets, heavy carbs, etc.; refrain from drinking and partying.
  • Pursue my growth as a figure skater. Ever since I started skating about three weeks ago, I’ve quickly become enamored with such a beautiful sport. Skating has always been something I’ve wanted to learn, but simply never gotten around to doing. LA has really great figure skating clubs– the rink I skate at is home to many current and former Olympians and world-class coaches (have you heard of Frank Carroll, legendary coach of Michelle Kwan, Gracie Gold, Denis Ten, Mirai Nagasu, Evan Lysacek, among many others? He works at the rink I skate at!). Anyway, you may be asking– what ever happened to ballroom dance? Well… I’ll talk more about that in a later post. The short version– between the politics, drama, and incredible difficulty of finding a dance partner, I’ve seemed to have fallen out of love for the art. I know… it’s unfortunate… but my dance lesson yesterday confirmed my suspicion that I’ve burned out from dancing. I’m really thinking of quitting dance, and replacing it with skating. Here’s my concern– when I first started dance, I absolutely loved it. I felt something similar to what I’m feeling now with ice skating. At the end of the day, though, I burned out, three-and-a-half years after I started. What if the same thing happens with skating? When the going gets tough, do I push through, or choose to give up? That would be a reflection of my character… a really poor reflection. I guess the difference between skating and ballroom is that one is an individual sport, while the other is a partner sport. With ballroom, there were simply too many outside, uncontrollable factors that hindered me from growing as a dancer. Not to mention the expenses; both ballroom and skating are expensive hobbies, but ballroom is by far the more expensive sport. From a financial and practical standpoint, skating wins. Anyway, enough rambling. Bottom line is, I’m eager to see where I am in a year with regards to skating. It’s been three weeks, and I’m already zooming through the basics. The other day, I even taught myself how to spin (ish)! My progress is going pretty fast (largely because of my gymnastics background). Then again, my progress with dancing was exponential in the beginning– and look where I am now. And, I distinctly remember telling myself I would never, ever give up dancing– and now look. I can’t keep making empty promises to myself, if I’m not going to follow through. That’s why, with skating, I will stick with it no matter what, for one year. After a year, I will check in with myself and see if I still enjoy it. The rule is, I can’t give up during this year. I will work skating around my busy school schedule. I want to make myself proud.
  • Become a good public speaker. This has been a long-standing goal of mine, and I’m determined to finally bring it to fruition this coming year. I’m going to become an official member of Bruin Toastmasters, so I can give speeches every week and getting sufficient public speaking practice.
  • Meditate regularly. Science have proven, time and time again, the myriad health benefits of regular meditation. I’ve practiced meditation before, but have never been able to stick with it. Being type-A to the core, meditation goes against my instinct of wanting to work non-stop. That’s why it’s been so difficult for me to stick with my meditation practice. But, no longer. It’s gonna happen, people. Starting today!
  • Professional development. So far in my college career, my grades have been pretty solid, but I’ve been lacking in the other side of professional development– connections. I’m determined this coming year to foster relationships with my professors and to get involved in undergraduate research. In addition to making connections, I need a solid GRE score to drive home my competitive resume.
  • Continue to write. This one’s a no-brainer. Writing makes me happy, plain and simple. When I write, time seems to stop, and I fall into a trance-like state where nothing exists but me and my words. I will continue to write to my heart’s content, this coming year (and for the rest of my life). Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to write a book one day! Scratch that– I WILL write a book one day. I feel it in my bones, I’ll make it happen!
  • Prioritize mental health. Especially during the school year, and other times of stress. It’s easy to say, screw it, and neglect your mental well-being in favor of the endless pursuit of goals. But what if I made taking care of my mental health a goal of mine? Being a goal-oriented person, I will make sure this goal doesn’t go unachieved. If I feel myself slipping, even in the slightest, I will book an appointment with my therapist. I will stick by my medication regimen, religiously.  I will engage in self-care activities– get enough sleep, exercise, eat healthily (mind and body are interconnected, after all). I will carve out time for my creative passions (writing, skating, dancing). Through all this, I hope I can keep the depression and anxiety at bay. At the very least, I will try my best.

 

Alrighty folks! I think those are enough long-term goals for the next year. I will keep you posted each week on how I’m progressing. I hope you guys can be a part of my journey of self-growth and development, and help me along the way if I hit a roadblock. And I would love for you guys to share your own goals and aspirations with me, and I’ll be your biggest cheerleader!

 

 

 

 

Talk to you soon,

Belicia

An Ode to Life!

Dearest friends,

I write to you my summer apartment here in Westwood Village, Los Angeles. It’s currently 5:23am. Yes, I finally managed to wake up at 5:00am (props to me!). In all honesty, I’m not completely sure what to write about on this fine morning.

Well, on second thought, let me begin today’s post by paying tribute to one of figure skating’s legends, Denis Ten, who was tragically murdered three days ago on the streets of Kazakhstan, his home country. He was stabbed in the thigh by car thieves, who wanted his car mirrors; he died three hours after arriving at the hospital, after significant loss of blood.

It’s not long since I joined the figure skating community, but even as an outsider, the name Denis Ten rang a bell. He was the 2014 Sochi Olympic bronze medalist in men’s figure skating, and actually trained at the ice rink I currently skate at. The skating community will never be the same without this man… this man whose life was taken much too soon. He was 25 years old.

While all deaths are indeed tragic, I try to look on the bright side when tragedies like these strike. As much a time of mourning this is, it is also a celebration of life. We all need to be grateful that we are alive and well, each and every day. For you never know when your last day on this Earth will be. It could be today, it could be tomorrow, it could be in 60 years. The point is, to be alive is enough reason to be grateful. Make the most of each day. Love your family and close friends, ferociously. Life is absurd. Crazy, unpredictable things happen. We can’t alter the circumstances, but we can choose to live with passion, and to live the life we envision for ourselves.

Alrighty, folks. This morning’s post was short and sweet. You’ll be hearing back from me, soon enough (because I just love writing so much!). Remember, make the most out of today!

 

 

 

Love,

Belicia

 

7 Truths About College

Two years ago, when I first stepped afoot UCLA, I had NO IDEA what adventures, joys, and hardships would await me. Here are some things I wish I’d known before beginning college.

  1. Coming into college, most people don’t truly know what they want to do in life. For most my life leading up to UCLA, I was almost 100% certain I wanted to go to medical school. Little did I know that medicine was, indeed, a poor fit for me. It wasn’t just the fact that I disliked my college chemistry classes with a passion, or found myself struggling to stay afloat in bio. Rather, it was the fact that being a pre-med student did not afford me the time to pursue my artistic passions as much as I wanted to. With dance and writing no longer playing a dominant role in my life, I found myself sad and empty. I realized that I needed to find a career that, in addition to putting food on the table, would allow me to pursue my artistic passions to my heart’s content. And medicine just wasn’t that career. It took me about six quarters into UCLA to fully renounce medicine, but when I finally shed away all the fear and self-doubt, I felt liberated and freed to explore other career options. By the end of my sophomore year, I finally found a career that I was passionate about, and that would provide me with a lifestyle that meshes well with my artistic side.
  2. You don’t need to have it all figured out by the end of college. Many students live with the misconception that they need to know their career paths by the end of college. In reality, this is not necessarily the case. I know many people who majored in something they didn’t really know what to do with. And that is A-OK! You have a degree. That’s something. And there’s always the option of going back to school, when you’ve figured out what you really want to do. The point is, there is no strict timeline when it comes to finding a career you really enjoy. Of course, finding out sooner than later can provide you with a sense of comfort and direction, and also save you money and time. At the end of the day, though, you want to give yourself sufficient time to decide what you want to do for a big chunk of your life. And just because you’ve graduated college, doesn’t mean the search is over. No need to stress, if you don’t know what to do. Take it from someone who, after questioning whether medicine was for her, spent countless nights awake in bed, stressing about what she was to do, if not medicine. Trust me, the stress isn’t worth it. I know most people are gonna stress anyway. I’m here to reassure you that sometimes, you just gotta have faith that things will work themselves out in the end. Embrace the uncertainty as a time of exploration and liberation!
  3. Connections are, in some ways, more important than grades. Even if you’re pre-med or pre-law, and GPA plays a big role in your acceptance to pre-professional schools, grades are still not everything. You need to foster relationships with your professors/TAs/advisors, because they’re the ones you’ll be asking for letters of rec. Looking back, I wish I had gone to more office hours and had gotten to know my professors more. I still have one more year to make connections, but really, you should start doing so from the beginning. It’s never too early to get involved in undergraduate research, where you’ll really be able to get to know professors on both a professional and personal level. Just don’t be shy. I know going up to a godly professor can be intimidating, but just remember, most of them are really invested in helping their students succeed. Be brave, and get to know your professors– they are human, just like you and me!
  4. Be careful of falling into the “freshman gone wild” trap. It doesn’t matter how disciplined or focused you were in high school. College is a different animal. For many people, college is the first time they’ve experienced freedom of any sort. No more parents hovering over you, pressuring you to be the perfect child. You may be overtaken by curiosity and temptation, when first arriving at college, where alcohol and drugs and sex are so so accessible. In some ways, coming from a very sheltered background puts you more at risk for going “wild” when coming to college. That is, partying and drinking and engaging in other hedonistic extracurriculars, to excess. Typical case of “freshman gone wild”. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with a bit of exploration. That’s a normative part of growing up, and some may argue it’s an integral part of the college experience. The problem is when it is done to excess. You don’t want to throw away your GPA and, more importantly, your health, for the sake of having fun. So, just be responsible when exploring the underworld of hedonism. Don’t sell your soul to the devil, like Dorian Gray did (reference to Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray”).
  5. You will have to master the art of time management. Like I said earlier, college is very different from high school. In high school, your daily schedule was pretty much pre-set for you. School from 8am-3pm. Then extracurricular activities. Then homework. Then dinner, then sleep. Rinse and repeat. In college, you actually have a lot more time on your hands; lecture takes up an average of 3-4 hours of your day. It’s up to you to schedule the rest of your day, which is a challenge in itself. What time should you eat? Study? Take a nap? Coming into college, I was overly confident in my time management ability. Now, even two years into college, I still struggle with managing my time smartly. I may devote too much time to dance, and leave little time for studying. Or vice versa– locking myself in my room all day long with my head in a book, and my soul shattered (ok, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point, right?). Sometimes, I forget to eat. Other times, my scheduled 20-minute nap may turn into 4 hours. It takes a little bit of experimentation, but the goal is to find a schedule that works best for you, and stick to it so it becomes routine. The biggest challenge for me was not planning out my day, but rather sticking to my daily plan. It’s the middle of the quarter; you are sleep-deprived and stressed with schoolwork; you’re in survival mode. It’s much too easy to lose a sense of balance in such situations. Give up exercise and sleep and maintaining a healthy diet, so you’ll have more time to study. And it’s true– you won’t always be able to abide by a strict schedule, especially during midterms or finals week. The idea is to be flexible with your time– prioritize what is important in the immediate future.
  6. Willpower is the first thing to go, when you’re stressed. It’s a proven fact– stress reduces willpower (read Kelly McGonical’s “The Willpower Instinct”). Which can explain many things that happen in college– procrastination; freshman-15 (a term describing the all-too-common phenomenon of gaining a considerable amount of weight when first coming to college); too much partying and drinking. College is stressful. You’re constantly under stress to do well on quizzes, exams, and papers. If your college runs on the quarter system, you’re on a freaking time crunch. Fitting a year’s worth of material into 10 weeks is no joke. It goes by FAST. Bottom line is, stress is unavoidable during college. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself slipping a bit in discipline. I had always prided myself on my work ethic and discipline beyond my years. That’s why I was so surprised when I found myself slipping in discipline, when I got to college. In retrospect, it’s not all that surprising. Just make sure to check in with yourself periodically and, if you find your willpower slipping, make the necessary changes to optimize health and stay on top of your schoolwork. I’m no expert on willpower, but I find that maintaining a healthy balance between academics and extracurriculars (i.e. things that help you release stress) to be very helpful in managing stress, and thus, optimizing willpower. Try to keep the stress at bay. Remember that you aren’t defined by a single grade. And carve time out of your day to take care of yourself, or you WILL burn out. Speaking of which…
  7. Burn-out in college is a thing. There is such a thing as studying TOO much. If you study too much, you will most definitely feel the effects of burnout. That’s what I did, during my freshman year of college. I had the unrealistic expectation of getting straight A’s, just as I had in high school. All I did was study. I barely danced, and I barely wrote on my blog / in my diary. But, as I emphasize time and time again, college is not high school. A’s are MUCH harder to come by. You really have to put in the work to get the 4.0. For the inherently talented, it may be easier to get straight A’s than someone like me, who’s always had to study hard to earn good grades. Sometimes, you just gotta lower your expectations to the level of reality. You have to accept that, no matter how hard you study, you may not be able to attain the grade you want. And that’s absolutely okay. My philosophy is, if I try my very very best, I will be happy. But, trying your very best does not necessarily mean you need to push yourself to insanity and burnout. It all comes down to balance– if you can effectively balance out studying with self-care, you are less likely to burn out by the end of college, than if you were to just study all day long.

 

So, those are my thoughts on things I wish I had known before coming to college. I hope you guys have found this insight helpful!

 

 

 

Best,

Belicia

A Big Dose of Self-Reflection

Hey friends! It’s currently 10:51pm on this Thursday night. I just got back from watching Mama Mia 2: Here We Go Again, with my best guy friend, Ted. Overall, the movie was cute, with a few really great musical numbers, but I gotta say, my heart still sings for the first film, made ten years ago. SPOILER ALERT: I was really sad when I found that they killed off Meryl Streep’s character, Donna Sheridan. The entire movie was sort of an homage to her life, starting from when she graduated at the top of her class from Oxford in 1979, to when she had her daughter, Mia. I really enjoyed Lily James’ (she played young Donna) performance; she has the prettiest smile and the most angelic voice!

It’s strange. At 9:30pm, when the movie ended, I really didn’t feel like going home quite just yet. In the past, I would have relished a quiet night spent at home, where I’d engage in constructive activities like writing or reading a book, or treat myself to a face mask while listening to classical music, before heading to bed early, ready to recharge for the next day. However, tonight, I really just wanted to get out of the house and go clubbing; release my inhibitions; lose myself in reckless abandon. How different I have become, since coming to college.

I don’t know if this is a good change or bad. My instinct is to scold myself for becoming like this. Where did the old, obedient, disciplined Belicia go? When did she turn into a party animal? I guess I just discovered my inner wild-child side when I got to college, where I had the freedom to explore. Unlike my mother, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with going out with friends once in a while, having a few drinks, and killing it on the dance floor. However, anything done to excess is a bad thing. Tonight, I found myself begging my best guy friend, Ted, to go out to the clubs with me (I mean, what fun is it to go out alone?), after having just watched a movie. In the past, I would be the one who’d need convincing to go out! Ted was tempted, but alas, he exercised his willpower and better judgement and decided to stay in and hit the hay early, as he was exhausted from a long day at work.

Seeing myself in this newfound position of the partygoer makes me slightly uncomfortable. I’m actually glad I ended up staying in tonight, as it gave me a chance to step back and reflect on the path I’m going down. Shouldn’t I be spending every minute of each day working to better myself? I’m glad I picked up the new hobby of figure skating, as it has given me new goals to strive towards, and definitely has pushed me out of my comfort zone. Earlier today, however, there was a Bruin Toastmasters meeting that I had been meaning to go to, but at the end of the day, I chickened out. I knew that going to the meeting would mean that I’d need to get up in front of everyone and speak. I tried to justify my not going to the meeting by telling myself that I’d gotten over my fear of public speaking, and that I was comfortable enough to not need to go to Toastmasters. But who am I kidding? I am not at that point yet. I need to practice more, which is why I am making it a goal of mine to attend each weekly meeting, from here on out. I know that, had I gone to the meeting today and faced my fear head on, I would have felt so fulfilled and gained a couple confidence points after I had done it, regardless of whether I was super eloquent, or stumbled all over my words.

In the realm of self-growth, I’ve also been reading a lot of self-help books, like The Willpower Instinct by Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, and How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald. The former book delves into the science of willpower and how to increase it. The latter is more of a sports psychology book, and examines how athletes– particular athletes in endurance sports, like long-distance running– are able to batter down walls through sheer power of the mind. It’s all very interesting, and I’m glad I’m educating myself through reading these books.

Exercise-wise, I haven’t quite gotten into the flow of a regular routine. Before I fell ill a week ago, I had been swimming every morning, which comprised the majority of my daily exercise. Then I got the flu virus, and all my progress went downhill, which was disheartening. Now, I’m in the middle of the long and difficult process of getting back on track, which has been tough. I go ice skating almost every day, which accounts for my rapid improvement, but beginner-level skating doesn’t really challenge you endurance-wise. I’ve seem to have hit a mental block when it comes to pushing myself athletically. As as gymnast, physical pain was my normal, and I never cowered from it. Now, however, being as out of shape as I am, I dread the physical and mental pain that comes with pushing yourself to your limit. This mental block has hindered me from even trying to hit the gym, which is quite disappointing, because I’ve never identified as a quitter. As the famous Nike logo states, I gotta “Just Do It”. Don’t think or rationalize too much. Just get myself to the gym, and do what I need to do to get my body back in shape. The mind is interconnected to the body, and I know that getting back in shape will strengthen my willpower and, in turn, make me more happy and fulfilled with my life. That’s why I look so fondly upon my gymnastics days– despite the physical and mental abuse, I was on my A-game, and every aspect of my life was on track (besides relationships, of course, which I proudly renounced in the pursuit of my goals). I’ve seemed to have lost a lot of my direction and drive since falling out of competitive athletics (I haven’t been dancing at all for the past few months). And I see it negatively affecting my day-to-day behavior. Partying too much. Being unable to commit to things (like Toastmasters today, for instance). Feeling depressed.

Bottom line is, it is high time for me to get back into the groove. I should pick up dance again, and find new inspiration. Continue my growth as a figure skater. Meditate.  Instead of parting, I should stay at home, and write, like I’m doing now! Yes, definitely keep writing. Remember when I had the lofty goal of writing a book? Well, maybe it’s time to revisit that project! More importantly, I need to get my sleep schedule back on track. Commit myself to one goal, and stick by it no matter how I feel. Prioritize what needs to be done, like studying for the GRE.

Today’s post was a brutal look within. You may not always like what you see, but that is EXACTLY why you need to check in with yourself periodically and see if you’re going down the right path. Self-reflection begets self-growth.

I’m gonna set my schedule for tomorrow, right here and now.

8:00am– wake up / eat breakfast

9:30am-11:30am– skate

10am-12pm– study at the rink

12:30pm-1:30pm– take a jazz dance class at Millennium Dance Complex (famous dance studio in Hollywood)

2:15pm-4pm– skate

UBER HOME

5pm-6pm– read a book

6pm– eat dinner

7pm-8pm– work out

rest of the night: either write, read, watch Netflix, or go out to the club (the last option is unlikely, as I’ll probably be too exhausted from the long day to go out).

12am– bed time

In the past, I’ve made ambitious schedules like these, but failed to follow through, which I am very ashamed about. I need to prove to myself, just once, that I can do this. That I can commit to a goal and follow through. Once I make it through tomorrow, I’ll gain confidence in my ability, and the momentum will begin. It’s hard to look back and see the person I used to be– so very disciplined in every aspect of my life– and see how far I’ve fallen. But such is life… we can’t always be at our A-game every second of our journey. It’s a process, rife with ups and downs. But you must always have faith that things will get better. I’ve been trying for a long time to gain back that momentum and structure I had as a gymnast, but have thus far been unsuccessful. There was a brief period of time, when I really committed myself to dance, that I felt the drive to wake up each morning with a purpose. Then, two things happened: 1) I burned out. 2) My goals shifted, and thus my life was thrown once more into a state of uncertainty, just like it had when I quit gymnastics. But I overcame that uncertainty once– who’s to say I can’t do it again? Perhaps skating is the thing that’ll get me back on track. I know committing myself wholeheartedly to something I enjoy doing has always helped me stay motivated and inspired. Perhaps it’s my newfound interest in sports psychology. Whatever it is, I need to find a new inspiration, or inspirations. I’m a person who can’t function without passion. And I don’t want to give up on dance. I want to prove to myself that I can commit to something, and not give up before my dreams come to fruition. I’m definitely in a rut with my dancing, but I recently found a potential amateur partner, and we’re having our first lesson this coming Saturday. I’m hoping that being in the studio, surrounded by other passionate dancers, my love of ballroom dance will somehow be rekindled. I mustn’t give up… not before I have a chance to reach my potential… or at the very least, commit myself to continual growth as a dancer.

Alright. Enough of this. I need to put all my plans into action. What a great dose of self-reflection this was. I hope you all also engage in some form of self-reflection– doesn’t have to be through writing. I just happen to find writing the easiest way to reach deep into my soul and express all those pent-up thoughts and emotions in a concrete manner. Others like to clear their head through exercise, or meditation, or playing music, or dancing. Anything that gets you into that special flow state of clarity, will stimulate that self-reflection.

Hope you all have a great night!

 

 

Best,

Belicia

 

Post-Graduation Plans / Social Anxiety

Hey friends! It’s currently 11:45am as I sit at my desk, writing today’s post.

It’s been a pretty slow morning. I went to bed at around 9:00pm, hoping to get up early for skating practice. Unfortunately, I was unable to fall asleep until around 2:30am, due to the suffocating heat (it was only when the early morning breeze cooled down the room that I was finally able to fall asleep). So, contrary to plan, I woke up around 9:30am, missing the morning skating session. Oh well. I plan on going to the 2:15-5:00pm session later, so all hope is not lost.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do after graduation. A gap year seems likely– I will get a sports psychology internship, while continuing to pursue my dancing and skating on the side. I had originally planned on moving to NYC to pursue dance full-time, but the more I think about it, the more interested I am in the field of sports and performance psychology. I am currently immersing myself in books on this relatively new field of study, and find the field absolutely fascinating. For once in my life, I’ve found something “non-physical” (i.e. not gymnastics / dance / non-academic) that’s truly piqued my interest. I’ve never considered myself an academic… but maybe that’s just because I haven’t found anything intellectual that’s inspired me. Well, besides writing, of course. But sports and performance psychology is proving to be something I wish to pursue. I want to work with athletes and performers across all disciplines to enhance performance under stress and to build mental fitness.

Dancing and skating and other physical, aesthetic, performance arts, I can always pursue on the side. I won’t be missing out on anything.

I don’t know where I’ll be in terms of location. It really depends on where my work/internship takes me. Perhaps I’ll stay in Los Angeles, where all my friends are, and work in a lab at UCLA. Or maybe I’ll move to NYC after all, where the arts abound, and the demand for performance psychologists is high. Maybe I’ll even move back home to the Bay Area (so at least I won’t have to pay rent).

In the meantime, I’m looking to build my resume with research experience. Unfortunately, UCLA’s department of psychology does not have a sports psychology subdivision. The closest thing to it would be health psychology. I’ve already emailed the professor who studies health psych, but her lab is completely full at the moment. I’ll check back in with her in the fall (she’s also the professor for Psych 150, the health psychology class I’m taking fall quarter!).

This coming academic year is gonna be a real doozy. I’m doubling up on classes, taking 4 to 5 each quarter. All part of my three-year plan. Why do I plan on graduating early, one may well ask? Well, originally the plan was to finish school early so I could focus full-time on my dance career. However things are changing– I realized that, as much as I enjoy dancing and performing, I can’t really see myself doing it as a profession. There’s simply too much competition in the industry and not a lot of financial / practical pay-out. Like I said earlier, sports and performance psychology has recently moved its way up on my priority list. I want to get started as soon as possible. And seeing as UCLA does not have anything sports psychology related, I’d rather graduate early and start on my master’s degree in a field I love.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of taking a gap year to gain experience. Currently, I have little to offer on my resume, besides a solid GPA. I need to start research this coming academic year– yet another thing to do amidst the plethora of classes I’ll be taking.

A part of me wonders whether graduating early is the best decision for me. There are so many things– primarily extracurriculars– I wish to try during my time at UCLA. I remember, during the summer before freshman year, sitting down with my friend Shirley and making a HUGE list of activities I wanted to pursue at UCLA. So far, not much of that last has been completed. Which is fine, since we all know academics comes before everything else. But I want to do other things, like join a competition dance team, or be a part of a musical, or start my own dance club. Most of my extracurriculars, though, I do outside of school. Like ballroom dance and figure skating. I do plan on rejoining the Daily Bruin next academic year, since it brought me a lot of fulfillment during my freshman year (although I had to work under a sucky editor, which is the reason why I stopped writing for the paper). HOOLIGAN theater is doing Singin’ in the Rain fall quarter, and Fame and Catch Me If You Can during winter quarter. My hopes are to be an assistant choreographer for “SITR”, and to be a cast member for Fame (which is a dance-heavy production). Theater definitely pushes me out of my comfort zone, as it challenges me to break free from my usual focused and serious demeanor fostered from years as a competitive gymnast, and to channel lesser-explored emotions. I also plan on getting more involved in Bruin Toastmasters to become a more comfortable public speaker. Take that, social anxiety!

Speaking of which, my social anxiety has been improving a lot! I find challenging myself a little bit each day, like striking up a conversation with my Uber drivers (if I’m not napping in the car, of course) or meeting new people at the ice rink, to be really beneficial in tackling the anxiety. My social anxiety, which used to consume so much of my mental space, has become an after-thought. In fact, I don’t really see myself as having anxiety any more. Of course, there are times and situations that make me more anxious around people than usual, but that is only human. I’ve learned to stop being such a harsh critic of myself, and to take myself a little less seriously, despite the numerous goals I have on my plate.

Speaking of goals… I’d better get out of my PJ’s and head over to the local Starbucks, where I’ll study my GRE. Better yet, I’ll probably head over to the ice rink to study, so I don’t have to make so many trips. I’ll talk to you guys later!

 

 

 

Best,

Belicia

An “Uber” Terrible Day!!

Good evening, friends! It’s currently 7:37pm as I crunch out today’s post. I am feeling SO lethargic right now. It’s been a long day.

I had a therapy appointment at 10am, but the morning was an Uber debacle! Yes, I mean it quite literally– my Uber app was acting up like it never had before. First, I typed in the wrong destination for the Santa Monica psychiatry clinic, which was my fault, as I should have confirmed the location before heading there for the first time. From the wrong location, I Uber’ed to the correct location… or so I thought. The Uber ended up taking me to a completely wrong address, despite the GPS saying I had arrived in the right location. Flustered, I ended up calling my therapist and having my appointment with her over the phone. To make matters worse, I found out, at the end of the phone call, that this therapist I had poured my guts out to for the past 30 minutes, was being promoted to a higher position, and thus wouldn’t be my therapist after all. So much for that, then. After finishing my first (and last) phone call with her, I Uber’ed back to my place, except instead of taking me back to my home, the app took me to Powell Library, of all places! I was literally FUMING when the Uber driver dropped me off in front of the library. So, I had to call yet another Uber to bring me back home.

After arriving home, I took a ten minute power nap to recharge after the debacle of a morning. Then, I Ubered to a park near the skating rink I go to, where I gave a little figure skater a stretching lesson, because skaters can all do with more flexibility!

After the lesson was over, the mom of the little girl I taught dropped me off at the skating rink, where I practiced for about an hour. I hate going to afternoon public sessions, because it always get crowded so fast. After skating, I headed back home, where I took a shower and chilled for a bit on my bed. Even though the day wasn’t terribly busy, I still felt exhausted. I must still be recovering from my terrible flu virus.

And now, here I am, talking to y’all! I was supposed to have a jazz dance class at 7:30pm, but I decided to skip, given my current stage of fatigue. Don’t want to risk getting sick again. One point for self-care, amirite?!

I’m gonna be at the skating rink every morning of this week, so I’d better head home soon to sleep early. I was going to study a little bit, but my eyes are already closing half shut. Anyway, I’ll get my Uber app updated as soon as I get home, and hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.

 

 

 

Best,

Belicia

Thoughts on Aly Raisman’s Autobiography, “Fierce”

Wow. Those are the first words that came to mind, after I closed the book. Wow, was that relatable. I myself was no Olympic gymnast, but as a former competitive gymnast, I got a small taste of some the incredible toil Aly endured throughout her athletic career.

The physical and mental hard work. The numerous sacrifices made. The constant expectation of perfection. The endless, nauseating pressure to perform. The inability to think for oneself. The lack of a voice.

This is the nature of elite level gymnastics. This was Aly’s life. And reading about it made me rethink this whole Olympian thing. Did I really want that kind of life for myself? Constant outside scrutiny from all directions; everyone telling me I was one thing or another; having my fate determined by coaches, adjudicators, national team board members– anyone but myself; having the fate of my competitive career ride on one single routine; being alienated and torn apart if I failed to deliver. I think that, had I been exposed to that level of pressure, I would have broken down. Perhaps it was a blessing that I never was able to fulfill my Olympic dream.

Here’s a fact: Olympic-level gymnastics is not real life. In real life, you are allowed to mess up and not have the whole world come reigning down on you. These gymnasts are held to the standard of perfection, and nothing less. To perform less than what was expected of them would be to forfeit their careers, which to them, meant their very lives.

The demanding nature of gymnastics necessarily entails gymnasts to devote a huge part, if not all, of their lives to what they do. This, I can totally understand. Aly spent most of her life inside the gym, training under the tutelage of her coach, Mihai. When not at the gym, she’d be at national team training camps, or traveling the world for competitions. Aly did go to regular high school, but of course she never partook in social activities alongside her peers. She chose the life of gymnastics, and never looked back.

One thing that alarmed me when I read this book was the realization of just how abusive gymnastics is, especially at the elite level. For years, I had denied that I ever faced abuse during my competitive gymnastics days. I thought it was all a natural and necessary part of my sport. It was only later, when I started going to therapy, and had enough years to separate myself from my days as a gymnast, that it dawned on me– I had been abused as a gymnast. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. At the time, I put up with it, simply because I thought forgoing my own happiness and well-being was a necessary and heroic step to take on the path up the gymnastics hierarchy. I was young, then, but I thought the rest of my life was destined to be filled with stress, pressure, and suffering– all I had ever known.

I kept the fact that I had been abused as a gymnast close to myself for awhile, but reading about Aly’s story reaffirmed my experiences and wiped away any shadow of a doubt I had that gymnastics is, indeed, a sport of abuse.

In gymnastics, girls are conditioned to believe that nothing less of perfection is acceptable. That mistakes are a sin. That weakness is intolerable. That everything your superiors say, you must accept as truth. That your own voice does not matter.

Five years out of the sport, I still battle my “gymnastics demons” every day. Especially that of body image. The nonstop, obsessive talk about weight, and the need to lose weight… the whole thing was absurd and insufferable! Aly herself faced pressure to look a certain way– to reconcile her muscular, athletic build with society’s definition of womanly beauty. In her autobiography, she recounts being yelled at by a national team board member for eating a slice of cheese pizza after finishing a successful competition. She was made to feel so disgraced, embarrassed, and ashamed of herself… all over one slice of pizza. Like, COME ON! Give the girl a break, she just medaled at a world championship! She’s a kid, let her have a freaking slice of pizza, dammit!

Aly also recounts how, during one major international competition, the US fell short of gold during the team competition. They blamed one girl, Mattie Larson, who fell on the floor exercise. After the competition, everyone alienated her. Coaches, national team officials, teammates… as if she didn’t feel badly enough about her mistake, no one let her forget it. Did they think that she WANTED to fall on her tumbling pass? That she did so on purpose? She made a single mistake– but that single mistake had major consequences. That competition marked the last time Mattie competed on the elite circuit. One mistake. Just one mistake cost her her career.

I’m telling you, gymnasts are not held to human standards. The expectation is perfection, and that kind of thinking can be crippling.

And the whole Larry Nassar situation. The well-accredited, outwardly funny, charming, and kind USA Gymnastics team doctor for decades. He was recently charged with sexually abusing hundreds of current and former national team gymnasts. Nassar is a monster, there’s no denying it. But it was the environment in which these gymnasts trained, and the type of mindset fostered by the nature of gymnastics, that made the conditions so ripe for sexual abuse to have happened. From a young age, gymnasts are taught to never talk back to their coaches or authority figures. To listen to everything your coach says, and to execute without objection. Gymnastics taught me a lot of life lessons, but it certainly did not teach me how to speak up for myself. Which is part of the reason why, I think, so many gymnasts didn’t come forward when they were being violated by Nassar during his infamous “massages”, among other things.

I wish there was a way for girls to enjoy high-level gymnastics without having to go through everything Aly and her fellow Olympians went through. Of course becoming an Olympian takes numerous sacrifices… but does well-being have to be one of them? Maybe that’s why Olympians are such highly decorated athletes. Because the journey getting there is one not many can survive.

I just wonder, do all retired gymnasts struggle as much as I do with the scars and psychological trauma of all the years of abuse? Maybe I’m just being “oversensitive”. Maybe what I see as abuse, others perceive to be a normal part of competitive athletics. Maybe others are better able to compartmentalize their “gymnastics life” and their “real life”, and are smart enough to understand that not everything you learn in gymnastics translates to life off the carpet. Also, who am I to single-handedly go up against an institutionalized practice that’s worked for numerous decades to produce the finest of athletes? Especially in the culture of Eastern European and Asian athletics, the quickest way to seeing results is to push the athlete beyond their limits, usually via fear tactics. Scare them to perfection. Is it morally sound? Doesn’t sound like it. But is it still a practice used today? Yes. Because, more often than not, the tactic brings home gold medals. But, as former Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug once said, “There’s more to life than winning medals.”

All that said, I don’t ever regret having been a gymnast. It was the life I chose for ten years, and a life that, in spite of all the pain and suffering, shaped me into the strong woman I am today. I put up with the abuse because I loved my sport; because, despite the grueling hours spent inside a suffocating gym, with my coach constantly yelling at me to do better, I loved gymnastics, and being able to do it made me so happy. I loved training day in and day out in the pursuit of improvement, and always felt so rewarded when I saw the hard work pay off at competition. 

One thing I learned in my post-gymnastics years is this: there is a LIFE beyond gymnastics… a life where not everything is measured by your performance. A life where you are worth something more than the number on the scoreboard. I look forward to hearing how Aly’s life after gymnastics plays out. I am sure she will shine, just as she did in her golden athletic career.