Why College Isn’t The Best Time Of My Life

Hi guys! It’s currently 11:05am on this lovely Monday morning.

A little update before we get into the meat of today’s post– I’m back in the Bay Area! I wasn’t planning on returning home this summer, but I found myself missing my fam bam while in LA, so I spontaneously flew back home last Wednesday night. I’ll be flying back to LA for summer school this Sunday.

On to today’s content: why I miss my gymnastics days. So, I recently picked up figure skating as a new hobby, and have been spending almost every day at the ice rink. There, I see the little girls, no older than 8 years old, hard at work with training. They are at the rink every morning at 5am, practicing and practicing in the pursuit of perfecting their craft. Watching them, I couldn’t help but reminisce about my own days as a competitive athlete. Spending hours and hours each day at the gym, working towards a very specific, focused goal. It wasn’t easy. There were many days when I’d wake up, completely exhausted from the previous day’s training, dreading the moment I’d have to get out of bed for practice. I’d stare at the clock, counting down the minutes till my reckoning (ok, it wasn’t THAT bad… but trainings can be pretty brutal, if you’re working at 100%). I couldn’t appreciate it then, but looking back, my days as a gymnast were some of the best of my short 20 years of life. I had a strong passion. Something that drove me to wake up each morning. I had discipline and structure in my life. Everything I did, from gymnastics training to ballet and contortion class to swimming at the local Bay Club after a long day’s practice– it was all geared towards my goal of becoming an elite gymnast who represents her country in a sport she loved. There’s something so fulfilling about going to bed each night, knowing you’ve done all you could that day to get one step closer to your long-term goal, and looking forward to the next day, for more improvement.

Being a competitive athlete is indeed a lifestyle. And it was a lifestyle that served me well, especially as a person who thrives with structure and a strict regimen to carry me through the day. As I later discovered in my post-gymnastics days– a time I deem the “Lost Days”– my life collapses when I don’t have structure, lending way to depression, guilt, and shame. I’ve since struggled long and hard to recreate that kind of structured lifestyle I had as a gymnast. In high school, it was easier– you had your day’s schedule pre-set for you. Wake up at 6am, go to school from 8am-3pm, followed by extracurricular activities, then homework, then sleep. In college, you are tasked with the responsibility of creating your own structure, especially as your schedule changes from day-to-day, quarter-to-quarter. It’s not easy. And when I don’t have structure, I get depressed. And when I get depressed, I can’t do anything productive, let alone get back on track with my discipline. Depression is something I didn’t have to deal with as an athlete, and I suspect a big part of it is because my busy athletic lifestyle didn’t leave room for this mental illness to rear its ugly head.

People often say college is the best four years of your life. While there are indeed many great things associated with time at university– tremendous personal growth and experience of freedom, for instance– it is a misconception that college must be the zenith of your life. Many bright-eyed freshman come into college with sky-high expectations of what their college experience should be like, only to be gravely disappointed with the reality. I think those of us who were very involved in competitive athletics, music, or some other serious extracurricular activity in their youth, are much more prone to find their college experience less-than-fulfilling, when no longer able to pursue their passions as they did in the past.

I recent discovered a former figure skater who now attends UC Berkeley. Her name is Michelle Hong, and she has her own website dedicated to “empowering the next generation of figure skaters”. In her personal biography, she describes her all-too-relatable experience of transitioning from a competitive skater to full-time college student. Here’s an excerpt that resonated with me:

“There is an immense amount of emotional distress, physical pain, intense pressure, and thoughts of unworthiness that come with [figure skating], which result in athletes feeling drained and burnt out. Moving on to a brand new chapter in life can be seen as an easy decision. But for me, quitting my career as an elite figure skater was by far the hardest decision of my life as I was letting go of an art that allowed me to express my truest self, passion that provided me with valuable life lessons, and a lifestyle where I committed countless hours of hard work… Narrowing my focus on books, lectures, and even the fun social parts of meeting new friends and attending awesome college parties left me uninspired and unfulfilled… I felt stuck. Without skating in my life, I lost my identity and I fell into a deep depression. I completely lost all of my confidence, I gained weight, and I isolated myself as I drowned in my own self-deprecating thoughts.”

In her own words, Michelle felt “uninspired and unfulfilled” without figure skating in her life. I underwent a very similar experience when I first quit gymnastics due to an injury. I fell into a deep depression and my self confidence plummeted– something I’d never experienced before in my life. Most of high school was dedicated to me overcoming that depression and finding a new identity. One good thing that came of it all– I started this blog as a coping mechanism, and it quickly turned into a creative medium through which I enjoy expressing my inner thoughts and emotions.

Then, I found ballroom dance. This new hobby filled the void that gymnastics had left in me, and I found myself inspired and full of hope once more. Coming to college was difficult for me, as at the time I left for UCLA, I still had many unfulfilled aspirations with my dancing. I had so much potential for improvement, but hadn’t the time to bring my dreams to reality. College cut short the momentum I experienced with dance. And, in turn, I felt lost yet again.

I’ve since grown disillusioned with ballroom. The difficult reality of finding a dance partner and the tremendous amount of politics, exploitation and negativity that comes of this world, opened my eyes to the ugly truth, and made me fall out of love with dance.

Where am I now? I am left feeling lost, again. Though I’ve finally settled on a great-fit career as a sports and performance psychologist, a big part of me is not yet ready to let go of my former life as an athlete. I’m not ready to go behind the scenes, working with athletes. I want to BE the athlete. I think a large part of this stems from having had my athletic career cut short, when I was not yet ready to let it go. First with gymnastics and the injury; then with dance and college. In both cases, it was circumstance that drastically altered the familiar path I was on, leaving me feeling lost without direction.

All hope is not lost, though. Like I said, I recently fell in love with figure skating, and have many hopes and goals for the future. I’m not stupid– I know I won’t be going to the Olympics (in this lifetime). That said, I still wish to compete and perform in the future, at the adult level. I started skating at the beginning of this month, and like with anything I pursue, I tried my very best to improve at a fast rate. I’ve gone to the rink for a couple hours each day since I started, and am already seeing some good results.

Despite whatever adversity I may have endured in the past, I have a great life. The opportunity to get a great education, an incredibly supportive family, and a chance to pursue my many creative hobbies. There’s really nothing to complain about. I only wish… I don’t know. I wish I could go back in time, to relive my past life as an athlete. It was a great one. And I’m sad to say that, in spite of all the new experiences college has presented me, I have yet to recapture my “mojo”. I know it’s dangerous to live in the past. But I simply speak my mind. There are many days– especially the down days– when I yearn for gymnastics, and the kind of lifestyle that came with being a gymnast. I was inspired! I want to feel that all-consuming passion once more. But, as I enter the new chapter of adulthood, I can no longer be driven simply by my heart. I need to start using my head. There are many new responsibilities to take on, and I can no longer wholeheartedly devote myself to the pursuit of my craft. That’s the part that saddens me. It’s that, no matter how hard I try, I will never again experience the former glory of my past. My new goals must center around a career that will put food on the table. I only wish I could feel as passionately about academics as I did gymnastics. I only wish the life of a college student could bring me as much fulfillment as did my life as a gymnast.

I’m sure many former athletes transitioning to college face similar struggles. For many, their college experience is tainted by the bitterness of not being able to pursue their sport and passion as they did in their past life. College is indeed a new life chapter. What many don’t understand is, some people are just not ready to take that next step. And when you rush into college with your heart lying elsewhere, as I did, that may be a mistake. Because if your heart isn’t in it, your degree ends up being nothing but a piece of paper.

I shouldn’t fall into the trap of self-pity and regret, though. For doing so will make life painful and regretful. Everything post-gymnastics will be but a downward slope, and I don’t know about you, but peaking at age 14 is a little bit sad, don’t you think? I must keep moving forward with my journey, and continue to search for something that will bring me as much joy as my former life as a gymnast once did. And I will have faith that one day, I will find that something that will make me click. There’s no timeline for finding passion. It doesn’t have to happen in college. All I want is to feel inspired once more… and I don’t know if figure skating is my answer. Maybe there isn’t just ONE answer. All I know is, I WILL keep searching. Relentlessly.

3 Things I Do When Feeling Down or Depressed

Do you ever have those days when it seems that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to get yourself out of bed and start your day? Or, if you do manage to drag yourself out of bed, you find yourself struggling deeply with motivation and productivity?

Trust me, as a person who struggles with depression, I FEEL you. Over the years, I’ve worked on developing coping skills that have gradually lessened the power depression holds over me; things that, while not completely eradicating the depression, help me maintain a decent level of day-to-day productivity, even when I’m feeling the lowest of lows. Here are some tried-and-true weapons I keep in my arsenal to fight the crippling effects of depression. Take them with a grain of salt– what works for me main not work for another!

Exercise

Ok, so I’ll be the first to admit, on down days (and even on up days) I haven’t been the greatest at sticking to my exercise regimen. There’s nothing easy about exercising, period, let alone exercising when depressed. Dragging myself to the gym and exerting mental willpower is the LAST thing on Earth I want to do, when I’m feeling so beaten down psychologically. Ironically, exercise is one of the most effective ways to boost your mood and, if not eliminate depression, at the very least mitigate its effects. Sometimes, I think back to my competitive gymnastics days, and wonder why, in spite of all the difficulties of being a high-level athlete, I never struggled with depression. Now, there could be a whole host of reasons– for one, the onset of depression and other mental illnesses usually manifests during puberty, and most of my gymnastics career was spent in the innocent pre-pubescent realm. At that time, I was also constantly working towards my long term goal of making the US national team, which was reason enough to wake up each morning, inspired. Regardless, I think a big part of why I was able to keep the depression at bay while a gymnast was because I exercised regularly. Not simple exercise where you barely break a sweat. I’m talking intense, hardcore training– training that left you dripping in your own sweat shower, muscles trembling from overexertion, head spinning, ears ringing, eyes seeing stars. Of course, I’m not saying everyone needs to exercise with the intensity of a competitive athlete in order to stop depression in its tracks, nor am I arguing that exercise is the sole solution to combating depression. All I’m saying is, at the end of those grueling days at the gym, even though my body was battered, my mind was as clear and strong as ever. My veins filled with endorphins. As I’d stand in the shower, letting the hot water heal and rejuvenate my torn muscles, I’d always feel one thing– pride. I’d be proud of myself for pushing myself to my physical limit. Good, focused training always left me feeling proud and happy of what I had accomplished, which gave rise to other positive thoughts and emotions. Depression, I DARE you to take one step near me, when I’m on that post-training emotional high. So, long story short, exercise is your number one not-so-secret weapon when combating depression. Biologically, you WILL feel in greater spirits after physical exertion of any kind– doesn’t need to be like the kind of training I described earlier. How do you get yourself to go to the gym, when depressed, though? Like I said, I haven’t quite mastered the trick just yet. There were times in the past when, during a bad bout of depression, I’d lug myself to the gym, and, in the middle of a very mentally-taxing yet non-productive workout, break down crying. I know how hard it can be to try and push yourself, mentally and physically, when your willpower has been completely drained by the depression, and you have no fight left within. It might not be a bad idea, in these cases, to get a personal trainer, or join a fitness group. It’ll be MUCH easier to get yourself to exercise, if have a coach helping you push through those mental walls. I had many down days as a gymnast– days in which the last place I wanted to be was at the gym. In those moments, having a coach to push you when you couldn’t push yourself helped. tremendously. Thus, I plan on getting a GroupX fitness pass starting in August; I have a good feeling that, in going to these weekly group fitness classes led by professional trainers, both my physical and mental health will improve, and it’ll become a positive cycle—hit the gym, feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally, be more motivated to keep up the progress and stay in this positive, inspired state of being, and continue to go to the gym. Regular exercise will quiet the depression.

 

Create Life Structure

The worst thing to pair with depression is a lack of day-to-day life structure. It’s not easy, but trying to keep busy with a set routine will, at the very least, help you maintain productivity when you’re feeling absolutely down. That way, when the depression does strike, you won’t be faced with the mountainous task of deciding what the heck to do with your time… because, if it were up to you, you would most likely choose to spend the day cooped up in your room, underneath your covers, locked out from the outside world. And that is the last state you want to be in when depressed, for being in such a vegetative state will only feed into the depressive cycle. If you have a daily structure, the effects of depression on your life will be less profound. You’ll have a concrete idea of what needs to get done each day, and clear instructions on how to go about achieving these daily goals. When depression strikes, many people report feeling “lost” without direction. Sticking by a routine, no matter how difficult it may be, is sure to take away that “lost” feeling, and in turn may mitigate some of the depression. So, weapon #2 for fighting that depression: set a daily structure to stick by, in the best of times and the worst of times.

 

Quiet the inner critic.

When you’re depressed, your whole life basically feels like a big dark cloud of negativity. Our inner critic THRIVES off such environments. It’s easy to fall into the toxic cycle of self-blame, and call ourselves “weak” or “worthless” because of way depression makes us act and feel. One thing I’ve been working on lately is quieting that self-blaming voice of negativity and treating myself kindly when I know I’m in such a psychologically vulnerable state. If, despite my best efforts, I really can’t get myself to finish my one hour at the gym, I won’t see myself as a “weakling” or a “failure”. I’ll tell myself that this is my illness talking. Don’t get me wrong—it’s dangerous to start using depression as a crutch, and to blame everything you do or can’t do on your depression. If you start doing this, you are letting the depression run your narrative and slowly take over your life. It’s important to distinguish between who’s talking—healthy you, or the you struggling with depression. I refuse to let myself stop trying to achieve my daily goals, when depressed. I will ALWAYS try my hardest to function productively, depressed or not. However, I know that achieving goals when depressed is about a hundred times harder to do than when healthy. So if it so happens that, in my depressed state, I fall short of my goals, I won’t beat myself up over it. I won’t call myself names or internalize what’s happened as a huge failure or negative reflection of character. I will accept it as largely the depression talking and promise myself that things will get better, once the cloud of depression lifts.

Clearly, I don’t have a black belt in combating depression. I still have a lot to learn for myself. And a lot of the advice I’ve given to y’all in this post, I still struggle to incorporate in my day-to-day. It’s a process. The whole thing is a process. I just want you to know that, if you are out there struggling with mental illness, be it depression or something else, I AM WITH YOU. You are not alone. And it’s so important for you reach out for the help you need… few can rarely overcome mental illness alone. The advice I’ve offered in this post may act as a temporary bandage to depression, but certainly does not constitute an effective cure for this debilitating illness.

Anyway, it’s 8:50pm right now. I should wrap up soon, so I can engage in my own self-care night routine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take care everyone,

Belicia

 

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 meshed 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 people who have 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 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 your professional life. 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. Trust me, the stress isn’t worth it. I know most people are going to stress anyway. I’m here to reassure you that sometimes, you just have to have faith that things will work 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 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, which will give you the opportunity 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 hook-up culture is so prevalent. In some ways, coming from a very sheltered background puts you more at risk for going “wild” when coming to college. What do I mean by “wild”? Partying and drinking and engaging in other hedonistic extracurriculars, to excess. 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 the extreme. 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 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, 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 religiously so it becomes routine. The biggest challenge for me was 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. Many people tend to give up exercise and sleep and a healthy diet, so they’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 strategic with your time. Prioritize what is important in the immediate future, and be disciplined in the execution.
  6. Willpower is the first thing to go, when you’re stressed. It’s a proven fact– stress reduces willpower (read Kelly McGonigal’s book, “The Willpower Instinct”). This fact 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 all the course 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. Prior to college, I had always prided myself on my work ethic and discipline beyond my years. I exercised regularly. Ate healthily. Never touched alcohol. That’s why I was so surprised when I found myself slipping in discipline, once I got to college. In retrospect, what happened to me was not all that uncommon. Just make sure to check in with yourself periodically and, if you find yourself headed down a slippery slope and losing your self-discipline, make the necessary lifestyle 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) can 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 while dancing competitively, just as I had in high school. The reality was sobering. All I did was study, and sometimes, that wasn’t enough to earn me that grade I wanted. I barely danced, and I barely wrote on my blog. 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 has always had to study hard to earn good grades. Sometimes, you just have to 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 is 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 whilst forsaking mental and physical well-being.

 

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