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I am no stranger to expectations. The self-imposed pressure to fulfill the expectations of others felt like walking through a continuous dark tunnel, suffocating in severe stress and self-hatred. I constantly reminded myself that these expectations were to ensure that I remain on the path of accomplishing my goals. 

Though my parents never directly verbalized their expectations for me, they would share stories of my relatives’ admissions into competitive schools or their pursuits of prestigious careers. The hope that they wanted to see the same successes from me were as transparent as water. After constantly being questioned by my parents and relatives on what my intended career was, I undesirably answered to their liking that I’d pursue a career in the medical field. 

I wanted my parents to be proud. In exchange for their never-ending sacrifices, I’d stay committed to meeting these expectations. My parents were working day and night, ensuring that I had no other worries other than my education. 

These expectations prompted me to hold myself accountable for every careless mistake I’ve made, every person I’ve disappointed, and every opportunity I’ve missed. Dwelling on these regrets or failures, I told myself hurtful words that shattered my confidence and self-worth.  

I witnessed my mental health declining. I was always stressed, sleep-deprived, and became prone to direct my anger to those who didn’t deserve it. 3 a.m. breakdowns before an AP chemistry test—the ink in my notes smeared with tears—and strenuous all-nighters are vividly imprinted in my memories. Frustrated, I always wondered why my hard work never paid off.

Eventually, I saw that the opinions and expectations of others—not just my parents, but also my peers—became greater priorities than my own needs. It was heartbreaking whenever a friend neglected to recognize my hard work and perceived my successes as pure coincidences, that I was undeserving of such successes. 

Reality hit me. It wasn’t fair to measure my self-worth with unrealistic standards. I had to realize that mistakes and failures are stepping stones—catalysts to becoming the best me I can be. I was determined to prevent my irrational fear of disappointing others from taking over. Slowly, I forgave myself for the little mistakes I made, gave myself credit where it was due, and understood that I didn’t need recognition from others to define me. Whenever I encountered failure, I shut out words of discouragement in my head, knowing that mistakes were bound to happen.

I eventually broke the news to my parents that I didn’t want to pursue a career in the medical field, knowing I’d be unhappy chasing my parents’ dreams rather than my own. Supportively, they reminded me that my happiness should always be put first and that they were already proud of the immense effort I put into school. I now have faith that with my perseverance and hardwork, I will continue to make them proud no matter what I choose to pursue.

I see the person I was then and the person I am now. I’m proud of this changed mindset where happiness is and will always be a priority of mine.

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