When I was a kid, I was scared of absolutely everything. Whether it was a ride at an amusement park, a funny-looking food, or talking to a stranger, you name it, I was afraid of it. To make matters worse, I had parents who were constantly pushing me to try new things. It was not until I was much older that I realised how grateful I was to them for doing so.
Most kids look forward to their Summer holidays. Lazy sunny days frolicking on the beach with friends and visits to the local ice cream shop. For me, Summer meant camp season. When I was growing up, my family lived in Hong Kong, but every Summer we went and stayed with my grandmother who lived in a small town in Connecticut. For the three months that we were there, my parents always somehow managed to scrounge up a new camp for us to join.
When I was younger, these activities were my worst nightmare. A week before camp was about to start, a tightly wound knot of nerves would settle into my stomach. This knot would gradually worsen until the day I had to leave home. Overwhelming fear and dread would consume me for days on end. What if I don't make any friends? What if I don't like the food? What if I don't have fun? How am I going to survive without my Mom and Dad?
My utter hatred for Summer camps reached an all-time high the Summer I turned 13. My siblings and I had graduated from sleep-away camp and had moved on to a sports camp at the local recreational centre. Every morning at the crack of dawn, my mom would drag us out of bed and drive us to the centre, where we were forced to suffer through hours of swimming and tennis lessons. The best part of the day was at 4 p.m., when we were allowed to go home.
I always felt a little out of place at the centre. While all of the kids knew each other from school, my siblings and I were the outsiders from Hong Kong who never truly belonged. To make matters worse, the other kids attending the camp were much better athletes than my siblings and me. During swim practice, all the kids were sorted into swim lanes based on their ability. While the kids that were my age were swimming in the top lane, I was stuck at the bottom with all the little kids, feeling like a loser.
At the end of the Summer, the centre held a tournament for all three sports. When it came time to sign up, I refused to. For me, this was the final straw. My parents begged and pleaded with me, trying to get me to see reason, but I stubbornly refused to listen. Eventually, my parents stopped trying to convince me. Part of me never expected them to, but they did. And just like that, all of my dreams came true and I stopped having to go to camp. I spent my days lazing by the pool and sprawled out on the couch watching TV, while my brother and sister continued to wake up early and endure hours of sports tournaments with the other kids. As I sat alone in my grandmother's house, I kept thinking to myself, "I got exactly what I wanted." But I didn't feel any sense of victory. I just felt empty.
Instead of facing an obstacle, overcoming it, and enjoying that sense of victory and accomplishment, I had shied away from the challenge.
To celebrate the end of the Summer, the recreational centre held a banquet where they handed out awards and prizes to the tournament victors. Because my brother and sister had both participated, my family would be attending. Upon hearing that news, the all too familiar feeling of dread silently crept back into my stomach. But I put on a blue dress, and some shiny black shoes, and dragged myself to the centre for the last time.
During the ceremony, I sat, glued to my plastic chair, as I watched my brother go up again and again to receive his tiny metal trophies. My sister ended up getting the biggest trophy of all, the Sportsmanship Award, a huge gold statue, engraved with fancy words. It was at that moment, when I saw my brother and sister's smiling faces, that I finally realised what my feeling of emptiness meant: Regret. I had given up. Instead of facing an obstacle, overcoming it, and enjoying that sense of victory and accomplishment, I had shied away from the challenge because it felt safer.
That night was a defining moment in my life. I realised that the moments that we choose to leave our comfort zone are the ones where we experience the most self-growth. And even when my parents were doing the pushing for me, my negative mentality was always going to prevent me from gaining anything from new experiences. The best gift that my parents could have given me was letting me experience what it feels like to turn down an opportunity.
I started taking more initiative. When I was 16, I signed up for a month-long backpacking trip across Wyoming. When I was 18, I spent three weeks volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal. During my junior year of college, I spent a semester studying abroad in Scotland. I went skydiving. I now love rollercoasters, meeting new people, and food from all corners of the world.
No matter how many new experiences I have faced, that tightly wound feeling of nerves still manages to creep up on me every time I'm faced with something new. I don't know if that feeling will ever go away. I think I'm always going to be a little scared of change. But every time I get nervous, I remind myself of all the wonderful, life-changing moments that new experiences hold. Because I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I have overcome obstacles that I never thought I could, met lifelong friends, and become a stronger, more resilient, more open-minded human being. Thanks, Mom and Dad — I couldn't have gotten here without you.