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Oct 09 2017
by Mei Xiu Zhang

How I Fought My Low Self-Esteem in High School

By Mei Xiu Zhang - Oct 09 2017
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A common theme of life is not to judge others because you don’t know their circumstances. But what if it’s not a problem with others, but rather with yourself? Low self-esteem is real, and in the spirit of World Mental Health Day, I hope my thoughts can give you insight into how to overcome this personal hurdle.

As one can tell by my name, I am a Chinese-American. Similar to members of other races, I have stereotypes that are attached to my race like the common “overachiever that only studies all day.” Based on what my friends said about me, it seemed I always had my life together and never missed a single homework assignment. I never had to stay up past midnight and was always the first at school with my practice SAT books. I always had answers and didn’t need clarity from other peers, apparently.

But there were underlying reasons for all this. I had to have my life together because my parents weren’t healthy enough for me to burden them with phone calls from my teachers saying that I wasn’t reaching my potential in a class. I needed to make myself feel secure because watching my parents struggle with walking, sleeping or just being healthy made me feel insecure.

I began to create a facade of always being on top of my own affairs, a term my sister calls “low-maintenance.” I was always proud of what I did, but there was so much self-hate underlying my actions. If I had missed a homework assignment, I would think about that failure all night long, even weeks later. If I had stayed up past midnight like all my friends, I wouldn’t be able to wake up at 5:30 a.m., leave my house by 6 (so my mother would not have to wake up and make me breakfast) and get to school by 7:20. I piled these responsibilities onto myself so I would not have to think about my low self-esteem.

My anxiety is tied to a moment I can never forget during freshman year of high school. I always knew that my writing was verbose, but I found myself hating my writing the night when my sister read my essay for a Brown University summer program application. Unconsciously, she had commented on every sentence and did not understand the overall point. I realized that I had become content with my imperfect writing and disappointed my sister.

I fell into a feeling of self-hatred for showing my sister a disappointing piece of work that I couldn’t even describe. After two years of not depending on my parents, taking public transportation to and from school and working so hard to become middle school valedictorian, my facade cracked. I found myself breaking down in front of my sister, something I never did in my life before that moment.

As I’ve grown older, I never let go of that moment because it reminded me that I needed to be humble. That was why it felt like living hell when I went through the college process. Although the constructive criticism wasn’t towards me, but my writing, I let my anxiety get the best of me.

I found myself feeling inadequate whenever anyone made a change in my writing. I found myself feeling like I was being judged for writing a trite Common Application essay. Of course, I was heartbroken when I ended up not getting into my dream school, either. All of those worries, tears and negative emotions from October 2016 to April 2017 are hard to look back on, even now. At one point, I even thought: “My hard work was for nothing. No one recognizes how hard I worked to get into a great school."  I dwelled on this, even after my high school graduation.

But I just kept going. As much as I was scared of critique, I had to keep going to school and working on getting into an amazing college. As many times I made mistakes that led to revisions at one in the morning, I also don’t regret doing so. I definitely gave all I could give during the process and that isn’t something I should regret. Those thoughts of people judging me for showing them “un-Amy-like” work was just the work of my inner demons. In reality, people were always expectant of me because they knew I would use their comments to improve.

I shouldn’t have been worried about being a failure or the expectations of others. I earned my spot at my current college and all those self-doubts couldn’t erase my acceptance letter. I was always a girl that smiled brightly because it was a part of my personality. I didn’t just put on a facade of being optimistic because I thought I had to. It became a true part of me and with just that realization, I felt myself break away from my self-doubt. I wasn’t just an obedient daughter with no preferences who worked ridiculously hard, but a young woman that worked hard to find a community of people like myself.

Here I am now, at a women’s college, having the time of my life. As cliche as this may sound, Barnard really is my dream school. After all of my troubles, I did come out with one clarity: there will be a school that sees you as a fit and that is truly the school for you.

Although I didn’t know what I was going to do, I just keep working hard, writing more essays and getting feedback. And look where it has led me: I have found a community of empowering and supportive women here. It’s the home I’ve been looking for. I hope for the best to all the hardworking seniors reading this.

Believe in yourselves and work as hard as you can to show colleges who you are and it will work out; it always does. 

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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Mei Xiu Zhang - Barnard College

Mei Xiu Amy Zhang is a freshman at Barnard College and wants to pursue computer science. Hoping to become a pillar of support in her new community, she wants to find a balance between STEM and writing.

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