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Your immediate reaction to the title is most likely one of the following: WHAT??? WHY??? How could you?? I could never… Or something along the lines of… Okay, cool 👍 Is that…a big deal? Literally no one cares. …What's Instagram again? If you are younger than 20, though, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that your response probably belongs to the first group. Pardon the generalization, but stereotypes do exist for some reason. Deleting one of my primary sources of social media was a decision that was one of many in my quest to maximize personal growth, success, and happiness… but it also stemmed from a lot of mysterious discontent in my life, of which the exact roots could not be traced. Of course, as an 18-year-old, I have always known that social media has a very strong presence in our lives. But truthfully, I never really thought deeply about the extent to which it had an influence over me and the role it played in my life, my growth, and my overall happiness. Until now. But what prompted this profound train of thought? The answer: a well timed-series of events. (Life has a funny way of making that happen.) A few weeks ago, one of my good friends deleted her Instagram. At the time, though I fully understood and agreed with her reasons, I didn't believe that I could do it myself — to just go and delete years of memories and connections that, though documented virtually, were still made in real life. The idea of all those memories and connections gone made my heart ache. After we talked about it, I didn't dwell on it too much, but not long after, upon my return to university, I unfortunately started to struggle with my overall happiness again. Something I had difficulty with in a totally new environment was finding people who I had a natural connection with: similar interests, values, lifestyles, etc. But this time, another layer of complexity was added. While the last time I had struggled with finding new kindred souls, now, I was having trouble staying on the same wavelength as some longtime friends. To be honest, in my desire to constantly learn and grow, I believe that a gap was widening at an exponential rate, and an obstruction had been reached in some of my relationships: I don't believe that you have to have everything in common with someone to be friends, but… the differences had started to outweigh the similarities. In attempt to solve my problems, I tried to pinpoint one identifiable thing that attributed to why I felt out of place sometimes with people around my age. TikTok. Okay, hear me out. I'm really not against people having a good time but TikTok has always seemed a tad frivolous to me. Yet, a crazy amount of people my age and younger are quite active on the app, and I started to wonder… why is it such an epidemic? And just how many people have been pulled into the greater vortex of online culture due to peer influences and desired connectivity? Moreover, I wondered if, despite my prideful resistance, a part of me was also feeling natural pressures to be like the “average” person my age… I have always been told that I am quite mature relative to my peers, but despite that, was I still being held down by age expectations? I mean, so many times, I have felt the subconscious urge to say something out of character in order to produce a laugh or be “relatable”. Though the Internet breeds insane creativity at times (Youtube and Instagram, especially!), it is also quite proficient in stunting individuality. I think most people can understand the feeling of doing something you don't really want to do, saying something you don't really believe in, or hanging out with people you don't really like. I've come to realize that this whole “trying to stick to the status quo” act is truly a waste of time, energy, and potential… not to mention a huge hindrance to our personal growth. Social media having the ability to direct my growth and my ideals more than I am actively aware of is something that I now want to inhibit, or at least be able to control completely. This is how everything that I have been feeling AND observing — isolation, loneliness, alienation, insecurity, insincerity, fear, uniformity — comes together. And ultimately, this is why I chose to delete my Instagram. I wanted to detach from something that I've been connected to for many, many years of my life during a critical period of growth. I realize that I need to grow by myself and become the person I want to be without an excess of influences pulling me in all sorts of directions that may not reflect what I truly want. Sometimes you need to distance yourself from what you know, from what is familiar, to figure out who you are. And who you aren't. I suppose I can understand now why people go on those mysterious silent retreats into the mountains… Anyway, I don't want to mould myself based off of other people anymore. From now on, I want to be my truest, individual self. My own self.
Just wanted to share some interesting ideas I've been entertaining lately which I find especially relevant after the time I've spent at university: the “rediscovery” of my relationship with certain academic subjects. Growing up, the sciences was always something I was decently good at and did "just because" (the privilege!). I was interested in other subjects as well, and had a deep love for literature and writing, but in terms of “future career prospects”, sciences was just the way to go. I'm sure many of you can relate to what I'm talking about here, and maybe, still do… There was no question or explanation. You just did it. Now, I won't get too much into personal examples and anecdotes but at a certain point, I started to see that the most important reason for doing ANYTHING — my interest in the actual subject itself — had died out. Moreover, this kind of complacency on my part was actually wasting my precious time and ruining any chances I had of truly learning… because, well, I didn't really care to explore and find out more about what I was learning, which in essence, was quite useful and significant. Once I realized this, I changed my approach to what I was learning by actually focusing on the material and what was being said, the what and the why behind all of the information, the application in the greater context … and I discovered that I was “passionate” about ALL subjects. This is kind of hard to explain, but my point is that this awareness of the value of knowledge is key. A pressing concern that I hear constantly from friends and peers is that of having no passion or interest for anything in particular, and therefore finding it dull or difficult to muster up the motivation needed. I know that a change in mindset is way easier said than done, and it sounds like “settling”, but it's not. It's more about redefining what something is to you so that you see its true value. I feel like we are especially lucky, not only because our generation has easy access to information, but also because we are each able to achieve a LOT in one lifetime, in multiple different fields or aspects of life. Therefore, instead of trying to pinpoint a single, life-defining passion, try finding passion in all that you do. This way, a balance can be achieved, as well as a positive and effective mindset. This might not apply to everyone, but I'm hoping it will help those who are having trouble finding an interest or a purpose, whether it related to academics or not. In anything that you do, find a purpose for yourself, because what potential an experience has to teach you something is determined by yourself.
When asked what one's ideal life looks like, many often wish for eternal happiness, or life without any affliction. However, suffering may be even more of a necessity than it is inevitable, for often times, it is only in periods of adversity where we can learn more about ourselves and the world, and undergo character growth. Upon reading an excerpt from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's, The Gulag Archipelago, my belief in the latter was solidified as I read of the conclusions he drew from both his personal experiences and the tales of others during his time in the forced labour camp. In the beginning, Solzhenitsyn discusses the personal growth one can achieve through suffering and the inexplicable ripening of the soul that occurs when one's freedom is taken away. He discovers that in times of extreme suffering, one is able to understand that in life, it is not the result that counts, but the spirit with which the individual arms himself with. When you are able to reorient what reward and punishment mean to you, there is nothing that can be done to harm or scare you so long that your soul is still intact — that you are still endowed with humanity and goodness. Solzhenitsyn also remarks that through suffering, you learn of your own weakness and become more empathetic in understanding others' struggles, and appreciate another's strength. Though his ideas have developed in the context of a forced labour camp, his discoveries act as an important lesson to us in our daily lives that suffering gives way to growth, regardless of what kind of struggles we face. When we experience hardships, we will realize that it is not what but how that is of significance. When we are deprived of our freedoms and faced with our own weaknesses, we come to understand the weaknesses of others and appreciate their strengths. And perhaps most important of all, when we are imprisoned with an innocent conscience, we must remember to reorient our view as to what punishment truly is. If we see reward as upward development of the soul, then, like Solzhenitsyn says, “from that point of view our torturers have been punished most horribly of all: they are turning into swine, they are departing downward from humanity.” If the soul remains free, then imprisonment of the body is insignificant. Perhaps even more important is that Solzhenitsyn's time at the camp leads to his discovery that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human through all human hearts.” Good and evil exists in all of us — it is not separated by distinctions between classes of people. Rather, “this line shifts; inside us, it oscillates with the years: and even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained, and even in best of all hearts, there remains… an up-rooted small corner of evil.” Through his suffering, Solzhenitsyn realizes that though in different periods of our lives the ratio of good and evil may vary, the nature of human provides that both will always exist simultaneously. For this reason, I always seek to understand instead of criticize, as it has always been my personal belief that there is a tiny seed of goodness in those who may seem far beyond it, and alternately, a shard of evil or temptation to do wrong even in those with the purest of hearts. Upon reading this section of the excerpt, I was also reminded of the Harry Potter series. One of the major themes in the novels is to remember that nothing is black and white, and to have compassion for others as we are all capable of both good and bad. One line that this excerpt specifically reminded me of was when Dumbledore states that “it [is] important... to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then [can] evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated...” Though this can refer specifically to the context of war, it can also refer to a deeper and more personal battle that each of us have to fight not just once, but throughout our lifetime. Much like what Theodore Dalrymple says in “How — and How Not — to Love Mankind” about the victory over cruelty requiring eternal vigilance, man's capacity for humanity is something that must be constantly exercised, as man's capacity for inhumanity can never truly be eradicated. Overall, Solzhenitsyn's, The Gulag Archipelago, provided me with deeper insights and discoveries concerning the true usefulness of suffering in the “ascent” of one's soul that I feel I must share with all. The findings that Solzhenitsyn unearthed both about himself and the world are remarkable and provide the key insight that perhaps we should not hope for a life with no pain or hardships, but instead, seek the ability and freedom to govern our own souls in times of suffering and imprisonment.
As a senior in high school, introspection has become increasingly prominent, and a specific period of time that I have not deigned to think about in detail since its occurrence has been brought to mind. Thus, for the purpose of not only sharing my experience with the reader, I will do so to bring closure to myself. Like many others, my entrance into high school was marked by the formation of opinions of my own and the realization that certain things that I had been taught to believe were perhaps, not so at all. This alone caused a series of conflicts that were both internal and external, and brought about a slew of upsetting personal and family matters. However, it was in the tenth grade when things really started to go downhill. Perhaps my memory eludes me now, but I cannot pinpoint how or when exactly my mental health began to decline: not even an in-depth review of my past journal entries can give me an exact date or play-by-play of how exactly I fell into the grasp of an illness that trapped me for almost two years. What I can recall, however, are flashes of specific memories. For example, if I close my eyes, I can still remember the cold yet vague feeling of the unfriendly bathroom floor digging into my back, increasingly familiar when it shouldn't be. I can still recall that nauseating feeling of loneliness, sinking into me even when I was around others… I can still remember the overwhelming hollowness that was too much nothing and still not enough substance to fill that ever-growing lump of nothingness... I can still taste the bitter aftertaste of frustration and disgust on my tongue…the sharp tang of metallic anger, a lingering ghost of a memory. There would be stretches of time when it seemed that I was numb to everything including myself. There would be times when I was sensitive to the point that one snarky little comment would tip me over the edge and everything would collapse unto itself. There would be times when I could give a little smile and convince myself that I was doing alright, and then suddenly, I would have a sort of emotional collapse and find myself taking refuge in a bathroom stall, overwhelmed with shame. This cycle occurred again and again, and to be honest, it didn't seem to make any sense at all. I was fortunate in my circumstances and extremely privileged. I had never once been deprived of my basic needs or individual rights. I had everything, recognized this indisputable fact, genuinely was grateful for it, but the rest of me could not seem to follow my rational mind. I was still completely and utterly desolate, only now, I was only more disgusted at myself for feeling so. How could I claim to be suffering when there were those who were suffering with much less? These questions attacked me everyday, and those who have not experienced this feeling cannot truly understand the terribleness of this personal dilemma where one is suffering, knows that it is irrational to suffer, but still suffers. Now, of course, I know that depression itself is somewhat arbitrary in the selection of its hosts, quite similar to a virus. It's surprising how many overlook the obvious; that it really is an illness in the sense that it grips you often without much reason and changes you. Like a fever, it leaves you incapable of doing and feeling and enjoying, and the recovery is slow, and often uncontrollable and unpredictable. For me, this was certainly the case. Months crawled by with ups and downs, and often rock-bottoms but slowly, almost unnoticeably so, I improved. This might not be what you expect or want to hear, but I found it significant to accept that I was alone, not necessarily because others were unwilling to help, but because ultimately, they simply did not have the ability to. Though this might seem incredibly counter-productive, and for a while it was extremely debilitating, the realization that no one could truly help me except for myself became strangely empowering over time. In the end, I learned to not only love myself, but to also like myself. I turned my pain into wisdom, directed my focus outwards and focused on helping others, which gave me a greater sense of purpose. My own experience has opened my eyes to the importance of seeking to understand instead of to criticize, and I want to communicate that you must not undermine, or let others undermine your suffering. Be warned; I don't mean that you should barrel ahead in an oblivious state — you must recognize and have gratitude for what you have, and have deep empathy for those who have less, but suffering is suffering, and through it, we can learn more about the world and ourselves. Yes, my greatest enemy is myself, but in being so, I am also my own greatest weapon.
From the moment I had a conscious perspective of the world around me, I loved books. I would sit in my mother's lap as she read storybooks out loud, mesmerized by the words. One thing that my mother often recounts with a smile is that I would always seem to be a page ahead; she would be reading one page aloud, but my focus would already be on the page beside it. Perhaps, this was just a child's natural curiosity, but as I grew older, books became a key part of my life. As I progressed from fuzzy ‘Touch and Feel' baby books, to chapter books such as the ‘Rainbow Magic' series, I quickly found myself feeling unsatisfied as I had always been a quick reader, well ahead of my peers in reading. At the age of eight, my life changed. Of course, at the time, I didn't realize it as this turning point came in the form of seven novels about a boy named Harry Potter. Prior to the series, I had never attempted books thicker than the width of my finger, and imagined my fear when I was presented with books that were, well, virtually all bigger in width than the aforementioned digit. I daresay that I would not have read the series for another year or so if it were not for my mother. She persuaded me to give it a try and thus, I delved into the world that has captured my attention to this very day. As I settled into the story, it seemed preposterous that I had lived eight years of my life already without knowledge of the Wizarding World! I was drawn to the series that spun a riveting tale of a magical world that I wanted to become a part of. In the end, my mother actually ended up regretting introducing me to the series, for I could not put the books down and finished the series in one week —I did nothing but wash, sleep, eat, and read until I was finished. Since then, I read the series annually and as I got older, I slowly discovered that there was more to it than just magic. Even though I had been an overachieving eight-year-old, there had been many things that I didn't grasp due a lack of experience and maturity. When I got older, I began to understand the books beyond what was written on the pages. I realized that there was something even more magical than Wizarding World itself — the messages that J.K. Rowling had woven so intricately into her tapestry of words. One day I wondered to myself… What makes a book so transfixing? Of course, the plot is very important, but I found that beyond the compelling storyline, it was the truthfulness in which J.K. Rowling portrayed human nature — as if she captured the very essence of it and poured it into each character -- that sealed the deal for me. The realism of the characters with their own individuality and complexity, the way the characters all contribute something significant to the story, the authenticity of the interactions between them… these are the aspects that really make the difference between a children's story and a timeless work of literature for all ages. Ironically, replicating nature in its simple and truest state is the hardest thing to do, however, J.K. Rowling has done so with flying colours. When the context of magic is stripped away, Harry Potter accurately mirrors human nature, our society, and the world that we live in, flaws included. Harry Potter has taught me many valuable lessons and these ideas have been ingrained into the core of my very being. For one, compassion. Everyone is different in both nature and nurture and to fairly assess ourselves or another, we must seek to understand instead of criticize. Another major theme is complexity — nothing is black and white, no one is solely good or evil. Everyone has done both favourable and immoral things, but it is your choices that show who you are. No matter what sins you have committed in the past, if you feel sincere repentance and make better choices, redemption is possible. Last but not least is the true power of love. I think that J.K. Rowling has done an extraordinary job in making this the foundation of her story, because often times, there is a thin line between a prominent message and a cliché. However, in a exemplary display of 'show-don't-tell', she communicates that regardless of the kind of love, the underlying essence is the same: a pure and selfless emotion that is power in itself. Overall, Harry Potter has been an indispensable part of my life, though it has caused me sadness due to certain character deaths and despair when I did not receive my Hogwarts letter at age eleven. However, I still like to think that it is not fiction but some sort of biography. Since I have been immersing my heart and soul in the Wizarding World for so long, I thereby consider myself a real witch and not a mere Muggle. Though it may just be a sad attempt to convince myself that this world is indeed out there, must I be denied the right to my imagination? After all, like Dumbledore says, perhaps it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?