It’s been a little over two months since I left my home in New Jersey. This period of time has been filled with long nights of studying; meals at the FFC (Fresh Food Cafe); a fear of getting hand, foot and mouth disease; and so much more. But, having been so caught up in my daily tasks, I haven’t had the time to reflect. So that’s what I’m taking a moment to do now.
When I came to Hopkins back in August, I knew I wanted to be a different person by the time I returned home for Thanksgiving break. I certainly think that I’ve become a better community member, having engaged with the academic community here at Hopkins and the larger community of doctors, filmmakers, entrepreneurs and social workers in Baltimore. But am I prepared to be a better member of my family, the most basic, yet perhaps most essential, community you can be a part of?
My parents are pretty chill, but they’ve always had their occasional complaint about me. They always wanted me to be skilled in the performing arts, but I could never imagine myself trying even the most basic classical Indian dance. They also wanted me to be athletic or play an instrument, but I was always too busy editing a video or reading a book. Last but not least, they wanted me to socialize more, but I’ve always been pretty introverted. Of course, all parents point out their children’s flaws; it’s their jobs to nurture us. But knowing this didn’t stop me from feeling sad when my parents criticized me.
Over time I’ve gradually come to terms with myself. I understand now that it’s fine to defy other people’s expectations. It’s okay for my talent to be video editing instead of singing or for me to shoot multiple failed shots at creating startups instead of focusing on stable things like school.
At the end of high school, I was in a great place; self-acceptance feels awesome. But back in August of this year, I began to feel like something was still missing. That “something” was what made me feel like I needed to be a different person by Thanksgiving. And I think I finally know what that “something” is.
In his book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon, professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist, argues that “myriad families learn to tolerate, accept, and finally celebrate children who are not what they originally had in mind.”
It’s true. My parents may have criticized me now and then, but they still love me. They look beyond their own desires and make the choice to appreciate me as their son. Yet, I’m still stuck on self-acceptance — on myself. I need to go beyond finding joy in my own self-acceptance and think about how I can cherish my parents, my family.
Literally every moment of my two months at Hopkins has shown me this. Many of the friends and role models I’ve met here are a part of a student group called InterVarsity. They are some of the most genuine people I’ve ever interacted with. They don’t stop at superficial interactions like “How’s your day going?” or “How’s school?” Instead they really try to get to know you on a personal level and support you.
Sharing meals, working with some of them on a startup and talking about life with them has given me greater insight into the value in forming genuine relationships with others, to go beyond just thinking about yourself and actually becoming a part of someone else’s life is indescribably rewarding.
I consolidated these lessons I learned while listening to Noah Friedman, director of Strategy and Operations at 3x3 Insights, deliver a talk to TCO Labs, another student group on campus. According to his talk, if you actually put your all into relationships and don’t B.S. connections, you’ll go incredibly far. Whether we’re talking about a business context or life in general, his lesson still applies.
Through some of my own ongoing interactions with people I’ve met in the past two months, like a medical resident from JHMI and my mentee for Thread, I’ve practiced Friedman’s advice and seen that it truly is key to finding happiness. The satisfaction of having a connection with another person has been simply amazing.
When I came to terms with my differences, I felt like everything was fine. But now I want to go beyond self-acceptance and develop a stronger connection with my family. Just as my parents overlook my flaws and see me as a son, so too should I look beyond myself and think about what I can do for them.
When I go back home to New Jersey during Thanksgiving break, I’m going to go beyond being my own person and become a true member of my family. I’ll help my little brother with his schoolwork for once, and I’ll do things as small as chores and as big as making sure my parents are doing alright in health, emotion and life. In doing so, I expect that I will experience joy like never before. I’ll experience the joy of being part of a family.