Widgets Magazine


Looking Up: The Big Picture, Just Brighter

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. Actually, that sentence could be my life synopsis. At this point, though, you don’t need my life story—an introduction might be more in order. So, hello! My name is Nina Chung, and I spent the past summer reaching levels of emotion that even I found completely disgusting (that was part of the problem). It tends to happen when I’m severely challenged, and this summer was nothing if not a triple-scoop sundae of surprise tribulations. Delicious.

As Stanford students, we especially have gone through the trials. Why else did your grocery-store cashier gasp with impressed delight when your mom unleashed the Stanford news? Despite being small talk, the deeper implication was that you sweat your heart out and lost your mind a few times with the objective of conquering high school. (On the flip side, perhaps you’re here because of just the opposite: your pre-college career was a relative cake walk.)

Thus, I know quite a few people who look back on high school as the lost and unavoidable years: The Era of Epic Suffering, or something. That’s just an example, though. Think of the time you felt completely ignored, or irreversibly off-track, or really, really cringingly awkward. Don’t we usually look back at our roughest moments and wish they never happened? They’re the ugly ink-blot mars on our timelines that we’re pro at forgetting due to lack of willing mental space. And then, uh-oh: freshman year day one occurs, and the rate of disaster dramas and crazy crises soars right off the charts. Right? Where else over Stanford are we more prone to encountering this quantity of young, ideologically-clashing almost-experts who are dangerously self-aware? Or feel the worst kind of loneliness when we’re surrounded by so many people? We get caught in these irrational moments of total despair. They spiral on, seemingly forever, because that’s inertia, and our analytical brains are kind of crazy-big. (Ron Weasley [on seeing Dementors]: “It’s like I’d never be cheerful again”) Anyway, most of that sums up to self-doubt.

Long ago, my Stanford essay explained my life as a novel: I saw character foils, recurring themes and, most importantly, my childhood struggles effecting eventual advantages. Overall, I’ve been blessed all my life, and I’m unbelievably grateful. And—not but—this past summer was my second-most emotionally testing to date. (I’ll leave that first one a little mystery.) Certain unexpected circumstances made a nice little spotlight for facets of my personality that really disturbed me. (I’m always in awe by our ability to simultaneously be ourselves and get to know ourselves.) But a developing two-and-a-half-month expose of that led to…one of the best summers of my life. It wasn’t a course or an internship or research. It was intensive Nina Chung 101, free of charge.

It turns out I’m a Big-Picture Optimist. Maybe it doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t change anything substantial. Maybe it does matter—a ton. But, seeing as we’re at the front end of another (OMG!) lightning-fast Stanford year, the main question is: who knows how many horrid things are lurking ahead? A mismatched major. A choking relationship. A wilting self-confidence…these things will happen. We live in this beautiful world where people are allowed to both pursue their greatest passions and crash into other people doing the same exact thing. Depending on the situation, we come away either smiling or feeling like we’ve been sneakily robbed of some security. (Bridget Jones calls this “jellyfishing”—when you have a superficially super-friendly conversation with someone who magically leaves you feeling like you’re a total loser. Don’t you hate jelly fishers?) When the insecurities appear, though, we don’t always have to hate their very essence. We can, maybe, await the good part, even if it comes a bit/a lot later. I truly believe things work out like that.

This sounds like a happy ending, and that’s because it is. I suppose if you’re not into good news, you might want to ignore this section for the next few months. But to everyone else! I hereby welcome you to my very, very, very first column.

Rain on her parade or share the sunlight with Nina at ninamc@stanford.edu.

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