Heart of Harker: Lessons in stress and pressure


Provided by Joanna Lin

by Joanna Lin, Alumna Guest Writer

You’ll never get there. Right now, all that matters is college. Once you get in (and you WILL get in), it’s internships, grad school, med school. And afterwards, your own lab, your own practice, your own Silicon Valley startup. And suddenly you’ll find yourself signing your kids up for Suzuki violin lessons when they’re 6 months old.

To me, Harker’s “college-centric” mindset is only representative of a much larger problem. At a lab meeting in October, one graduate student picked an article written by recent MIT Ph.D. graduate Justin Chen, who lamented the all-encompassing, never-ending lifestyle of scientific research. He talks about how always feeling on the edge of a breakthrough has a negative effect on his personal life. In discussion, the three international post-docs observed that it’s a very American trait to keep going and going, trying to get ahead at the expense of anything. We noticed that relationships start to suffer, along with mental and physical health. I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to my high school experience.

Insight is the capacity to step back and evaluate yourself: your actions, your goals and your beliefs.

This past year, I’ve reflected on the pressures that parents, many of whom are immigrants, place upon us. Not just your actual parents, but every parent in the community. Because they are brilliant and hardworking people, your parents were the top of their class at the best universities in the country. It’s only natural for them, and us, to expect the carriers of their genes to do the same. It’s definitely easier to say this than believe it, but those expectations are deceivingly unrealistic. You don’t have to achieve more than your parents did, and you’re not a failure if you don’t.

Insight is the capacity to step back and evaluate yourself: your actions, your goals, and your beliefs. It’s okay to not yet see that there’s a problem, but it’s unforgivable to recognize it and ignore it. So here we go: I am part of the problem. I joined a lab to not only explore my interests, but also because medical schools look at published research. Of my three main extracurriculars into which I poured my high school career and decorated in flowery prose for college applications, I am currently participating in none. I still measure myself against everyone around me. I still prioritize doing as much as possible over taking care of myself.

Yet, I’m magnitudes happier now than I was a year ago. The last time I felt this happy was probably my freshman and sophomore years at Harker, when I wasn’t playing mind games with the unknown entities that are The Admission Committees. This next round of applications, I’m going to try to keep in mind that, no matter how important this may seem, it’s just another step. My success in life is not measured by which school I go to now, or the school I go to afterwards, or the job I land after that, or where or when I buy a house.