Life Lessons

Combating Criticism and Overcoming Homesickness…

A little longer, I’m thinking
Give me my space so I can face it alone.
I’ve always been one for sober reality
Can’t find the pieces for the increasing unknown.

I sigh,
Just try to convince me I’m not entirely sold;
Well I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’ till the sun comes up,
I’m slippin’ into gravity’s hold

He said it’s fun for the moment;
When I grow up, I’ll give it up later on.
One day he’ll snap back to sober reality
Leave it to fate, look it’s too late and he’s gone.

What if one day I fall away
And I believe what the Pharisees say?
What if I pray just to find it’s all fake?

I’m fallin’ up, I’m fallin up, I’m fallin up and I…

I’ll fly,
Fall into grace, don’t have to face it alone;
Well I’m laughin’ and I’m dancin’ till the sun comes up
I’m slippin out of gravity’s hold.

~ Gravity’s Hold (New Version) performed by Tim Be Told

AS I leave home and venture to new places and see even newer faces, I often pause to take the time to reflect and discover parts of myself I may have never even searched before. I mean, I’ve always been known to dig deep, but there’s always been many sorts of unresolved conflicts and perhaps subconscious thoughts this heart and mind of mine have long been seeking to put to rest, but will there ever really come a time when this will truly happen? At this very moment, even I am not certain—but this much I am certain: I am not going to give up.

Throughout the vast course of my life I have encountered many acquaintances—several of whom have become my closest friends—and mentors—and best of all, family. There are people whom I’ve encountered on this journey who patiently took the time and effort to voice their thoughts, their honest opinions and most of all their stories to me—some of whom I’ve dearly taken to heart; while others not so enlightening or encouraging.

But in another sense, I feel as though an hour-long sentimental story can have as much impact on a person as a few minutes, or possibly, even a few short seconds, of harsh, yet constructive criticism.

Whether I would like it or not, I in time have taught myself to gain an acceptance of both of these almost extreme opposites I guess you could say.

But then again, I’ve always heard the almost-cliché statement that it’s a large part of the learning process of life.

Often times as a kid growing up, I’d have dreams and wild imaginative fantasies—dreams as large and vast as the sun, or maybe even the Milky Way in my naïve and more innocent mind—dreams about excelling in school (I’m sorry if that does sound cliché), going to some prestigious university like Stanford, earning some fancy scholarship, obtaining some dream job, and most of all, really wowing my parents.

As time went by, some of those dreams were realistically fulfilled, but I never ended up excelling with some 4.0 GPA or enrolling at Stanford, but now that I am indeed in college, I look back and develop this bittersweet perspective on all of those childhood dreams—even those very out-of-there dreams, like having an opportunity to meet some of my most favorite celebrities, and practically idolizing over them.

Surprisingly I look back and recount a conversation I had with my dad in the car while he was driving me over to college not too long ago. The most important advice he continues to emphasize to me to this very day is that although it is great to dream, two things must be considered: 1) dreams don’t come true in an instant (at least not always), and 2) most dreams are achieved with lots of individual effort and time and that they can be fulfilled in steps.

Now if I was listening to this kind of advice back when I was a mere elementary school and junior high student, I would listen with an attentive ear but not with a very attentive heart. There were countless times when I attempted to honestly heed both my father and mother’s advice but end up failing to do so because I wasn’t emotionally ready to take their criticism word-by-word or because I could never seem to fully comprehend the reasoning behind what I had perceived to be degrading to my own self-value. Indeed, it has taken me many years for me to emotionally heal some deep, scarring wounds I’ve “collected” inside of me, but even now as a college freshman, some words, gestures and actions will always haunt me no matter what, and I believe this must hold true for nearly everyone.

There are just some events that occur in one’s past memories that will never be fully healed or resolved, no matter how long time ticks on.

But we all must learn to either deal with it or accept it, no matter what the circumstance or situation.

If you don’t learn to combat your own memories of hurt and pain, they will unfortunately plague your mind and seduce you into believing your own harsh self-criticism.

Because more often than not, more people attempt to run away from their problems than to confront them head-on with full force.

If at this point, you’re thinking, “Yeah I know exactly what you mean Josh, but wouldn’t you agree that confronting my issues is like too difficult for me to tackle?” I would probably respond with, “Yes it is hard but as Tom Hanks said in the film A League of Their Own, ‘The hard is what makes it great.’ ”

I had to overcome cerebral palsy, and it wasn’t easy either. It took a lot of work and both mental and, at times, strenuous physical effort to be able to do the things that I can do now as a maturing eighteen-year-old as comparing it to when I was an infant.

Criticism in this light also takes time and effort to overcome as well. But here is how I view the matter. Some constructive criticism will appear to be harsh to the person receiving it but in an almost ironic sense, is meant to guide you along the way. The people that usually say those remarks may not necessarily intend to be so judgmental, but there are times when kids can perceive it to be that way. An example would be like, one day you go to class and the teacher’s passing out last week’s exams. As the student you might be cringing in your seat, hoping that you didn’t score too badly—and then when you take one peek at your test paper your heart drops. You end up with a C.

Any high-achiever would then resort to the old-fashioned routine of “I’ll just hide my test from my parents and lie that I received a satisfactory grade on the test. They won’t know, I hope.”

Unfortunately, if you can predict what probably will happen next, you will know that lying right away may only seem to get you off the hook for the moment, but in the end spell even larger consequences.

Still we squirm at authoritarian criticism. I know I sure do.

But it’s still up to you to be the judge. It’s time you call the shots. Deep down in your heart, you know that you have to be honest with your folks, no matter what. So you end up telling them and showing them your test…

But a word of advice to older adults: yelling at your children and screaming, “You’re stupid! That’s why you didn’t do well on the test!” will only make them feel more insecure and hurt and want to shy away from you, the parent. This is why most teen-parent relationships first show signs of cracking, and later, completely breaking and snapping.

You, meaning both the parent and the kid, definitely do not want to get to the snapping part. That’s where mere criticism can turn into a series of fights.

So let’s try to prevent that here.

I will admit that it might be a first gut reaction to yell back and start a raging argument (it’s in our innate pessimistic natures unfortunately) but whenever I find myself in these sorts of situations I always recall a verse from the Book of Ephesians:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that  comes from the Lord.

~ Ephesians 6:4 (NLT)

Many years later my father now tells me to talk things out in a healthy, understanding and communicable manner with him (after he has learned himself to cope with his anger as well), and I can accept that; because that’s how I’ve always pictured how things should work out.

Discuss potential issues ahead of time if need be, so there won’t be any chances of a misunderstanding and probable backlash.

With that being said, I am now also coping with overwhelming feelings of homesickness, which although I’ve heard is very natural for nearly everyone to go through, is also not just as easy to fully accomplish. Being away from home obviously has a few perks—but I know that deep down, it’s this fear-of-the-unknown sensation that perhaps scares me the most, although I know I’m not alone on this one either.

Combating homesickness is similar to the methods of combating criticism I’ve already described in that they both take time and effort to work things out and they both require a lot of adjusting.

So as I gradually adjust myself to the college environment, the real world starts to feel pretty overwhelming, as I expect it would be. But I do come prepared.

I am here at the University of California Riverside to brace those challenges, cause I know I’ve braced similar challenges before over the years. I find small pockets of support groups—right now, frankly, my old classmates I’ve befriended in high school—to feel comfortable with as we all start to blaze our own trails in every aspect of college life—academically, physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

And who knows? The choices I make right now, as I have also made in the past, will impact me in ways I may never even conceive of before.

But one thing’s for sure: this time, I hope and I pray, with all the strength I can muster in my body, soul and mind, I will not slip into gravity’s hold again—at least not for a long, long time from this very moment.

I will bounce back, and you can bet on it.

Enough said.

~ A Fellow Columnist, Josh Chen.

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