How I Went From Helpless to Hopeful
It was a sultry afternoon in August of 2014. My friend and I were exploring the harbor in downtown New York City when we somehow convinced our moms to let us take the subway by ourselves to Times Square. We made it up just fine and decided to walk the dozen or so blocks to Central Park, where we took refuge from the burning sun under a tree. Barely five minutes had passed before two men approached us, asking for donations to a basketball camp in exchange for candy.
I immediately knew this sounded sketchy—they were too old to go to any basketball camp I’ve ever heard of—and I had no interest in candy. Still, I knew I could spare a few dollars. It would’ve been fine had the two men not kept changing the deal and insisting we give them more money. The more they pressed, the more scared and intimidated I felt. I knew they were taking advantage of us; I wanted to say no, but for some reason I couldn’t decline until one of them offered to give me change for a $50 bill. Something snapped in me, and I finally shook my head, disgusted at the absurdity of this situation. Luckily, the two men backed off and my friend and I walked away, money still in hand.
As day turned to night, I slowly settled into a simmering rage. I didn’t understand why I had been so submissive, so completely unable to respond. I was angry at myself, the two men, and the fact that things like this happen in the first place. I felt helpless and manipulated, and I despised it.
I needed to figure out how to handle encounters like these in the future. Since then, I’ve pushed myself to try new things on my own. One of the most significant experiences has been learning to drive by myself. Despite my initial apprehension about driving, I now appreciate being able to go shopping and visit my friends without having to rely on my parents. It gives me a sense of control and freedom, and from that comes empowerment.
I started taking opportunities I would have been too scared to take in the past. I joined organizations. I ran for an officer position in my school’s chapter of NHS, despite fears that popularity (or lack thereof) would overshadow qualification. I applied to become a camp counselor, even though my parents thought it was too far away. There were plenty of reasons to give into doubts, but I finally decided I wanted to make my dreams happen more than I was scared of them. I had to at least try.
My last year of high school is turning out to be a year of firsts. My friends and I built a Chinese dragon to showcase at my school’s annual International Day of Acceptance assembly. At New York Comic Con, I mustered the courage to meet a celebrity despite my anxiety over talking to strangers. I printed the photo out to remind myself that I am capable of doing cool things, as long as I let myself do the thing instead of letting other people control my actions.
I will always take the words of people I look up to into consideration, but I know now that I am the ultimate decision-maker in my life. To be truly content, I need to decide for myself what is right. I'll never let others invalidate my feelings. There's still going to be plenty of stress, bad days, and work to be done, but I know that the struggle is worth it—I'll make sure that everything works out in the end.
By Kelly Liu, 18