When I was a baby, my mother wanted me to do well in school, so she taught me to read. I caught onto it quickly. Most of what I remember from my early childhood is Nanay (mom) taking me to the library, where I would borrow tons and tons of books. At the age of six I had picked up a book Nanay had already finished reading, The Anastasia Syndrome and Other Stories by Mary Higgins Clark. They were very interesting stories; the first short story, I remember, was about this historical writer who was separated from her family (and ultimately orphaned) during World War II, and the second story was about this guy who was totally obsessed with a girl from high school. Anyway, all this reading led me to be known as the smartest person in my kindergarten class.
Reading and intelligence wasn’t the only thing I was known for. People liked my handwriting and drawings–I’d been practicing my drawing by copying my dad’s drawings. Then my mom signed me up for the musical theater club after school. We put on an original play (I forgot what it was called) where I danced and sang “I’m a Little Teapot”. Afterwards I became known for singing, dancing, and acting.
In third grade my parents put me in a gifted program in another school. There I found more people like me, and naturally there was more competition. I remember in fourth grade, I was crying once because I was jealous of my best friend, who was smarter than me (I know it’s a petty reason). But I was still known for the things I was known for in my old school. I’d acquired two new talents as well: writing stories and playing the violin. In middle school, however, this started to change. There was even more competition because this wasn’t just a gifted program; it was a highly gifted program. I wasn’t the most popular girl around. I wasn’t hated, but I didn’t find a lot of the popular kids to be people I wanted to be friends with. By seventh grade, I was no longer known as much for the things I was known for in elementary school, except for the violin. More popular kids took my place. And then in eighth grade, even the violin reputation went to arguably the most popular girl, the student council president.
I remember when I was little, I asked Nanay the meaning of ordinary. She told me and as part of an example, she said, “Tatay [dad] and I are ordinary. But you’re not ordinary. You’re special.” Well, now I didn’t feel special anymore. I too had slipped away into a world of ordinary.
Yes, it’s quite clear that I was still known for a few talents, such as drawing and the violin. And as someone advised me, this hadn’t made me any worse at any of my talents. What had happened, though, was that up to this point I had taken the “believe in yourself” phrase with a grain of salt. I was quite spoiled. My self-esteem had been built on this foundation: the praises of others. When the praise subsided, the foundation wasn’t as strong. In the long run, it was a good experience for me, who had grown up being bit of a spoiled Special Snowflake™. I had to use self-affirmation and really work hard at the things I was good at. Frankly, I know this sounds bad, but I was not used to any of this, it was a humiliating moment. I suppose I was at an advantage for the longest time.
I realized that in most cases, this is how it works. You have your big moment and then people start directing their attention to a fresh face who may or may not be better than you. Praise is temporary. Therefore, you have to be careful not to rely on solely that. It needs to come from within. And for me, this was the greatest lesson of all.