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Buying a House

Purchasing a home can be very daunting for many but for good reasons because it can be a huge investment and can cost a million! There are many ups and downs during the process of buying a house. It is analogous to job applications or even college applications -- there are so many potential people to choose from and a limited number of spots; in the housing market, there is only one who is selected in the end.  Some may not have the luxury to buy a house. Some may be too afraid to dive into the housing market. And some may just not have enough information to go on this path. For those who can afford to pay the down payment and the monthly mortgage costs, then it is absolutely worth it to buy a home rather than paying rent. Your costs can significantly decrease if you are able to lease extra bedrooms to potential roommates. For myself, the most important factor of a house is simultaneously the most obvious: the price. I had a limited budget for a given price, I needed to optimize the value of the house. I focused on homes with at least 3 bedrooms and at least 2 bathrooms. I highly recommend avoiding condos because the monthly Homeowners Association (HOA) fees are atrocious and can easily add up to a lot of money. I personally prefer not to buy houses that are too old so I would filter to those that were built after 1950. There are many sites that enable you to customize to your likings such as Redfin, Zillow, Trulia, Realtor, etc. I suggest finding a real estate agent that will help search for houses based on your preferences. Real estate agents also have access to lockboxes, meaning that you are free to visit the house at any time, even late at night; otherwise you will need to wait until weekends during limited hours when there is an open house. My own approach was to research beforehand about 5 houses in roughly the same area and then visit them all in one sitting on a weekday night. If I liked the house, I would visit it again on the weekend to ask any questions and get a sense of the surroundings during the daytime. If everything goes well, I would make an offer to the seller as soon as I can. Buying a house is very time-sensitive because sometimes, whoever makes a good offer first is the one that the seller will choose. I only pay what I am comfortable paying and usually, it is slightly lower than the market price. This can be risky, however, because if it is way too low, the seller would not even consider giving a counteroffer. And this is exactly what happened -- I put in an offer for a house that I really liked -- it was convenient, large, and beautiful -- but nevertheless, the amount was under the listing price. As expected, my offer was not considered, in favor of other buyers that offered more money. A few days later, I was notified that the house was pending! I was devastated, regretting that I did not put in a little more money in. I continued to search for more houses, but could not find another house that sparked my interest. I was on the verge of throwing in the towel when one day, I got an email that the house that I really liked was contingent, did not go through, and was back on the market! I jumped immediately on this opportunity, calling my real estate agent at the time to ask about how much the contingent offer was and ended up winning with a bid for slightly under it. When I think back, I reflected on this event as a stroke of serendipity. I cannot believe that I was able to get a second chance after failing the first time. I learned a valuable lesson from this experience: to embrace life and be grateful when luck is on your side.
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Piano: an Reinvigorated Passion

One day, during my freshman year of high school, as I was walking home from school, I heard some beautiful piano music, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” coming out of a local church. I froze! I reacted! This music was so familiar, yet so tranquil. I suddenly remembered that I had used to be able to play like this. Every segment, every tune, every beautiful note now all resurfaced, floating and singing in rhythm. I did not know that the sound of piano could be so beautiful and soothing. Although I had used to play piano when I was seven years old, it was not long before I quit. My teacher, tired of me playing lifelessly and without effort, had told my mother to not bring me back to her house again—she did not want to teach someone who was completely indifferent to music. Hearing “Ode to Joy” instilled excitement in me as I returned home. The piano keys were dusty, the music books was old and battered, yet the music notes of a classical piece did not change. I played, I played, and I could not stop. I began to have an urge to play the piano again. In my spare time, I relished in the musicality of Mozart and Beethoven. I admired my peers as they played for me, far beyond the few lessons I had. I had begun to develop an understanding and appreciation for music. I gathered my courage to ask my parents for piano lessons, and though they initially refused, I eventually persuaded them to allow me to try again. I am very grateful for my parents who gave me another chance in learning the piano. Playing the piano has positively influenced my life in many ways. Playing piano in public performances, in particular, has given me more confidence. I distinctly remember my first piano recital in front of a relatively large audience. Because I was very nervous, I constantly stumbled in my playing, which was shown by my facial flushing. Even though I had practiced for hours the entire week before, it seemed as if I never played the song before because of my anxiety. However, as I performed at more and more recitals, I slowly overcame my public fear of playing in front of a large audience. My stress also incrementally subsided as I gradually immersed myself in tranquility whenever I played the piano. I am very proud of playing the piano because I have changed from a very timid to a more expressive person, both during as well as outside of piano performances. Had my parents never given me this second chance at piano, my life would be completely different. Because music notes of a classical piece never change, the fundamental composition of beautiful music does not evolve because of time.
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Embracing My Fear of Water

I still remember in my early days when I experienced rain for the first time, with water pouring on my head and drenching my clothes completely. I was cold and scared. I was uncomfortable and absolutely hated getting in contact with water. It was even worse when my parents tried to put me in the shower, because I would whine and burst into tears, hoping to get out the water immediately. Many years later when I turned 10, my parents decided to conquer my fear of water by enrolling me in a local swimming club where I would attend swimming classes every day after school. Becoming immersed in water for hours every day quickly dissipated any lingering fears of water. Instead, I started to embrace the beauty and calming nature of water. I started as a guppy, which was for first-time swimmers. I learned the basics of swimming, such as floating, treading, breathing, kicking. These are core skills that are vital to become proficient in swimming and prevent you from drowning. Floating and treading essentially mean staying on the surface of the water horizontally and vertically, respectively. Proper breathing patterns ensure that you have good rhythm and are getting enough oxygen every time you bring your head above the water. Finally, kicking is important because it is what propels you across the water. Once I mastered these skills, I increased my fish status to a goldfish, where I learned the four strokes: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. My favorite has always been freestyle, which is, in my opinion, relatively easy to learn yet challenging. It is the only stroke that rewards you for not breathing and staying underneath the water because any breathing would only slow you down. In swim competitions, I would take a deep breath and try to get to the end all in one sitting. I also liked breaststroke, because it is quite relaxing and I constantly get to breathe with every stroke. I would say my least favorite strokes are both backstroke and butterfly. For backstroke, I never felt comfortable swimming as fast as possible because I was always afraid I would end up hitting my head against the wall. For butterfly, raising your arms high above the water is painstaking, difficult to execute, and requires a lot of stamina. I am proud to have become a competent swimmer. I think that swimming is a skill that is very important but many people do not know how to do it. It is also an excellent form of exercise. I profoundly remember going through a marathon where we needed to complete 200 laps (one lap was 25 meters) within 2 hours. I was able to accomplish this with about 20 minutes to spare while taking only minimal breaks to drink Gatorade, which helped to temporarily replenish my energy and fatigue. After completing this marathon, I felt light-headed and utterly exhausted that I could barely breathe. To this day, I don’t think I have ever been as tired as this time before. I continued to participate in swimming for about 8 years. I would travel occasionally to go swimming meets, where I would compete against others, primarily in freestyle and breaststroke. Fast forward to today, when I no longer swim on a regular basis, I easily tire out after swimming 10 laps or so. Although I am far from my peak performance in the past, I am nevertheless much faster than the average swimmer and constantly impress others around me. Through my experience with swimming, I learned that some things in life take time to accustom to. It does not come easy, but rather through patience and determination.
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Breaking Free From Glasses

Four eyes. Most millennials growing up in America are aware of this term. For those unfamiliar with this expression, four eyes was a derogatory term aimed specifically for people who wear eyeglasses. I felt insulted whenever people would call me this. I felt like an outcast – as if those who wore glasses deserved poor treatment by default. More mild phrases I would hear include: “Wow, your glasses are so thick!” and “How bad are your eyes?” Wearing glasses ever since elementary school, such phrases resonated and haunted me for most of my life. Upon hearing these remarks, I would often not give a proper answer. Instead, I chose to forget about and ignore this problem because I figured there was nothing I can do to remedy my eyes anyway. To provide some insight on the extremity of my prescription, a severe case of myopia (nearsightedness), in my early 20s, I was -16 in the left eye and -14 in the right eye. I never really knew the primary impetus that triggered my vision to deteriorate quickly over time. Perhaps, it was partly due to genetics, as all the boys on my mother’s side also needed to wear glasses – none of them, however, had prescriptions as extreme as mine. Or it would be reading books in my night vision without the use of lights. Too much time spent staring at the computer screen strained my eyes as well; I often immersed myself with my personal computer ever since I was young and utilized video games as a medium to temporarily escape away from the hardships in my life. For basically my entire life, I have always been struggling to see clearly, even with glasses on. Not only that, I would lack confidence – it is difficult to be confident if I am constantly questioning what is physically in front of me. In school, especially high school and college, I repeatedly struggled to see the board clearly, even if I sat in the front of the classroom. I relied on my peers to share their notes with me, so I could confirm and fix my lecture notes accordingly. On television, I am intermittently shown advertisements for LASIK (commonly known as laser eye surgery). When I was young, it was too complicated for me to understand. As I grew older, upon learning that my high prescription would disqualify me from LASIK, my world became engulfed with despair. I felt hopeless, thinking that I would suffer from poor vision for the rest of my life with little to no chance of recovery. My desolation was particularly apparent in my first two years of college, where I lacked motivation to put effort into academics. I still have flashbacks to the moments where I would perform better in one class versus another simply because one was blackboard-dependent while the other would use electronic slides. Fortunately, while entering my third year of college, I was able to prevent myself from hitting rock bottom by pulling myself together and changing to a major more aligned with my strengths – a more modern teaching style through lecture slides, a more hands-on curriculum through programming exercises, and coursework that was more appealing to my interests. Hitting a peak in optimism in my life in the latter two years of college, upon graduating, I decided to take a leap forward in my life. I began extensively researching if there were any alternatives to LASIK that would be suitable for me. After consulting various eye doctors and casually going for a free LASIK consultation (already knowing that I was not qualified), I was informed of a relatively new procedure called Toric ICL (Implantable Collamer Lens) that was the only procedure possible for my circumstance. I have astigmatism (the toric part), meaning that my eyes are completely spherical; this complicates the process slightly because it means that during the surgery, the lens must be inserted at an angle and poses higher risks. In the U.S., only the non-Toric version is currently available, which meant that I would need to go overseas to undergo the surgery. I put hours and hours of research, studying about Toric ICL, its side effects and possible consequences. I want to emphasize that LASIK is a much safer procedure – Toric ICL is only for extreme cases of myopia; I was shocked to learn that my surgeon only performs roughly 2 patients a month due to the lack of demand. Risks include glacuoma (about 1 out of every 1000 patients), inflammation, night glare, damage of the endothelium, etc. Nevertheless, I was fixated on giving the surgery a try. Fast forward to today, nearly two years later as of this writing, I have recovered from the surgery (It was a success and I recovered in about 2 months!). Overall, I am very satisfied with the surgery. I no longer need to reach for my glasses when waking up in the morning. I do not need to panic when losing my glasses; the difference with and without glasses was stark and analogous to watching a video in 144p vs 1080p. However, I am not yet satisfied with my current state. Although I can indisputably see better than I did pre-surgery, I believe that the lack of confidence for my eyes for the past 20 years has caused some damage to my attentiveness and overall perceptiveness. Recently, I am consistently criticized for keeping my eyes in my backpack, slammed for the inability to focus on what is in front of me. I expect to fully recover as my eyes become accustomed to analyzing and processing information in the world around me. My advice to those who have made it this far and read my story is to persevere. No matter how bleak life may seem in the darkest moments of your life, never give up and keep looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.
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Validation

I was smart. At least I thought I was. I skipped first grade and was the youngest in my class every year. I scored 5’s on all eight of my AP tests; no one in my class matched that. I had every reason to believe that my path to adulthood would pass through one of the top ranked colleges in the country. After all, smart people go to the top ranked colleges. But something unexpected happened. UC Berkeley said I wasn’t smart enough. UCLA also said I was not smart enough. The six Ivy League schools that I applied to also said I wasn’t smart enough. As much as it was emphasized to me that I should shrug off rejections from schools, jobs, and people, it did not change the fact that I was thought of as inadequate. Up to that point of my life, I had been viewed as one thing by my parents, friends, and myself—smart. If I did not get into a top ranked school, then maybe I was not smart. This was the only path that was ever presented to me, and to have fallen off the path was terrifying. I have always weighed other people’s assessments of my abilities more heavily than my own assessments because validation from others felt good. I did not understand my own abilities, nor did I trust myself, so to figure out if I did something correctly, I always had to gauge the reactions of others. “Wow, how did you figure that out?” “Oh my god, you’re so smart!” I liked those comments, but my true problem was not the fact that I liked those comments. It was that I obtained a significant amount of self-worth from those comments. My worth did not come from myself, and neither did it come from confidence in my abilities. There was another path to this validation I so desperately sought, which was to attend community college and transfer to UC Berkeley. I was embarrassed to update friends and teachers that I went to Skyline Community College. In fact, my high school friends and I had often joked to each other about going to Skyline when we made silly mistakes on assignments, with the implication that unintelligent people attend community college. My attitude shifted as I attended the community college. On one hand, it had to shift, or else I would have gone crazy thinking how I deserved to be somewhere else. This kind of self-induced psychological torment would have done me no good. On the other hand, I began letting go of any expectations and decided to do what I wanted without the goal of obtaining the approval of someone or something. I had already “failed” and there was no way I could continue disappointing others. This meant the only person I could disappoint now was myself. I was not going to let that happen, and this drove me to work hard. My goals changed from “how can I get others to recognize my efforts” to “I will put in the effort until I feel satisfied with myself.” Oddly enough to me, the friends I made at Skyline never once thought of me as a failure. Everyone there was supportive. Their support did not come in the form of helping me reconcile how I did not get into the school I wanted. Their support came from accepting me for who I was: talents, flaws, and all else. They understood certain paths may curve differently than others, but it doesn’t make those paths any less valuable. Likewise, it was obvious that my friends were no less intelligent and no less hardworking than I was. I was the stupid one for thinking that people fell into broad, arbitrarily contrived categories. I ultimately transferred to UC Berkeley. But when I saw the acceptance letter, I did not feel the least bit good about it. I felt like this was simply a byproduct of the work that I had put in during the two years at Skyline, and that the natural consequence was an acceptance to a great school. I received a different kind of validation from this acceptance. This was validation that my hard work and belief in my own abilities is the right attitude to carry with me. My self-confidence no longer came from others; it finally came from within. When the results of my efforts had hit a dry spell, the external validation I thirsted for no longer came, and I was left desiccated because I did not have any faith in myself. But my experiences since college and beyond have proven to me that just because I did not obtain the results I wanted does not mean I was a failure. Instead, I should remain confident in myself and find other ways to achieve my goals. Now that I understand myself more completely and believe in myself, I feel as though I can accomplish anything, which opens up many things that previously I would not have dared tried. Previously, in attempting something new, I would have had to ask someone else if they thought I was good enough to succeed. But to not attempt something because of a fear of failure is itself the biggest failure.