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ANDY LAU

Cal Poly SLO, Student

After changing his major from business to computer science, Andy has been ambitiously pursuing his tech career in Silicon Valley. While he loves working for startups and coding various apps, Andy enjoys letting go a little and partying the night before exams (leading him to actually fail Physics III).

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"It is pretty common to hear people talk about how they don’t have their shit together. I’m so screwed for the midterm. I don’t know how I’m going to survive this week… Am I ugly? These cries of self-deprecation are readily remedied with words of reassurance and encouragement. While this mentality of self-doubt may seem toxic, I can assure you that the grass can be even more toxic on the other side.

Throughout my life, I was always on the opposite end of the extreme — a person who had too much pride in being secure and self-sufficient. Growing up, my mom believed it was imperative that my sister and I become comfortable dealing with tough situations. There’s this phrase in Cantonese she’d use that reflected this idea, 你要吃苦 (nay yiu sik fu), which literally translate to you gotta eat bitter, or as I like to word it, you gotta eat sh*t. What this saying meant was that in order to elicit growth, you had to endure hardships. While there is no denying that I still was raised with a silver spoon pretty far up my ass, I found great reassurance in my ability to adapt from the overseas sh*t eating adventures my mom put my sister and I through. From the time we got stuck in a remote village in China during a typhoon when I was eight, to the summer I spent living in a decrepit dorm with my cockroach buddies in Shanghai in my early teens, I came to believe that I was resilient enough to handle anything life threw at me. It wasn’t until life scoffed at my arrogance and knocked me down a few levels that l realized my greatest strength was the main contributor to my biggest failure.

Following my sophomore year summer internship, I quickly learned I spent two years studying something I had zero interest in (jesum crow why was I studying accounting?!). My gut told me I was selling myself short. I realized I wanted more freedom in my work. I was in dire need of a creative outlet. So, at the beginning of junior year, I went to talk to my adviser, Jamey, about switching into my school's Computer Science program. Initially, she was hesitant to approve my decision. She warned me about the difficulty of the courses, how impacted the program was, the extended timeline of my graduation, and the grades I needed to attain to be admitted. She wanted to be sure I understood what I was getting myself into. In spite of all this, I was adamant on switching and she agreed to sign the contract (Bless your soul Jamey).

While those initial quarters of the Computer Science curriculum absolutely wrecked me, junior year wasn’t just about the struggles of changing majors — it was about other events happening in my life as well. While I’m not going to delve too much into my personal life for a bunch of strangers to read, my intention is to emphasize the topic of mental health and the importance of having a group of friends you can rely on.

There’s the gender norm that men aren’t supposed to show emotion or that grown men don’t cry. For the longest time, I ascribed to this idea. As I eased into this rigorous new curriculum, I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to get the grades I needed to switch. Consequently, I was more stressed than I had ever been in my life. While school did its toll on me, something came out of left field that rattled me in such a way that I had no idea how to deal with it. That October, one my biggest inspirations, a skateboarder I looked up to growing up, lost his battle to leukemia. For months, there were instances where I kept myself from crying by telling myself how ridiculous it was to be rocked this hard by the passing of someone I didn’t personally know. I pent up these feeling because I thought they were irrational; crying about it wasn’t the masculine thing to do. I never gave myself a chance to fully grieve. I swallowed those tears. To compound the distress further, family issues continued to escalate back home, cranking up the fire on the pressure cooker that was my mind. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my significant other, about how awful I felt out of the fear of how I’d be perceived.

As I was in denial that some wild shit was bubbling in my head, these emotions that I shoved deep into my conscious began to push back. It began to take its toll on me. There’s that saying that goes, 'Your perception is your reality.' That saying could not be more false in my scenario. I thought I could deny that these emotions existed until they disappeared; I’ll tell you now, that sh*t does’t work. As I continued to refused to acknowledge this rancid stew brewing in the back of my mind, I couldn’t put my finger on why I kept getting episodes of sleep paralysis or why I felt this immense weight on my shoulders as I tried to keep up this facade of composure. Throughout my life I was always able to figure my way out any situation, but this was different. I felt the walls closing in with no escape route in sight. As the year progressed further, I felt more and more unlike myself as this negativity slowly permeated into the fabric of my character. There were times at night where I asked myself, 'where did I go?' Even though I eventually succeeded in getting the grades I needed to switch majors, there was already major damage (pun hella intended) done to my psyche.

It wasn’t until the lid violently blew off the pot that I realized in retrospect how bad of a place I was mentally. That summer, as family issues reached a breaking point and my relationship failed, life delivered me a knockout punch straight to the dome à la Mike Tyson. As I lay there sprawled on the floor at the most vulnerable period in my life, somewhere in my thick skull, I finally realized I couldn’t handle this on my own. It was at that point where I did what I personally consider one of the most difficult things in my life: opening up to my closest friends about my personal issues.

Throughout that period when my friends helped me pick up the pieces, something strange happened; I gradually began to feel better than I ever have. For the longest time, I thought I could handle anything, but lo and behold, I am now not ashamed to admit that I needed help. At the end of the day, your image doesn’t mean sh*t and your ego only gets in the way of enjoying life. Be mindful of the source of your emotions and understand the purpose behind your actions. Living life worrying about how people perceive you is pointless; when you dictate how you live based off externalities, you are only being dishonest with yourself. Be human, be resilient, and be open. Remember that when life slugs you in the face, know that you can turn to the people in your corner to help pick you up. With their support, you’ll come to realize that life is pretty damn sick."