An older sister’s lesson: Self-love matters most

February 8, 2018 — by Kaitlyn Wang

Content to be the third wheel (as long as I had food), I listened to my sister, who is 11 years my senior, and her friend chat as we shared too much ice cream far too late into the night. Laughing, they discussed school, jobs and eventually relationships.

“Have you been seeing anyone lately?” my sister asked.

Her friend admitted that she had a while back: someone who was insecure about “everything,” including his weight and voice.

“Maybe he used to be fat before losing weight and he’s still self-conscious about his weight,” my sister said. “Maybe he’s insecure about his voice because his parents wanted a girl.”

Surprised, I assumed that their conversation would morph into a gossip session. But my sister started down a different fork in the road — toward empathy.

I realized that my sister could consider his possible experiences almost immediately because she knows what it’s like to feel insecure. She knows that unpleasant memories can shape how people view themselves, and she understands that sometimes people strive for change but cannot shake off the past.

When I think of self-love, I think of my sister. She stands up for herself. She refuses to allow other people to tell her what to do or how to act, and most importantly, she does not let others’ opinions affect her own view of herself.

This wasn’t always the case. Not many people fall in self-love at first sight.

When she was 8, my sister only spoke Mandarin and moved from Hefei, China, to join my parents in Chicago. There she was the only Asian American student in her elementary school. She faced ridicule for not being able to speak English and for coming from a poor immigrant family.

I remember her describing the humiliation of not knowing that she couldn’t write in a library book and getting yelled at in front of the class, even though she could not understand what the teacher was shouting. She struggled to communicate and fit in, grappling with loneliness, homesickness and assimilation.

But gradually, she developed confidence in speaking, particularly from her participation in her high school’s speech and debate team. My sister, who could not say a single English word when she first immigrated, learned to crush opponents in state tournaments. She remembers not using her full voice before when she spoke to people, but speech and debate forced her to jump into her fear of public speaking.

Of course, her nervousness did not completely fade away. But by stepping under the spotlight over and over and speaking up even when her body screamed at her not to, by devoting herself to a passion, she learned to be assertive. Years later, she says that speech and debate still helps her interact with other people.

Now, she is an aspiring surgeon at UCSF. Although people tell her that surgery is a difficult, tiring profession that is prone to lawsuits, she finds it rewarding. She wants to directly help patients instead of merely hoping that treatments will be effective. She wants to provide opportunities to heal to people who have no other alternative. After struggling with doubt from herself and from others, she is working toward her goals without hesitation.

I want to do the same. I want to be a little selfish and commit to my own dreams. Most importantly, I want to let go of the memories that evoke shame or embarrassment or doubt — to accept what happened and to forge ahead toward what is yet to come.

To overcome my tendency to silence myself, I hope to practice expressing myself through slam poetry while connecting with writers, performers and artists. Taking small strides at a time like my sister, I strive to follow her advice, tackling the aspects of myself that I want to change by pursuing what I love.

As Valentine’s Day comes and goes, I hope you’ll take a moment to ask yourself: How deep is your self-love? If it is shallow, translucent and barely there, know that it will take time and patience and plenty of forgiveness to develop. When people try to push you around, push back. Stand up. Speak up. And as my sister says, know that you are enough.