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Youth: Pluses and Minuses

March 2007
Youth: Pluses and Minuses

Was that improvisation?" one parent supposedly asked my violin teacher after my performance. You see, my other big talent lies in improvisation.

Last May, at our studio's annual solo violin recital, I played Fritz Kreisler's Praeludium and Allegro with a slight twist. I threw in a bit of improvisation in the middle of the prelude. The truth is, I actually made a major gaffe and desperately threw in a couple of random notes to try and cover it all up. I disguised it so well that people thought I had improvised an entire section.

After watching the video of my disastrous violin performance, I wept. I didn't mess up the hard sections of the piece. I stumbled over the easy parts, the parts that I never made mistakes on. The truth is was that I just hadn't practiced enough. So my fingers gave me away that day. I didn't stand out.

This past year has taught me an important lesson in confronting failure and realizing that I can't always be successful.

My sophomore year started with a bang—the first pop quiz of trigonometry and pre-calculus. My grade: 6 out of 18, a whopping 33.3 percent. It was only the first week of school this year, and I was already failing math. The quiz was on sine and cosine relationships, which I'd supposedly learned in eighth grade. Simple enough. But as usual, I over-analyzed the problems. After writing my answers, I felt incredibly smart, thinking that I had figured out the trick my teacher was trying to pull. When I got my paper back, the red marks on my paper were a definite sine that I wasn't all that smart and that I was quite off tangent in the analysis of my skills. My grade dropped straight to a C-minus, and I went through a semester-long journey going after an A. Eventually, I did get there though. I believe that my failure is what drove me to go doggedly after the grade I wanted.

I realized that I just couldn't be complacent anymore in school. Things weren't just going to fall into place that easily.

How does one keep a straight face and move on after a slip-up? I've learned over these last few months that getting back on track after a mistake is one heck of a life lesson in itself.

The Winter Olympics at Torino came at a timely point this year and taught me a few things. After skating a perfect short program that put her in the lead, American figure skater Sasha Cohen took two disastrous falls at the very start of her long program. But she didn't let her mistakes faze her, and she performed the rest of her program flawlessly. Despite her stumbles and the tough competition, she went on to win the silver.

Like Sasha, I'm learning that it's not all about the errors you make. One misstep doesn't make or break a program, and you just can't let it get to you. I've fallen and picked myself up again and again during my one-year foray with speech tournaments. After a satisfying experience as a novice last year, I expected to do at least as well this year, if not better. Instead, I didn't place in the finals at any of the tournaments that I attended. I didn't even make semi-finals until the second-to-last tournament of the year. The entire season was a washout for me, but that didn't stop me from showing up at every meet that I could possibly make. My self-esteem hit rock bottom. But if you're wondering if I am going back next year in the same event, you bet I am.

As I gear up for my junior year of high school, I'm realizing that the flops and busts of the last year have done me a lot of good. Without an occasional fiasco, I'd sail through life thinking I was the cat's whiskers. Without a few sour lemons, I'd forget that success is almost always the byproduct of long hours, talent, great timing and that pinch of luck.

In high school, everyone is trying to do everything. All the kids, including yours truly, want success at any cost, and sometimes we want it without doing the work or without waiting it out patiently.

The recent scandal over Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan and her book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life has left me wondering about this pressure to succeed. I don't excuse her for her plagiarism in any way, but I feel sorry for her. The princess who was fussed over and made out to be more than what she was has now been tossed to the ground like she was a rag doll. Should success come so easily, so quickly, so grandly? I think not.

Where's the lesson then? Take my DMV experience. I'll venture to say that the entire Los Gatos DMV staff knows me by name, thanks to the numerous times that I've stepped into that office. If I had only passed that darned permit test the first time. Everybody I talked to said that the written test was a breeze and that I shouldn't bother studying. I took their advice. Let's just say that I now warn people to actually open the DMV rulebook before taking the test. While I felt incredibly stupid after missing 14 questions on the written test, I also learned that luck does indeed play a part in success. But, like me, if you happen to lack such fortune, you get stuck trying to answer every question about blood alcohol concentration that you, ahem, forgot to study. See how I've even begun to celebrate my failures with a large dose of humor?

Like my violin teacher told me the other day, if my mistakes lead to a little improvisation ? well, so be it. Perhaps I'll discover a talent I never knew I had.


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