On Turning 23

Sunday, March 7, 2021

11:00pm– Hey, folks! I am one short hour away from turning 23. So here are some final thoughts as I leave 22 behind, and enter the third year of my second decade of life.

As someone who struggles with a chronic case of low self-esteem, I often rely on external validation as a means of affirming my worth, as I am, for some reason, unable to do so on my own. What a sad thing it is, to go about life this way; pursuing excellence and achievement, all the while glancing behind your shoulder to see who’s watching. People like me aggressively flaunt our achievements and talents on social media for the world to see. When meeting someone new, we strive to impress, rather than connect. We conflate who we are with what we do, and our stock response to the question, “tell me about yourself”, is a well-rehearsed, carefully scripted recitation of our resumé. We scorn imperfection, even though imperfection is part of the human condition. To admit weakness is to embrace humanity. But being human is lame. We were destined for more.

The spotlight effect: a psychological phenomenon in which you believe that people are hyper-focused on you, scrutinizing your every move, watching for mistakes, blunders, faux pas, faults. You feel the need to be “on”, all the time. As if life is a performance. Well I hate to break it to you honey, but you’re not that important. You may be the protagonist of your own life, but you’re only a supporting role in others’. So get over yourself. Let go of your ego, your God complex, and your delusion of self-import, and just live your life the way you want to. Like actually LIVE it, without worrying about what your imaginary audience may think. Pursue excellence not to grovel for praise from other people, and certainly not to post about in on social media. Work from a place of intrinsic motivation, a genuine interest and desire to make a positive contribution to the world, without feeling the need to showcase all you achieve. Purify your intentions, and do what you do because you love it and it makes you happy, not because you think it will win you brownie points from other people. If it does, then great. If it doesn’t– well, whatever. Who the hell cares? You shouldn’t live for other people’s approval. Besides, nobody likes a braggart, narcissist, or validation-whore. And at the end of the day, there is more to life than work. You are not a sum total of your achievements, and your worth is not contingent on what you do. Start chipping away at that delusion.

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.”

These are the lyrics to Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. Free your mind from the need to derive worth from others’ opinions. Wean yourself from the teat of external validation. Validation seeking behavior is a prison and a poison. In giving others so much power over your well-being, you are stripping yourself of positive liberty– the freedom to think, feel, and act for yourself. Validation-seeking gives rise to a host of diseases– perfectionism, people-pleasing, insecurity. It’s a sign of desperation, disempowerment, low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence. It’s sad. And I am so guilty of this.

Sometimes, a little dose of brutal honesty can free you from delusion. So here it is, now:


Besides close friends and family, nobody cares about you or your big-shot alma mater, perfect GPA, gilded degree titles, lengthy resumé, six-figure salary, fancy zip code, or any other societally-constructed measure of “success”. Remember: it is human nature to be egocentric. You may think that think the world revolves around you, but it doesn’t, because everyone else is thinking the same thing about themselves. I applaud those who defy this norm; those who are able to humble themselves, turn the lens outward, and have a life purpose that extends beyond fishing for compliments, posing in front of a camera, or fabricating a polished image that belies deep-seated insecurity and self-hatred. Be more like that.

12:00am– I’m officially 23! Glad to have made it this far!

This year, I resolve to reclaim power and agency over my internal life. Foster self-love that is independent of what I do, or what others think of me. I will try to find things about myself that I like– my personality, values, physical attributes– qualities that are unrelated to my academic, extracurricular, or work performance.

**Inner hype-woman talking:

Belicia, you’re 23 now. Still a baby with a whole lotta life ahead to live. You’ll be stuck with yourself for the long haul… so why not learn to love yourself? Embrace yourself in all the good and bad. Relinquish fear of imperfection. Quiet the inner critic. Be your own best friend and advocate. You’re strong, determined, sensitive, compassionate, smart, talented, kind, and beautiful. You don’t have to wait for others to tell you those things. I hereby grant you, Belicia Tang, permission to repeat those words aloud to yourself, and to start believing them. wholeheartedly.

With love,

Your newly 23-year-old Self

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