Location: Lover’s Key Beach, Fort Myers, Florida
I stood backwards at the water’s edge and watched as the waves rolled past me onto the shore.
It was the tail end of the day trip my sister and I were taking. We’d decided to spend the entire day out, first around the neighborhood we were staying in, and then at one of the beaches that was a little further away. The sky had been bright blue when we’d arrived. Now, the sun was starting to drop, creating a faint yellow glow right above the ocean.
The scene around me was one of breathtaking beauty, and earlier in the day my sister had finally been able to see Florida from my perspective — how vibrant all the colors were, how the sand crunched under your feet like powdered sugar, the noise the waves made when they crashed onto the shore, the clouds that were so fluffy that they look like someone painted them. She hadn’t been able to really appreciate nature or architecture before. Seeing her taking everything in made me both proud and excited at the same time.
I began to walk along the water, keeping my eyes on the glowing sun. My head was spinning with thoughts, the primary one being this is what I’m living for. Nothing made me happier than recognizing beauty, capturing it, and then showing it to the rest of the world.
I realized then that I wanted to spend the rest of my life being a conductor for beauty and excellence. I want to share thoughts, ideas and art, and enable others to do the same. Career-wise, relationship-wise, life-wise.
I used to be embarrassed about how much I valued creativity and aesthetic beauty, thinking that they were irrational and frivolous. I didn’t want to believe this ever again.
I tried to kill my inner artist
Artistic expression was my first love. According to my mom, I was speaking eloquently before I even took my first steps. At six months, I conversed in full sentences. At two years, I could recite the hundreds of ancient Chinese poems that were taught to me by my grandfather on our daily walks.
All throughout elementary and middle school, my room was filled to the brim with notebooks, journals, and art projects that I’d started on a whim. The pages were filled with drawings, short stories, and observations. There was nothing I liked more than cracking open a blank book and filling it with ideas until it grew to have a personality of its own, or sitting down with a bunch of raw materials until the object in my head existed in real life.
My love affair with the visual arts was all-consuming, leaving me little to no time (or interest) in making friends or keeping my grades above average. I found excuses to read in the library during recess and only handed in projects when I absolutely had to. To me, the tradeoff was a no-brainer: I could either go outside into the cold Pennsylvania air and play tag for the millionth time, or get lost in worlds I could never visit in real life. I could either finish that short story that had been circling around in my mind for ages or force myself to do the hundred trig problems that had been assigned. Was there even a question as to what I would choose?
Sadly, this was a real problem to those around me. I was too spacey, too in my head, too antisocial. My math grades were especially low because I didn’t pay attention in class. To my teachers, I was the stubborn, outspoken student who had concerningly few friends and too much “wasted potential”.  To my mother, I was the problem child who she couldn’t figure out. To the other kids, I was the weirdo who read during lunch and wore too many T-shirts with cats on them.
It seemed that adults were unhappy with me all the time — or worse, that they assumed I had no direction and wasn’t going to amount to anything in life. That got to me, pissed me off, and lit a fire under my ass like no other. I despised the way they looked me up and down like I was a defective piece of merchandise, or how they talked about me in hushed, concerned tones to my parents.
I decided it was time for all of the bullshit (read: my lack of friends and mediocre grades) to stop, and identified my love for reading, writing, and drawing as the root of the problem. In high school, I broke up with art. I put away the journals. My books gathered dust on the shelf. I got on social media, started taking my classes a bit more seriously, and pretended to enjoy myself at those dark, sweaty school dances. I still mostly skated through academics, but the criticism largely stopped.
That’s an oversimplified account of what happened — there was also a lot of other stuff going on — but suffice to say that by the time I entered the realm of higher education, I had effectively killed my inner artist.
The wrong way to be successful
In college, I got my shit together and started making significant use of the potential that my old teachers had talked about so much. I declared economics and computer science to be my two majors and challenged myself to master the material, pulling ridiculous hours to study my ass off. I became obsessed with mindset and self-improvement.
I may have broken up with art, but in reality, it had never left me. My creativity found ways to seep through the cracks, and when I look carefully, I see it everywhere — in the dresses I bought and altered throughout my four years of college, in my big, bubbly handwriting (yes, I’m one of those people who use large circles to dot their lowercase i’s), in the Miami Vice-inspired color scheme of my code editor, in the composition of my photos, in my technical cartoons, in my photography, in the fact that I have three blogs and somehow find the passion to contribute to them every single day.
I’d tried to kill my inner artist, but it had just gone into hiding and made subconscious contributions to my life whenever it could.
No more of that bullshit ever again
Fuck, I thought as I walked back to where my sister was sitting on the beach. The sun reached the horizon and then seemingly dipped into the water, leaving behind a violet sky and light blue water that seemed to glow in the absence of a single source of light.
“What?” she asked, noticing my expression, but I simply shook my head. It was a lot to process (and honestly, I’m still in the midst of doing that now).
I tried to kill my inner artist, but luckily for me, it didn’t die and holds no grudge against me for my previous cruel intentions. Now, the hard part is figuring out a way to integrate my love of beauty and excellence into all parts of my life, including my career and my relationships. It’s definitely possible to be both organized and creative, attentive and artistic, competent and spacey all at once. I just need to figure out how.
The sky was dark purple when we turned our backs on the ocean and crossed the bridge back into civilization. I’d gone onto the beach confused and at a loss about what to do with my life; I’d come off of it an artist. It would be an intense road ahead — but it felt exciting, not burdensome.
My new life had begun. ♚
Note: This article is part of my January 2019 One Month Project, where I will be traveling around coastal Florida and publishing an essay a day about my experiences there. I’m excited to bring you along on this adventure!
 If I had a dollar for every time the word “potential” came up in a report card from K-12, I could buy myself a real nice drink right now.