When I was in seventh grade, I watched ABC Family’s “Make It Or Break It” and became obsessed with gymnastics. I was convinced that I could be the next Nastia Liukin or Shawn Johnson — all I needed to do was have a few lessons and I would totally be up to speed with the tiny, muscular, elite athletes who had been doing back handsprings since they could crawl. I was also already about 5’4” and going through my chubby phase — just imagine a pudgy Asian girl telling her friends she was going to be an Olympic gymnast.
It suffices to say that it was a pipe dream. One that ended the second my mom bought me a Groupon deal for beginner gymnastics lessons — when I went, I found that I was a giant among a group of 4-foot-tall second graders who were doing cartwheels around me.
In hindsight, I should have known that if my elite gymnastics career started from a digital coupon website, I was not going to go to the Olympics anytime soon. But I was so embarrassed of how old and tall and behind I was compared to everyone else that I quit my dream of even trying to learn the sport. Even if I never had a chance in hell of making it to any competitive level, it would have been cool to be able to do a handspring or even a nice cartwheel.
But there’s a pattern to my dreams: I would watch something and then aspire to be a part of it but never actually take the steps to do it.
The year after my love affair with gymnastics simmered down, I watched a traveling tour of “Wicked” in Los Angeles, which happened around the same time the cult show (that had a very niche audience but that was still canceled too soon) “Smash” premiered. And thus, I fell down a Broadway hole. I read tell-all books from Broadway stars, I familiarized myself with the classics — “Rent,” “Les Miserables,” “Chicago”— and I sang “Defying Gravity” way too many times in the shower, pretending that I was hitting the high note at the end every time
The only thing I didn’t do? Actually try out for my school’s theater productions.
I was a basic Broadway bitch by the time high school came around. Yet every time auditions season arrived, I chickened out. I kept convincing myself that I didn’t have any acting talent and I would never get cast, so why even try?
I really should have realized that no one in my high school was an actual trained thespian. It wasn’t like the drama department was packed with budding Timothée Chalamets who prevented everyone else from getting cast. But again, my fear of failure stopped me from pursuing my passion.
But it’s funny — while I regret never trying theater in high school, I don’t regret never continuing my gymnastics lessons. Both dreams were unrealistically high — it was pretty slim-to-none chances that I would become an Olympic gymnast or Broadway star — but one I never cared about pursuing and, if anything, regret trying to pursue to begin with. (Those few Groupon lessons were painfully embarrassing.) So how are we supposed to know which dreams to pursue?
When I was in kindergarten, we were told to write on a notecard what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I confidently wrote down that I wanted to be a mermaid. I wanted to be a different biological creature that didn’t even exist. If anything, Olympic athlete and Broadway actress were within reach compared to that. I’ve always dreamed big, to varying amounts of success, and regretted not following up on it. And I think it comes down to whether your dreams stem from your success in something or just from your passion for it.
When it comes to gymnastics, it was Olympics or nothing for me. I didn’t care about mastering a back handspring; I wanted to perfect a whole floor routine. My dream was weighted by the accomplishments that came with the sport, not the sport itself. With Broadway, however, I loved all forms of theater and wouldn’t have cared if I was performing at the Gershwin or at a community center. That’s why I regret not taking a minute out of my day to sing a show tune in front of my school’s drama teacher, but I don’t care about the fact that I still look like a drunk person when attempting a cartwheel.
When we’re kids, we’re told to dream big. When we grow up, we’re told to dream with practicality. But I think it’s also important to figure out where your dreams lie — do you have a passion for it or just a desire for success?