Scared To Let Go

May 26, 2024 – Doing what it took to FIT IN


Starting this blog series of thinking about my childhood/adulthood, my ethnic identity, and the person who I have become, I am flooded by many memories I wish to unpack. I’m not going to make rules like… “blog everyday” or force myself into a way of being that is not authentic to me… but I will embark on a story that resonates with me the most, at the time. Today, what inspires me to write is about FEAR.

I don’t have a specific story, per se, but I have many stories that represent the same idea. The first narrative that comes to mind that resonates with me is about my kid and her experience in Grade 4 or 5 and making title pages. In her class, students were required to make title pages for their notebooks (for every subject area and every unit). The making of title pages were relentless and my kid could never get a 10/10.

My kid investigated the 10/10 wall of exemplars hypothesizing how to get 10/10 on one of her title pages. Was it bubble lettering? Was it colouring in circles? Was it using particular colours? Who knew? What she did know is, she never got it despite how hard she tried to achieve this illustrious 10/10. This perceived failure caused her much anxiety, confidence depletion, and doubt. My question is, what did she learn?

I often share this story about my kid and her learning experience with these title pages. Although the teacher made an explicit connection to the curriculum with these title pages, my kid did not understand what she needed to do to get a 10/10. Other students “got it” but she never did. She might have got one 10/10 but getting 10 was something that was mysterious and difficult to achieve. Why the need to comply?

For me, this story captured my attention for many reasons (and for many years). First, I remember my kid in Grade 3 (not so long before) where she questioned why the teacher insisted that she colour the sky blue. She was forced to finish the “turkey drawing” before she was allowed to the the work she wanted to do. In the end, she did neither art project. Honestly, I supported her in that decision. It made sense.

My next thought is, what happened? A couple of years later, my kid was obsessed about doing what other kids were doing. She lost her autonomy and her sense of self or agency to do what best represented her and her thinking. Learning became more about pleasing, achieving, and jumping the hoop to get the grade. I would often share this story to describe the importance of success criteria and formative feedback.

Sadly, it’s more than that. It’s about FITTING IN. This story about the title pages and those damn one-inch boarders was more than compliance and lack of clear success criteria, but more about doing what it takes to FIT IN. As BrenĂ© Brown would say, “fitting in” is the antithesis to “belonging.” Fitting in meant to “giving yourself away” or “betraying yourself” with hopes of “belonging to” something you are not aligned to.

This story weighs heavy on me and takes a full-circle. I cannot believe that this story is telling MY STORY. No wonder it resonates with me deeply. I also find it ironic that I chose the image from my collection of the Ukrainian nesting dolls. I used this image and metaphor for a TedTalk I gave in 2017 titled “ALIGNMENT.” The connection is clear and obvious to me. Fitting in has been an ongoing need and want for me.

I can’t do it anymore and honestly, I don’t get the success criteria to achieve them. I’m tired of giving myself away and betraying who I am. Over time, I lost who I was and now I am relearning it. I remember the extreme feelings of fear of “not getting it right” and getting reprimanded for “making a mistake.” I tried my best not to (or at least hide them) for purposes of fitting in, perceived acceptance, and being seen.


This story resonates with me as a child, adolescent, young adult, and adult. I remember driving into a planter with a rental vehicle a few years ago. I damaged the bumper and I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. I did not know what to say to the rental office. The entire drive I was going through scenarios in my mind and my heart was racing as if I was running a marathon. The anticipation was excruciating.

I had that aching feel-like feeling often throughout my lifetime and in many different circumstances (i.e., dropping glass during a science class during my first year of teaching, workplace interviews, and making an ICBC car claim). All of these examples do not seem on the surface to relate to my ethnicity or upbringing, but in many ways, it does. Don’t make any trouble. Don’t be a burden. Do not bite the hand that feeds you.

This fear factor (witnessed as unusual behaviour), is learned and deeply embedded in my psyche. It guides my decisions and ultimately, I become my own biggest suppressor so that the “true me” cannot be seen (or heard). As a result, I’m hiding. I’m pretending to be someone that I’m not. I am just too scared to show who I really am. Hence, the Ukrainian nesting dolls is an appropriate image for this blog post.

What I learned from the car accident with the rental car is, NOTHING HAPPENS. After driving the car back to the Vancouver Airport and parking the car, I went to the rental car desk and made the claim. I filled out some forms, they assessed the damaged. And they smiled and said that the bill would come by mail. That’s it. No judgement. No yelling. No shaming. That was a huge lesson for me (except for the $800 bill).

It’s hard for me to be seen… truly seen. As a child to adulthood, I have many layers, armour, or shields to protect me. I can let some of myself be seen, but it’s was most likely not 100% of who I was/am. Too worried to be judged, too worried to be hurt, or too worried to be disappointing anyone. There are undertones of being the youngest, being a girl, and being Chinese… all things (and more) I tried to hide or minimize.

One layer at a time is being opened and exposed. One nesting doll after the other, I am finally reaching the true me. The little doll sitting at the centre of all of these layers. Being exposed, hence sharing my stories and the desire to learn more about my history and ethnic identity as a Chinese-Canadian in BC. This pedagogical journey of mine that started well before the pandemic continues onto the next chapter.