In The Media

5 Fears, 1 Term

By Cindy Wei • Schulich Leader at University of Waterloo
Winter 2018/2019

You have undoubtedly heard of the phrase “do one thing a day that scares you.” In my experience, this phrase has been helpful in exposing me to stressful events that make me a better person. Working through them, and eventually overcoming them, was uncomfortable in a manageable way. I entered into my 3B term with so much enthusiasm. Too much! It was the last three months of a superb 2018, which started with a trip to Cambodia (my life dream!), five months of studying abroad in Australia, and a month of research in Prince Edward Island. I was thrilled to be back in Waterloo, and really excited to incorporate new things into my life - a number of which were certainly fear-inducing. Here’s what scared me, and what happened.

  1. Research. I dabbled in research throughout the summer, doing simple tasks like filling out forms and data entry. This term, I was introduced into the Nutrition and Aging Lab led by Dr. Heather Keller, a team where I was the only undergraduate student. I enjoyed attending meetings and learning about what the more experienced students and researchers were doing. My highlight of the term was going to a taste testing (our research is aimed at developing nutritious food for older adults in long-term care), where the team sampled and ranked twenty different dishes. Since I liked my research experience so much, I decided to do my undergraduate thesis next year. I was even offered an 8-month co-op job in research, which I was happy to accept.
  2. Real public speaking. I say “real” because I’ve done public speaking before, notably speech competitions in high school. This term, I was fortunate to get a job as a recreation and wellness ambassador, which gave me the opportunity to speak in front of full lecture halls. During the first weeks of school, I delivered a number of ten-minute talks (unlike high school, no speech cards!) to around 600 students each. Microphone and everything! It was terrifying at first to see a thousand eyes on me, and I was anxious about making mistakes, but the speeches turned out just as I’d practiced. Even though I occasionally forgot lines here and there, I found out that it felt awesome to speak with a mic in front of other students. Maybe if I become a professor one day, I will remember these moments from my fourth year.
  3. Aerial performance. I’ve been practicing aerial for a few years, but I have never performed in front of an audience. It’s been on my bucket list for ages, but every time aerial performance opportunities arise, I dip out because of midterms or finals. The timing never seems to be right! This time, as soon as application forms were posted, I entered my info and submitted a request to perform. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Ten months ago, my sister and I were surprised with tickets to KURIOS by Cirque du Soleil, and over that span of ten months, I fell in love with one particular aerial straps routine, which was paired with haunting music and incredible vocalization. I “borrowed” some of the tricks from that routine, which I transferred to the aerial silks. I picked out a red leotard to match the costumes of the original Cirque artists. I learned to dance in the air to the waltz-like beat of Créature de Siam. My sister and I spent hours planning and practicing theatrical hair and makeup, even DIYing gold rhinestones to stick on my neck and chin. I rehearsed my routine for months, but on showcase day, could not maneuver the silks to perform my final drop. I was really devastated, and I couldn’t sleep that night, because I didn’t get to show the crowd my last stunt, which was my favourite spin and drop. However, it was so exhilarating to be in the air, and watch audiences clap and cheer when you arrive in different poses. I loved performing so much that I signed up for an aerial hoop competition in March, and have started chipping away at creating a new costume, choreography, and music. The best part? I shot direct messages on Instagram to the original Créature de Siam aerialists and singers of Cirque du Soleil, telling them about their role in inspiring my performance, and I even sent photos of my routine. All of them responded! So, that made my whole life.
  4. Joining varsity skating. I skated throughout high school but left my beloved blades in the closet once I moved to Waterloo for university. For a long time, I’d been contemplating the idea of going back to skating, even though it’s been years. I always talked myself out of it, saying that my jumps are trash, the rink is too cold, and that skating is too expensive/time-consuming. Early this term, I am not sure what possessed me to bring my skates to Waterloo and attend the figure skating auditions. I was pretty rusty on the ice, so I was thrilled to be offered a spot on the team. Even though our mandatory practices are twice a week at 6:30 AM, it’s so special to be on a team with an excellent coach, captains, and supportive friends. This helped me meet girls from different programs across UW, and we had the opportunity of performing at a gala in November, where I performed an ice dance number with my friend Chloé. Looking ahead - next term, we are competing in two provincial competitions!
  5. Teaching a yoga class. I’ve done tiny yoga-related things here and there, often with small classes or unique populations like the elderly (wheelchair yoga) and children with autism (animal yoga). This term, I was invited to teach my own yoga class for students. I was nervous leading up to it, because over 150 on Facebook indicated that they were interested, with over fifty clicking “going”. Fortunately, not all fifty showed up, but I still had a sizeable class to lead for one hour. During that hour, I found myself having so much fun and learning a lot about the diversity and limitations of different bodies. In the future, I will try to look for more opportunities to teach de-stress yoga classes to fellow students.

Also, I got a haircut! Now my hair is short.

Anyways, I learned this term that fear is mostly my friend, and to keep worst case scenarios in mind. Most of the time, the worst case scenario isn’t even bad. I discovered that for myself, fear makes me do what’s best for me, because it makes me go out of my comfort zone. Neuroscientist Daniela Schiller summarizes it beautifully: “avoidance is the natural response to fear - but it’s not the one that works”.