How a Chinese Word Changed My Life
Four years ago, I decided I wanted to learn Chinese. Working in the entertainment industry, I saw a considerable amount of activity coming in from China and thought it might be beneficial to try and pick up a little Mandarin. Los Angeles is a competitive town, one where it behooves you to be as skilled as possible and knowing Mandarin seemed like an intriguing niche.
The truth is, I gave learning Chinese the college try because I had trouble getting into college, well, grad school. I received a 147 on the LSAT, the Law School Admission Test. I followed that up a year later with a 530 on the GMAT, the Graduate Management Admissions Test. Both results were the equivalent of failing, falling in the 33rd percentile.
Today, I am an HSK Level 3 Chinese speaker. To accomplish this, I needed to pass a test completely in Chinese — writing, listening, and reading about 650 Chinese words. It seems I couldn’t pass an admission test but I could speak Chinese.
What my HSK test results taught me was about more than Chinese, it taught me the lesson that life isn’t conventional. What makes you different can cause you to fail spectacularly in some areas while presenting you a path to pursue uniqueness in another. A number of tests might tell you you’re incompetent, while one can signal that you are unique. A couple of dozen people can ignore in a given moment, while one person can fall in love with you for a lifetime.
Life isn’t always about passing a test, sometimes it’s about teaching yourself a new language.
People will come and go — learning what makes them appreciate you are not nearly as important as realizing what you appreciate about yourself, what is precious about you, according to you.
I recently published a novel called “Bao,” Bao is a Chinese word that translates to “precious” or “treasure” and is written as 宝 in Simplified Chinese. I didn’t know the meaning of the word Bao when I first came across the word, but like many Chinese characters, I saw a unique story in it. It looked like a person to me, well, almost. It looked kind of like a robot. “Bao” is a fictional story of a humanoid robot that looks like a white man except he only speaks Chinese. Bao is precious not simply by his name but by what he and his creator—the lead character—come to discover about the world that had sent him into a similar conflict that I had felt after failing a couple of tests.
My assumption is there are quite a few people in the world right now who might speak the same language as those around them but who still feel like foreigners. There are many people who don’t feel precious, they feel anxious, overwhelmed, lost, or just overall dis-connected to where it might be affecting their physical and mental health. I assume this because it happened to me. My thoughts became so caught up in trying to find the meaning behind my actions, likely because our culture does a very powerful job of measuring what you’re doing as compared to others, that I lost sight of what was meaningful to me.
I lost track of what I found to be precious.
I took two tests to get into grad school because I thought I was supposed to, I thought that might have some meaning, after all, it had for others. I failed, which helped make me feel more anxious and disconnected.
I took a test to prove I could be fluent in Chinese because I wanted to. I passed and found something full of meaning to me: the ability to better understand what I was capable of and gifting myself the freedom of knowledge. Today, I have a vibrant career because I failed two tests and learned why I wanted to pass another. My career has little to do with speaking Chinese, but it has everything to do with making and promoting unique discoveries.
(I ended up taking the LSAT a second time about six years after my first try. I received a 147, again. I also aced the writing section of the GMAT, but that portion of the test, for whatever reason, isn’t reflected in the overall score.)
What was precious to me went far beyond learning the Chinese language. It was the realization that just being able to make an impact in my world is a gift. Deciding to better understand who I was and why I was thinking as I did ultimately allowed me to feel better. Choosing to appreciate as opposed to comparing myself to those portraying the conventional depictions of success made me feel less anxiety; it made me feel more complete. It made me feel precious, not to anyone other than myself.
My hope is that this sentiment connects with someone who may not have a lot of people in their world to remind them that they are precious. The fact that you can choose to embrace the present makes you precious. No test scores are needed. External validation is not imperative. You have a name and you have a pulse; those traits alone are incredible gifts that can ignite meaning for you to explore. At the very least, know that someone out there has felt the tension, anxiety, and has searched around in the dark for further meaning like you might be doing.
Know that sometimes less can be more. Life isn’t always about passing a test, sometimes it’s about teaching yourself a new language. You are precious simply because you have the ability to appreciate, to choose what is full of meaning to you.
For me, discovering the power behind the meaning of a single word changed everything. For you, it could be having a deeper appreciation for the word, well, you.
You might not be a robot or speak Chinese, but you are Bao.