By Katrina Liu

With so much free time, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to reflect on myself and what’s important to me. With our world flipped upside down in just a series of weeks, the entire globe has become introspective with little distractions.

I’ve always set high expectations for myself, but never voiced them out loud. In my high school years, I didn’t like to talk about my grades with other people, good or bad. Instead, I quietly focused on myself and undermined my worth whenever anyone gave me any sort of academic compliment. 

If I had an inkling of a dream for my future, I would immediately shoot it down. Which, looking back, is pretty depressing, considering we’re told to dream big when we’re younger. 

I didn’t share these high expectations with anyone for several reasons. One is because I felt like all my friends were smarter than me, and I was okay with it; my friends are the smartest people I know and will each be amazing in whatever career they choose to pursue. It took time to realize that intelligence doesn’t necessarily have a concrete definition, though, and that people can be smart in their own ways. 

The other reason I never talked about my personal expectations is that I felt like if I set seemingly unrealistic expectations for myself out loud, I would be crushed when I don’t meet them.

I think we humans generally downplay our goals. When people ask what we want to do with our lives, we often give a response with shakiness in our voice. Because for some reason, somehow, the world has told us that we have to settle. 

But that’s not true — we should never settle. We should have dreams, ambitions and we should set high expectations for ourselves. And we should be loud about it. And we should work our asses off to get as close to those goals as possible.

Even if you don’t think you’re “naturally intelligent,” at the end of the day, the only things that matter are how hard you work and how passionate you are. If you have a genuine passion for what you do and are willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve something, that’s all that matters. 

As a particularly insecure person myself, I have been guilty of settling for most of my life and keeping quiet about my dreams. Or even worse, I dismiss them. But I’ve realized that that’s the exact opposite of what I should do. In a world that tells us our generation is inferior, we must be loud about our hopes and dreams, and we can’t be afraid to act on them. Instead, we must work harder, be louder and be more fearless. 

So, go get that gold medal, write that best selling book or find the cure for some type of cancer. And most importantly, keep working hard and never, ever settle.