TEDxUCLA 2017: Gravity
Exploring the unknown
Angela Chung is a fourth year undergraduate student at UCLA, majoring in Business Economics. She is an incoming core assurance associate at PricewaterhouseCooper’s Los Angeles office, and plans on working with entertainment and technology clients. She will be studying abroad in Paris this summer. Her interest in environmental health led to her idea of plastic tiles that capture particulate matter with microstructures modeled after those found on leaves. Her idea won third place in the 2016 UCLA FuturizeX Student Challenge.
When I was growing up, math and the hard sciences and other STEM-related subjects always made me feel uncomfortable. And this was because they seemed like such difficult subjects to me.
But my goal for my senior year at UCLA was to do something new. So I entered UCLA’s Futurize X invention contest, which directly deals with using STEM subjects.
So this was quite intimidating to me. But I’m glad I entered because my experience with the contest taught me this: It’s important to do what intimidates us because that is how we change the most.
And I experienced this change when I participated in the contest. For the contest, the problem I chose to tackle was air pollution in Los Angeles, and for this problem I had to do a lot of research involving unfamiliar topics like environmental science, health, and technology. Topics that intimidated me.
But through this process I began to look at the world a lot differently. For example, the invention I made was designed to capture pollution from the air, and this design was inspired by certain properties of leaves that I learned about by reading research about pollution in plants.
So now with this new information, when I see plants I think, “Wow, I wonder… what are some new and unexpected ways we could use other properties of plants to help us? Could I help think of some?”
So by participating in the contest and being exposed to this research about pollution in plants involving both biology and environmental health, instead of seeing them as esoteric fields that I would never have been involved with, I began to think about them in relation to the rest of the world. And for me, this was a big change.
And another change happened: before the contest when it came to solving big problems like air pollution, my mind would usually only turn to policy or economics. But now, after reading a lot of research about science and tech, I have a newfound interest in using these things to help solve world problems. Not that I didn’t think they weren’t important before, but now these things are also at the forefront of my mind. And I wonder: if I had this outlook a few years ago, would I have majored in a STEM subject?
Before, in my eyes, I was not a part of that world at all. But now I brought it into mine. And this change came from directly confronting what I was intimidated by. And in my case, this change was so significant because the things that tend to intimidate me are the furthest away from my personal world and daily life. But when we explore the things that intimidate us, we learn about them and bring them into our bubbles, like I did during the contest. And it transforms how we view the world.
And turning to the subject of intimidation, by definition when something intimidates us and makes us feel timid or fearful, it’s different than the type of terror we get from other fears like giant spiders or, in my case, clowns. If I encountered these, I’d want to scream and run away because I’m afraid of getting physically hurt.
But when I’m intimidated by something, I’m tempted to avoid it and timidly navigate my life around it. And ironically that’s what hurts me because it limits what I do and how I think in life.
So that’s why I believe that everybody should seek out what intimidates them. Like me, it might be a certain subject that you avoided in school, and all you have to do is start exploring that subject is pick up a book or Google a sentence.
Or it might be something totally different like public speaking, or going to a new gym for the first time, or opening up emotionally to someone. It doesn’t take much to start exploring your intimidators.
Think about what intimidates you. And if you don’t want to dive into it right away, you can always dip your toes in and see what happens.
As I conclude I want to leave you with this: each time that you go out and confront your intimidators, the changes that result add up and transform how you think about life and it ultimately changes who you are.
So chase after what intimidates you and your world will grow. Thank you.