Possibly most importantly, spending four years on an FRC team helped me to realize what it means to have passion. So many adults have an easy answer for confused high-school students struggling to decide their futures: “follow your passion!” To me, this phrase was always counterproductive, almost cripplingly so; it assumes that you know what your passion is, which is the core of most students’ problems to begin with. Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love and expert on difficult things) says it better than I can: “We are constantly being told to pursue our passions in life, but there are times when passion is a TALL ORDER, and...can feel completely inaccessible and impossible.”
Now, examining my FIRST journey from the other side, I’m discovering that I identify with the word “passionate,” and I think I owe it to my frustrated sophomore self (and anyone else struggling to define their passion) to describe how I got to this point.
Passion is what make you feel capable. Passion is exhilaration; it’s doing something and feeling the essential joy of knowing you have the ability to make a measurable difference. Passion is hope.
Passion is what I felt after every interaction with a parent or a professional at an outreach event. Seeing the eagerness of a dad, arms full of NXT catalogs and FLL brochures, to go home and tell his daughter about the Lego robotics program for young students gave me the sense that the work I was doing, no matter how personal in scale, was important. Watching the eyes of education superintendents widen in surprise when they learned that an FRC bot is built in only 6 weeks made me giddy. Inspiring people to pursue STEM education is my passion, and I had to do it for a few years before I realized it’s what I love.
That being said, passion is still an intimidating thing. For this, I go back to Elizabeth Gilbert: “Passion is a tower of flame, but curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder — a little whisper in the ear that says, ‘Hey, that's kind of interesting…’ Passion is rare; curiosity is everyday...
The trick is to just follow your small moments of curiosity.” (Read her full article here.)
I agree with Elizabeth Gilbert, but at the same time, it’s the tower-of-flame nature of passion that makes it worth pursuing. If I’ve learned anything about passion, however, it’s this: that passion isn’t something you chase down. That real passion is the thing that comes to you in the midst of your curiosity-pursuing, whispering “Hey, I was here the whole time.” That when it finds you, you’ll know it.
Now, as a FIRST alumnus and barely-started college student (the west coast starts school ridiculously late in the year!), I’m far from done with my journey of discovering passion. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the many college advice panels I’ve listened to and articles I’ve read, it’s that college is a time to try new things, to “follow your small moments of curiosity.” There’s a certain joy to being able to pursue things just because they’ve captured your interest, whether it’s an introsem on digital literature or a no-experience-needed student club for competitive ballroom dancing or a campus organization for unicycle basketball (yes, it’s a thing).
I’m thrilled to have the next four years to pursue my curiosities and wander into new passions, and I’m beyond grateful for the FIRST robotics program and my team for giving me the confidence to tackle the unknown and revel in challenges. FIRST robotics taught me how to grow, and that is something I’ll never stop needing.
A big THANK YOU to FIRST Ladies for providing this amazing platform and community for FIRST-lady-driven content and especially to Rachel Hunter for letting me drag this out over 3 weeks. :)
If you have questions or just want to talk about college (applications, decisions, post-high-school life), being a lady in FIRST, the FRC experience, or being a young human during a confusing time of big decisions, feel free to talk to me!
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Stephanie Niu is a recently-graduated alumnus of Walton Robotics, FRC team 2974. She currently attends Stanford University as a computer science major. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
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