From 15th May 2020 till 15th June 2020, EMPOWER Malaysia organised an essay competition for aspiring writers aged 13 to 23 with the theme “The Freedom to Express Myself without Fear”. This is one of the top entries, a thoughtful and candid essay from Ariana Iman, aged 14.

“Alright class, I will separate all of you into groups of five. Please choose your team leader and come up with a team name.”

I sighed. As always, I despised the idea of group projects. There would always be two types of people in a team. The enthusiastic ones and the apathetic ones…I’m one of the people who take no interest at all. 

Although I am very loud and talkative around my best friends, I’m pretty much an introvert to others. I don’t mean to be an introvert. Honestly, I’m just scared. I belittle myself a lot. I’m scared of people criticizing me. I hate the thought of people commenting negatively on my ideas, answers, and even looks. There is nothing special about me. I am not pretty, wealthy nor popular. I’m just…me. Best to stay silent if you’re scared am I right? This is probably the main reason I hate being in group projects. No one listens to me anyway, what’s the point?

“For this week’s assignment, you would have to write your own short story and act it out in front of the class with your group. The team leader is going to be in charge of writing the short story and explaining about it to their teammates. I expect you all to practice after school and we will start presenting the plays next week.”

My head shot up to look at my teacher. Fun fact, I love writing. It’s a little secret of mine. I had a compilation of short stories I write as a hobby, stored on my laptop. No one knows about this except my best friend, Nadia. I never wanted her to know, to be honest, but one day she accidentally found the folder on my laptop. I came back from cello class when she came to me, spilling all of her compliments and questions about my stories. Eventually, I had to tell her. Ever since that day, I wrote even more short stories and asked for her opinions on them. Yet, it stays between us as a secret no one should know.

My teammates and I gathered around Nadia’s table. I was relieved to know she would be one of my teammates. Maybe this project would be a bit better.

“So, who here thinks they can write an interesting story?” One of my teammates, Putra spoke up after a minute of awkward silence. Like always, I stayed silent. I glanced at Nadia and saw her smirking at me.

“Ariana is quite good at writing stories.” She said and with that, everyone looked at me with eyes as wide as saucers and mouths gaping. Who knew this quiet kid had an interest in writing?

My head bowed down in embarrassment and I bet my face was as red as the roses in my mom’s garden. “I’m not that good…but I can write stuff…” I mumbled. Never in my life was I given the responsibility as a team leader. The thoughts of ‘What if I let everyone down?’ and ‘I’ll just be a disappointment to them’ starts flooding in my head once everyone agreed to make me team leader.

I went back to my dormitory and groaned, taking out my laptop. I decided to write a story about a girl who never speaks because she is scared of being dejected and being a disappointment to others. Until one day something just triggered her to get out there and be brave. She was a whole new person. People started to admire her and she became an inspiration. Sounds familiar? I wish I had that fairytale ending. I’ll never be as brave as my fictional characters. I mean, those are fictional, they are different from reality…right?

It took me 3 days to finally finish the story. I showed my classmates my work the next day. My heart wanted to run out of my chest as they read my story. I was getting ready to hear comments about how bad the story is. I held my breath as they finished reading and were looking at me. Unexpectedly, they started showering me with praises. They even recommended me to become the main character of our short play! I have never felt so satisfied….I was so happy!

Time skipped by quickly, the following week, we had a chance to present our act. I was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? Nevertheless, thanks to the words of encouragement coming from my new friends, I had enough confidence to play my part. The class was super impressed and surprised by our acting skills and the story. “Who wrote the story?” Our teacher asked and everyone pointed to me. She had an impressed look on her face and asked me to see her after class.

I had no words when she asked me to participate in an essay competition outside school. After a lot of consideration, I accepted her offer. I didn’t know that the simple decision I made would change my student life forever.

I started to win almost all the competitions I participated in. Everyone knew me. This time, not as the quiet kid in class, but now they see me as a completely different person. I became the fictional character I thought I’d never be.

All this time, I was afraid for nothing. It was a wonder for others on how I could have changed so easily. My answer would always be the same. I realised that I had the wrong mindset. Back then, every time I wanted to do something, I would have thoughts of the worst possible outcomes drowning me or past criticisms coming back to me. Now, I think about the best possible outcomes, the compliments I might get.

Never let embarrassments from the past scare you. Find something to do that screams who and what you are as a person. You are your character in a story called life. Your choices will decide who you are. Be who you want to be because all characters have their own unique personality and specialty.

The views, opinions and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of EMPOWER Malaysia.

Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels


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