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Sun, 05 Jul 2009 02:29:00 +0000

I’m glad “Up” was in 3-D.

Because that meant I could wear 3-D glasses.

And that meant no one could see me cry.

It was just one tear — it happened when Carl, the old man, realized he’d reached the end of his life and failed to achieve his dream of getting to Paradise Falls with his late wife, Ellie.

It’s a fear of mine: Getting to the end and realizing I lost my chance.

But, until now, I never had to deal with it.

When I was in third grade, I remember watching the NBA Draft. I was 9, and the first pick was a 21-year-old named Allen Iverson. I thought: “I could still be the No. 1 pick, like Allen Iverson — I have 12 years to work on my game.”

I used to be a dreamer.

But in the coming years, I chose to practice multiplication instead of my jump shot. I wore overalls instead of basketball shorts. And I stopped growing.

I’m 22 now, and Dick Cheney has a better chance at the NBA than I do.

That’s OK, though. I’ve got other plans, like being an influential writer and a feared reporter. Or maybe I’ll go to Africa and find a way to help children. Or maybe I’ll be a media theorist, who helps figure out how journalism can better affect social change. Or, if I really wanted, I could be a physicist!

I can still do all that, right?

I'm not sure. For me, the dreams are fading. I’m feeling old. I’m feeling like my choices have cornered me in.

I went to college to be a journalist. So as soon as I completed my first year, I could no longer be a pre-med student; I could no longer be a computer science genius or a math scholar. If I wanted, I could’ve gone back and graduated in five years — but something inside me was not OK with that.

Also, I bypassed graduate school. I figured I’d had enough school and I’d paid enough money for school. But by making that choice, I realized I’d closed several doors — for example, if I want to go to law school, I’ll be behind everyone else who graduated in 2009. The competitiveness in me won’t allow it.

I know, I know: I haven’t really lost my chance. I just need to get over myself and do what I want.

But I have a problem: I have an intense need to be No. 1 — first, best, fastest and quickest. That means being a year behind in anything is unacceptable. I get jealous watching those 18-year-olds graduate from college.

This egotistical need was planted in my head on the first day of elementary school: I was on my stoop, holding my Barney backpack and wearing a white polo shirt paired with brand new shoes, when Grandpa came out the door and said, “Sungsoo, you must be No. 1 in school, because the Chang family is No. 1.”

Somewhere along the way, I bought into this “No. 1” talk. For the past several years, I’ve been seemingly “No. 1” in some imaginary race of life and I’m scared to look back because someone might pass me; I’m scared to look forward because someone might be in front of me. I’m just running, head down.

So as I walked into “Up” a few weeks ago, thoughts of my future career — or lack thereof — haunted me. And since I think in metaphors, this race imagery was permeating in my mind.

Then the movie started.

The main character, Carl, was about to be taken into a nursing home. And just as the retirement home workers arrived to deliver him to his final living place, Carl released thousands of wholesale promotional products balloons from his roof, uprooting his house from the foundation and floating it up and away to Paradise Falls.

That was it! If I was stuck in my metaphorical race of life, I could always stick a few balloons to my hair and float away to an adventure!

Err… but what did that metaphor even mean?

Over the next few weeks, I thought more about it. And I worked up the courage to confront a huge fear: I was going to look up from running this race to see who was in front of me and who was behind me — and I was going to risk the possibility of knowing that I was, in fact, not No. 1.

So I looked up.

And there was no one.

In fact, when I looked around, there were no finish lines or race signs.

It was just me, running.

So I stopped and looked around. And in front of me were thousands of balloons, ready to be inflated.