This year, my (not so baby) brother is going through this emotional roller coaster. I remember my own journey all too well. Two short years ago, I was in his very position. Sitting alone in the dark kitchen. The light of the monitor shining on my face as I refreshed the decisions page. It finally loaded. I remember my hands shaking as I typed in my login information. I closed my eyes right as I hit enter, heart racing as the page loaded on the other side of my eyelids. It was the first decision that mattered. The first one I cared about. I took a deep breath and slowly opened my right eye, peeking through at the page. My eyes hungrily searched the page for a hint. I gravitated toward the top of the first paragraph. “Congratulations” I breathed out. The trigger word. I spottily scanned through the rest of the letter, afraid to believe. “UCLA wants me,” I gleefully thought to myself. I screamed in an empty house.
That is what hurt most. Not so much my own rejections, but the ones that my hardworking friends received. I saw hearts break, people break. I did not yet have the capacity to encourage and empower. I felt lost and helpless. Guilty that I had so many good choices. That I got in to most of the schools I applied to. Why couldn't we give away the acceptances we didn't end up pursuing? I mean, honestly, we each only need one. The rest go to waste. I know the idea is silly but regardless, I hated the system with a passion. All it seemed to do was set us all up for a lose-lose situation.
I have often fancied a group of us kids plotting against Collegeboard and taking down this monopolized system that agonizes thousands of bright eyed prospective college students every year. It wasn't until recently that I realized the best way of fighting back is accepting what is already in place. After experiencing college myself and observing as the paths of my peers diverged and deteriorated and changed direction, I realized that there was something really important that needs to be taken into consideration. A critical reminder that might just save the paths that haven’t yet led their travelers astray.
In this tumultuous time period, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the true key to success. We are living in a society governed by credentials and other people telling us what we can and cannot do. Our entire lives are being condensed into a few words on a piece of paper signed by someone we most likely have never met before much less be personally connected with. Yet they have such a disproportionately large impact on our lives.
Kids these days are put under so much pressure, especially during high school. High school students juggle dozens of activities along with extensive coursework, AP, IB, Honor roll, anything and everything they can endure in hopes of being put in the "yes" pile. It is incredible that we even survived high school. I can’t count the number of times I have thought, “Wow, I was so much smarter in high school.” Back then, I was able to take 8 classes and be an officer in my fair share of clubs. Now I can barely handle 4 classes and one extra curricular activity. Granted, high school is supposed to prepare you for the reality check that is college. In high school you are always striving to be the best, to stand out, to go above and beyond to get into these top schools. In college, you learn about your limits, you begin to understand your priorities and goals and you slow down and start to realize as long as you try, there is will be path to your dreams. As for dreams, they are so elusive. They change with the weather and time of the day. We are still undergoing so much stress, but we need to learn to harness it and use it to our advantage to motivate ourselves rather than hinder performance.
We do everything short of selling our souls to get to this check point: college. And what happens when you get there? You realize that you aren't the best. No, not even close. Among the best of the best, you are just another face in a sea of A-students. You feel past your prime. Your insecurities take over and you feel stressed and incompetent. But that is the very nature of the system. Ironically and cruelly, the system that prepares you for this is the one that will tear you down, if you let it get to you.
Last year, an old friend was going through a rough patch, feeling incompetent and left behind after dropping out of college. I had to do something about it. I've seen too many people fall and this is one of the few things I truly feel passionate about. After observing people close by and from afar, I think everyone needs a wake up call. There is nothing that brings me down more than seeing people who inspire me give up and let go.
I realize that as someone who has been lucky enough to be where I am now, I am in no place to say that I understand, but hear me out. This isn't an apology. It is simply a reminder, an extra push of encouragement, a hand. This is to my brother and those who are beginning on this journey, with a bumpy road ahead. This is to anyone who has ever felt lost and insecure. This is for anyone who needs it, and anyone who will listen and take heed.
Call me a dreamer, but I still do fiercely believe that if you set your heart to do something, you will be able to succeed. I realize that there are so many factors to success. A lot of it is luck. There are some things you can control to put yourself in a better place, such as getting a good education. But that will only take you half way. The rest of it is up to you. You need to make the most of your circumstances, constantly reassess your situation and develop a new plan of action. I'm less impressed by the straight A premed student than by the college drop out who continues to work for his dreams. I'm more impressed by the community college student who works two jobs to help pay off her family debts. The high school student who starts an organization for something he is passionate about and continues to build on it for years to come. The college student who realizes that college might not be the right path to her dreams, and finds an alternative.
It makes me sad that so many people spend their whole lives getting themselves to this point: to college, where they proved themselves to be competent enough to be going to this amazing school, but then what? If you were only in it for the race, what’s the point? The people that truly inspire me are the ones driven by different motivations. Every dream is valid, whether you want to be a social worker or the president, everyone should fight for what they care about. As soon as you let go, everything crumbles. It’s fragile, but the human capacity for hope is incredible. The secret is to never give up and never accept things as the way they are. No one knows what is best for you more than you do. No one can give you infallible directions to achieving your aspirations. You need to know when it is time to change directions, when it is time to let go. Just because society says that going to a four year university is your ticket to entering the job market doesn't mean it's the only way. Surely it is a reliable place to start, but if it makes you miserable, if it isn't intellectually invigorating and inspiring like it should be, why waste your time?
I have always followed this straight path because it is all I know. It scares me to think about alternatives. It makes me feel insecure thinking about everything I'm not doing. But I have to focus on what I have and what I can do to make the most out of it. The best thing I can do is surround myself by passionate people who inspire me on a day to day basis to pour everything I can into something I care about. To find something that makes me happy to work.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to do is to stop comparing yourself to everyone else. It doesn't make sense, you'll never measure up! There will always be someone somewhere that is better than you and you'd be naive to believe otherwise. I know that I still struggle with this all the time. I feel like I am surrounded by such successful and driven people who seem to know what they're doing, at least, more than I do. I sometimes wish I chose a more challenging major. Sometimes I even think that compared to the thousands of people that go to Ivy League schools, where will I end up in the spectrum? I still struggle every day, but I constantly remind myself that I should only be trying to outdo myself, to beat my own high score, so to speak. Rather than feel pressure to compete with the people around me, I try to look at them as motivation and inspiration to be true to my own dreams and to do things for myself, not for others.
During my senior year of high school, my history teacher wrote a letter to our class. Whenever I feel down or whenever I find myself in the position of encouraging a friend, I go back to this letter. In this letter, my teacher offers valuable advice as we journey on beyond the safe bubble that was high school. Things that you must do in college and beyond. One line that always stuck to me was when he explains that in college, you'll encounter people that will make you feel "stupid and inadequate," but you have to remember that the school that accepted you did so because they believed you have what it takes to succeed and that college is difficult because it prepares you for the challenges you may face in life.
Remember, you are not defined by the number of acceptances you get. You are not only as good as your rejections. You are who you are, and no one can do anything about that. You will succeed, as long as you refuse to give up. There will always be a twisted path that will eventually bring you one step closer to where you want to be, whether or not you even know where that is quite yet.
Sometimes, all you need is the reassurance that someone believes in you. This is a letter to the people I believe in.
I know sometimes it's easy to forget, but you are an amazing person through and through. You have so much potential and I know that you have what it takes to accomplish so much in the future. Don't let anything or anyone make you believe otherwise. You inspire me. You make me happy to be living in this world, because you care. No matter what life throws at you, you need to remain passionate. Because true passion is rare nowadays, but true passion is the only thing that can inspire great achievements. I respect you because of your passion. You don't need to want to be a doctor to save lives. You don't need to have wild dreams of curing cancer or finding world peace. You just need to care about what you do, and do everything you can to be the very best you can be.
There are so many people in this world who are just going through the motions of life without any passion driving them. There are students at great colleges who just do enough to stay afloat. Or people with jobs that they hate but continue on this wrong path because they don't know any better. To be honest, I don't think any amount of education will get them very far, and no salary is worth losing your dreams. Because dreams are what makes life worth living. You have to always be moving forward, be looking for more. Sometimes when I see all of these people settling for what they have, I feel disenchanted and disappointed. When I see these people who think they have accomplished so much yet have no idea how it feels to be passionate about what they do, I feel angry that they were given these opportunities over others who deserve it more. Passion isn't something easily shown on paper. A high GPA, however, is. But the people who I am truly inspired by and the people who I believe will actually make a difference in this world are those with a heart, not just a brain.
Just because you aren't at a highly ranked institution doesn't mean you are any worse than someone sleeping through yet another lecture to get by. You need to believe in yourself. Believe that you can find a way to do something that makes you happy and hopefully something that makes other people happy as well. Don't ever think that you are limited by your resume or any other data. You are not a number. You never know until you try. Just because you don't have any previous internship experience doesn't mean you should just give up before trying to apply for a position that requires it. You never know, maybe things will just click. Just because you applied for 30 positions and heard back from none of them doesn't mean you should just stop. Don't let someone else make you give up on your dreams. Only you can alter your dreams to bridge the gap between reality and fantasy. Take every opportunity you can as a chance to learn. Never look down upon anyone else. Learn to respect hardworking people. And work hard to earn the respect of others. You can be anything you make of yourself because you are passionate about what you want. You have the right attitude and you will persevere. Don't take no for an answer. Be resilient. Find a way around the rules, but don't break them. I believe you will achieve wonders, no matter what path you end up taking to get there. I believe in you. Believe in yourself, that's the first step in the right direction.