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MIT staff blogger Chris Peterson SM '13

Aged And Confused by Chris Peterson SM '13

thoughts from a fossil

If you live in Britain, or in a country sufficiently influenced by the British, you may have heard fireworks and smelled the smoke of bonfire. You may even think that you know the reason: the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night, during which our Anglo amigos let loose their pyromaniacal penchants.

This is a common misconception. For what all of these millions of people across the continents are actually celebrating is not an event which grew out of the ancient battles for Anglicanism, but rather an even more historically significant and culturally stupendous event: my birthday.

Today, I turned 25. It’s an interstitial age. I’m halfway to what is called “middle age”, and am a third of the way along a reasonably optimistic life expectancy. I’m out of college myself, but people I went to school with are still in college, or, blinded by the bright lights of the Beyond, have reëntered as grad students.

At work the interstitial space feels even more defined. Almost all my colleagues are older than me – I love to “accidentally” remind Stu that he graduated from MIT the year I was born – and I’m still one of the “young guys” at the office. But yet the undergraduates whom I advise, and who work for me, think of me as being almost impossibly old, even though, had I attended MIT, it would have been contemporaneous with Chris, Rachel, and other 2012 bloggers.

But rather than mourn my generational unmooring, I’ve decided to always look on the bright side of life. Being both an old person and a young person, it stands to reason, must magically confer unto me the insight of both. I’m clearly twice as wise, or at least wise twice. I am confident this is how wisdom works.

So with that established, here at 25 things I’ve learned in my 25 years:

  1. People are basically good. If someone does something that seems rude or mean, even if there is not an excuse there is almost always an explanation. Knowing and understanding this can be much less satisfying, but much more fulfilling, than responding in kind.
  2. Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission, but only if you are really, really sure you’ll get – and deserve – the forgiveness.
  3. Always wash your hands. No exceptions.
  4. No amount of money, fame, or fortune is worth good health and general security, nor, past a certain point, can it procure it.
  5. You can buy fancy clothes and blue steel at the mirror in the department store all you want. But if you’re naturally slackjawed like a morose cow and your posture looks like someone hit a chrome penguin with a shovel then they are not going to help. (Still working on this one).
  6. Pizza is properly eaten by folding it in two along its symmetrical axis and munching on it like a burrito. If you are not eating pizza this way then you are doing it wrong, or you are eating deep dish, which is a different way of doing it wrong. Sorry Chicago.
  7. You can confide in other people, and other people may confide in you. But don’t confide in other people what other people confided in you. That’s not confidence. That’s gossip.
  8. One of the most satisfying feelings in the world is being a regular somewhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s a deli, or a barber, or a bike shop. But few simple things can make you feel so at home as walking up to a lunch counter and found that someone is already making the sandwich you were going to order.
  9. Games, movies, books, sports, and soap operas are all the same. They aren’t done for their own sake. They are done with other people so that you can relate to them, talk with them, share with them something: a goal, a history, a narrative, or an experience. Don’t miss this.
  10. Sometimes something hasn’t been tried because it’s a bad idea. Sometimes something hasn’t been tried because it’s a good idea but no one knows it yet. The important thing is to know how to recognize the difference.
  11. You can pick your friends. And you can pick your nose. But you can’t pick your friend’s nose. Because then they won’t be your friend anymore. Then whose nose will you pick? I thought so. See, you have to think about these things ahead of time.
  12. Most of the most important things in your life will be determined by complete serendipity. You can’t plan it. You can only prepare for it. Learn to improv.
  13. Sometimes really, really awesome people have never been told that they are awesome. Change that.
  14. Don’t aspire to be things. Aspire to do things. Saying “I want to be this” is too limiting. Figure out the skills and interactions you enjoy (interpersonal contact, or high pressure, or working with your hands) and then find out what occupations, vocations, or diversions incorporate those skills. You may be surprised by the things you like to do, and the things you end up being.
  15. There is nothing sufficiently shameful about Spaghettios to make them not worth eating on a Saturday afternoon in your pajamas.
  16. Don’t be afraid when you love someone. It is awesome. Yes, sometimes it will really hurt. Non, je ne regrette rien.
  17. A lot of people leave jobs, situations, or significant others they love so they can attain the fame or fortune to allow them them get a job, situation, or significant other they love. That’s kind of backwards. Sometimes you need to go backwards. Sometimes it’s ambition confusing ends for means. Learn the difference and you’ll be much happier.
  18. Don’t call in to sports talk radio. No one benefits. Ever.
  19. Never, ever underestimate how vastly different other experiences in other parts of the world are. Travel sometime. It will make everything make so much more sense.
  20. A corollary: never, ever understimate how vastly different someone else’s experience or perspective is. No one thinks like you do except for you.
  21. There is never a wrong time for hamburgers.
  22. Don’t be afraid of coaching. You may be very good at what you do, but almost always someone can help you learn to be a little bit better. Even if they are outside your field. You just have to be able to recognize insights and transfer them appropriately.
  23. Structure unstructured time into your day. It is OK to do nothing in particular for awhile. If you don’t occasionally shut off your brain it will burn out like a bulb.
  24. A proper sandwich is the highest form of civilization to which humanity can aspire.
  25. The most important thing you can do is find a community – a job, a school, a club, a town – where you feel a deep, profound sense of belonging. Home is where the heart is: if you have a big home, you’ll have a big heart.

36 responses to “Aged And Confused”

  1. Gavin West says:

    What I got out of this: Chris shares my love for hamburgers.

    Really though, happy birthday, Chris! Don’t get too narcissistic with all those people celebrating just for you…

  2. Justin says:

    it’s my birthday too, i’m turning 15!

    remember remember the 5th of november…

  3. Or G. says:

    Happy birthday, Chris!

    While I do not share not share your love for hamburgers nor your preferred method of pizza consumption, I have found this list entertaining and educational.

  4. Happy birthday! 25 is not at all old. And I love this post.

  5. José ('17?) says:

    I loved all the sentences, specially 6, 11, 13, 21, 24,25, I was thinking about saying why, but instead let’s keep it short “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” keep doing a great job, I love your posts.

  6. excuse me says:

    No 5 made me look down at my belly

  7. Anthony L. '15 says:

    You’re only 25? I always had the impression that you were older than that. Huh.

  8. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    it’s my incredible, stultifying maturity and wisdom anthony

  9. Brandon J. says:

    The best thing about this post is how it combines humor with useful insight. Thanks smile

  10. Teresa says:

    hope you had a great birthday! number 19 and 20, especially useful wink

  11. Anonymous says:

    It’s so sweet of you to celebrate your birthday with a blog post for us. smile
    I hope I get to meet you someday

  12. Mason Williams says:

    hah I love this! raspberry Happy birthday!

  13. Anonymous says:

    This made me think of my best friend. There are some things I need to tell her next time I see her. *tear*

  14. Jeremy F. says:

    How come nobody noticed (or at least failed to mention) that number 6 should say “symmetrical AXIS”, not “access”? Other than that, great post. This is going into my favorites tab.

  15. phoenix says:

    Happy birthday Chris ^^
    and guess what, I this is dinner-time now and I just read your blog on my cell, AND WE ARE HAVING PIZZA RIGHT NOW!!! I am going to fold it as you said……here starts a new tradition, as you said, some good things haven’t been tried yet as no one knew about them, this was clearly one of them smile

  16. Estefania Chavez says:

    I really enjoyed this, and it’s refreshing to see a university admissions officer post something unrelated with the college process. Happy Birthday! And thank you for making this stressed nerd laugh a little on a Sunday Morning (other wise known as Homework day).

  17. phoenix says:

    uh oh, my mom gave me a highly disaproving and disgusted sort of look as I was trying to shove this rather thick folded piece in my mouth. Guess its back to old way for now. But when no one is looking, will definetely do it the correct way……

  18. Ken L. says:

    While I personally disagree with #6 and (in part) with #9, this list is pretty awesome. I’m going to assume that you absolutely know what you’re talking about when you talk about #25. smile

    Happy birthday, Chris!

  19. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Good catch Jeremy! Fixed.

    And Ken – #6 was a little harsh. There is some deep dish pizza, created within the chicago zip code (or flown from there over night), that can be good, and can be eaten with a fork / knife. But generally speaking I am a folding pizza purist.

  20. V says:

    Chris –

    I might not be as old as you – in fact, being as I’m an applicant this year, I’m sure I’m not. But I think there is one thing about life you might want to add to your list:

    To every rule, there is an exception.

    You can spout platitudes all you want. You can say funny things. You can even say things which are really, truly meaningful (and in your article you’ve done all three). But there will always be a time when hamburgers are not appropriate. There will always be a “coach” who is, in fact, an arrogant jerk trying to tell you they know best. There will always be a situation where you have to lie, where you have to be mean, where you have to deal with someone who is not an inherently good person.

    Life isn’t made of absolutes… I think you the challenge is to preserve the things important to you while the rules change all around you.

    Happy birthday! smile

  21. V says:

    Also, I made a typo in that last sentence (I think you), and the Monty Python song link is broken! :(

  22. Sudhanshu Chandra says:

    Oh! I see, you are not too old, neither too young.
    Anyway, nice post.

  23. Nick says:

    Happy Birthday. I felt that enough people weren’t celebrating in America, so I made you a 6 ft. bonfire. For some reason, my parents put a guy on top of it. Obviously, they’re confused.

  24. Annie J says:

    Wonderful post.

    I just fixed myself a turkey+cheese sandwich in celebration of your birthday.

    Yep, there’s never a wrong time for turkey & cheese.

    And V – what you said is very true. There’s always some guilty pleasure in being the rule breaker, and sometimes life just works that way.

  25. kevin says:

    thinking of posting a profound comment but hey it’s your birthday, so:

    Happy belated birthday Chris!!

  26. Jose S. says:

    I agree with the burgers! However it’s not pleasant to eat one right before you run/

  27. Johnny English says:

    Happy Birthday King Of The Internet smile
    God Bless You!

    Could you please tell me Sir, what does the data given below mean?

    Middle 50% score range of admitted students (25th and 75th percentiles):
    SAT Subject Test – Science [720, 800]

    Thank You.

  28. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Hi Johnny –

    It means that the “bottom” 25% of the students we admit score below a 720, and that the “top” 25% of students we admit all score an 800 or above, on that particular test.

  29. L. '15 says:

    Chris, pizza purist you are, what pizza place(s) do you recommend around the MIT area?

    ~A ’15 who hasn’t had decent pizza in half a year

  30. Johnny English says:

    Thank You Sir for the answer.

  31. ashroe says:

    Happy birthday Chris!

  32. E Zheng says:

    Christ, I realize I might need to be interviewed if an Interviewer is available around my area (Malaysia), and would be advise by the Education Counselor. The problem is I have not submitted my application yet. Does the registration of MyMIT or part submission of the application only will enable an email from the EC pertaining the interview?

  33. Johnny says:

    Hello Sir,
    The MIT admission website for international students states that the minimum score for TOEFL must be: 90 and Recommended score : 100+.
    What does the recommended score actually mean?
    Is anyone scoring above 90 in TOEFL eligible to apply to MIT?

  34. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Yes Johnny.

  35. Johnny says:

    Thank you Sir.
    And what does the statement -“recommended score of 100+” on the admission website intends to specify ?

  36. Ena says:

    This blog post is awesome.
    Especially 19 and 20.