These past three weeks have been really hard. And I’m sure that for you, it has been too. The MIT application can be very daunting and, if your experience was like mine, many people were doubting you. To you early actioners, whether you get in or not, you did it. You applied, pat yourself on the back. I know too many people that didn’t apply because they were afraid of the potential rejection, and I think that’s really heartbreaking. Takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there for a school with such a reputation to accept you or not.
I remember when I applied. Nevermind all the doubts people were throwing at me, I was doubting myself. Was it really possible that I could go to MIT? Of course not, I was just being foolish. Noone from my entire county goes to MIT, especially not someone who’s not even the valedictorian or has never been in a science fair. I spent days after I submitted my application pacing back and forth in my room, imagining my daily life at MIT, trying hard not to fall in love with the idea.
Chance-me scorers worsened my confidence. I did everything I could to raise my chances and still only got it up to a 50% – my chances of MIT were that of a coin flip.
But I managed to get in early action. I was overjoyed and everything was perfect. My dream was coming true and my future was bright. However, looking back three years later, I realize that I would’ve been fine going anywhere. It’s not about the school but about the person. Sure MIT’s is a shortcut that opens doors, but if you really believe that you were meant to do something, then nothing’s gonna stop you.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why I’m here, amidst all the chaos that has happened this October. Long story short, I failed a test I studied two days for. Then I slept for three hours a night four days in a row to finish a 6.005 coding pset. After taking two extensions, I finally handed it in and, to my surprise, I got a 0. Turns out that I had an extra import statement at the top of my main file which stopped the entire thing from compiling so everything was marked as wrong. I begged the TA’s for a regrade and they finally gave me a 60, subtracting for lateness.
I also had a 6.002 circuits due that Friday, which I ran out of time for. I felt pain as I handed it in with only one solution scribbled in.
Then things got worse.
Then end of a great relationship. Then not too long after a member of our family died of cancer. The ephemerality of life and it’s prospects affect all of us and it crept up on me and lashed out in an unforgiving sucker punch. The weekend I was going to catch up on work became a weekend of shambling around grasping for life’s purpose.
Here’s an excerpt from my journal on that night:
“And we read inspirational quotes and watch inspirational videos which motivate us and make us shake our fists yelling “I will get through this!” But then, once we step down from our podium of exclamatory conviction, the realization comes to us that nothing has changed. We’re still going to have to face every second of every day until the day comes that those problems leave us.
It sucks. It all sucks. And outlets of those frustrations are hardly comforting. Exercising leads to pushing the weights past your max rep in an explosive, short-lived fury. Writing turns from crafting sentences of thoughtful inquiry into spamming the keyboard with angry, incoherent thoughts.
Tony Robbins has said that there are only two ways to change your happiness: change your life, or change your mind. When the former is not possible because of circumstances outside of your control all we can do instead is change the way we think and go about those situations.”
Only long term perservence was going to get me through this.
That same Monday was my next exam for 6.005 so I didn’t have time to grieve yet. I studied as hard as I could and took the test Monday morning. Then I worked intensely hard the next two nights for the next 6.005 pset, including almost an all-nighter. I got a 99 on the pset, but there was no time to rest, 6.002 lab was due Friday. I spent Thursday in the lab, having to miss work that day to finish the assignment on time.
Again, the next 6.002 pset was due Monday and the next 6.005 pset was due Tuesday, so I had no break that weekend. We get a certain amount of acceptable extensions for every assignment in that class and, apparently, taking one or two extensions is the norm, so I felt less bad about it. I took another two extensions for this one, worked Monday from 8pm to 2am, Wednesday from 3pm to 6pm, and didn’t make much progress. So Thursday I pulled an all nighter, working from midnight to 8am, taking a break for food, then finishing at 11am. Then I pushed through the day and my other assignments.
Soon after, test grades for 6.005 came out. I got a 78 on the test. That is the highest grade I’ve ever gotten on an MIT technical exam. I’m so close to that first B and then that first A that it’s only a matter of time.
At this point, I was no stranger to sleeping less than four hours a night multiple nights in a row if I needed to get an assignment done, but there was definitely something wrong with my approach if it was requiring me to do that consistenly. I had already asked for help dozens of time, but I started asking for even more help and more tutoring.
This week the cycle starts all over again, but I’ve been getting better, sleeping more, and exercising more. It’s gotten better from previous semesters.
In between every assignment, I’ve stopped and asked myself why I am here. I haven’t found an answer yet. I truly have no idea what I’m going to do. I’m still undecided being an engineer or a businessman. I’m still undecided between industry or startups. See, I don’t have this figured out any more than you do. I’m working through it. But I hope you can find your story through mine. Your life’s legacy does not start nor end with MIT. You must empower yourself to move forward. Work hard, play hard, do want you want, and if someone doesn’t let you into their school, go somewhere else. Press onwards.
November 1st has always been like a January 1st to me. It’s always defined a new direction for my life.
Three Novembers 1st’s ago, I submitted my MIT application and saw my life change a month later.
Two Novembers 1st’s ago, I visited the Google office in Cambridge for the first time and set my sights on being a software engineer.
One November 1st ago, I got into my first relationship and I also rediscovered my entrepreneuerial spirit and my desire to start companies.
This November 1st, amidst all the chaos and uncertainty of life, I have a new, simpler dream. To just do the absolute best I can do in whatever I end up doing.