I’m going to confess something.
A bit more than two years ago, I remember asking my parents to bless my application. I’m pretty sure that I would have sprinkled holy water on it if I had access to some. If someone would have told me that they got into MIT because they danced around with their application package in the snow while chanting, “Accept me, oh Institute,” I must admit that I would have thought to try that.
So after I asked my parents to bless my application envelope, they did. Hesitatingly. I could tell that they just did it so I could stop squaking about how nervous I was. Boy, they didn’t understand, though! It was MIT that I was applying to. This was important! This was about my future.
I remember my dad looking at me with his honest, slightly concerned eyes as he said, “Ana, the only thing you ever have to worry about is about doing your best. That’s it. Just do your best.” I also remember thinking about how painfully obvious that was. Of course you have to do your best. How often does everyone hear that? Kindergarteners could tell you that. At the time, I took those words and put them in the shelf of “things I’ve already heard” in my mind. But it wasn’t until this semester that I realized just how powerful and true that piece of advice was.
You see, as a senior in high school, I used to be the kid who pulled all-nighters, just because I could. I would get things done, I’d just be sure to calculate how well I needed to do on the next exam to get an A in the class. I thought I knew how to work hard. I just didn’t do it so often. I certainly didn’t do it every day. I talked about procrastinaiton, almost as if it were something to be proud of… (It’s really, really, really not!) For me, being a senior in high school reminded me all too often about how close I was to being done when in reality it should have been reminding me of how close I was to starting over, and HOW INCREDIBLY MUCH I’VE YET TO LEARN (<– honestly, this should be true no matter what stage of school life you’re in).
“Just do your best,” (lol just) is quite an open-ended piece of advice, when you get down to the nitty gritty. As I’ve repeated this to myself over and over this semester, this thought always has questions to follow. Should I stay up to finish my pset tonight and then feel sleepy tomorrow, or should I divide it between days and trust that I’ll be able to do it all? When should I stop studying to take a break? What time would be ok for me to go to sleep? What goals should I have? BUT I also want to hang out with people, and learn how to paint, and go ice skating, and enjoy the simple things in life! There are always tradeoffs involved. It’s a lot more complicated than what it seems. It’s not about making A’s or about getting in to your dream school.
“Being the best you can be” is honestly the most you could ever demand from yourself. It’s both a philosophy and a lifelong process. It requires you to first of all find out who you actually are and who you want to be, know your strengths and weaknesses, and then make (sometimes difficult) decisions based on that. It’s about accepting your circumstances and acting humbly upon them. It’s not about accomplishing goals, it’s about becoming better when you do accomplish them, and about becoming better when you don’t. It’s about learning to “make it happen”, in the words of my unified professor.
This Saturday, Early Admissions decisions come out. Next week is also finals week for us here at MIT. So to all who applied, whether you get in or not, and to anyone with finals, I’ll give you the best advice I’ve ever received:
Just do your best.
I promise it’ll take you to where you need to be.