10 Life Lessons I Learned in my High School Senior Year

10 Life Lessons I Learned in my High School Senior Year

1. There are always people who try to slow you down

I believe I am not the first one mentioning this; it just can't be truer. Mark Zuckerberg said in his Commencement Speech at Harvard 2017:

"It's good to be idealistic. But be prepared to be misunderstood. Anyone working on a big vision will get called crazy, even if you end upright. Anyone working on a complex problem will get blamed for not fully understanding the challenge, even though it's impossible to know everything upfront. Anyone taking initiative will get criticized for moving too fast, because there's always someone who wants to slow you down."

I was once in the same situation as what is described there. When I was aiming high towards my university goals, I noticed that people were talking behind my back: "Why bother if you are not going to get accepted by xxx anyway?", "I wouldn't think they are prestige schools if James could get accepted...", "you'd put more effort into your school subjects if you were wise...".

Yeah... because I was putting so much effort into writing essays for university application, my grades did drop down a bit. I never responded, and it'd be all worthless if I had. I admit that there were waves of emotional fluctuations at the beginning, and I used to question myself, "Was it really my problem that those people are commenting on me?" However, after examining the situation, I understood that it often hurts for others when my experiences of success could have been theirs—envy is one of the most powerful and dominant emotions in modern society. My mindset then shifted; I figured out at the very last that I need to learn to be tolerant. There are only a few people in this world would feel happy for my success and feel sad for my sorrow. If you are lucky enough to have encountered them, don't let them go; cherish them.

Why do people feel envious? As human beings, we are other-referential. But we don't feel envious of Mark Zuckerberg - he is one of the richest people on the planet, lives in a large mansion, and drives Pagani Huayra around for rides. The reason why we don't compare ourselves to him is that we can hardly relate to him. He graduated from Harvard, learned to code in his 6th grade, and invented games & programs starting in middle school.

The closer we are with our peers, in age, in background, in identities, the greater the danger of envy will be. For the sake of ego, you will find that some people simply take joy in taking others down. The problem with the world we live in is that it has turned everything into a form of school; we wear the same uniform, stay together in close rooms, and set with exactly the same task to see who outcompete the rest. At yet, we have never questioned the keeper of the key: the guardians of education. Even though as students who are undergoing the same process; we are never the same. I am not, you are not, and none of us are.

Life is too short to deal with those envious "bad" people. Your time is limited, do not let other people's opinions drown out your true self. We know our inside, and people are seeing me outside. Perhaps the closer they look, the more they will see my pain and struggles. At the end of the day, your life is yours, and all that matters is how you think it is; rest of them are all secondary.

2.  Visions change

During our school years, we have worked hard and committed ourselves to a dream, no matter what it might be. I am here to say that whatever you think you'll be doing in ten years, it will most likely not be true. You shouldn't panic when transition happens; keep looking for your genuine interests, and work your way towards them regardless of the end.

In my secondary, I determinedly set my way that I was going to become an investment banker, buying stock and shares and making big money. Now, all I want to be doing is studying philosophy. I haven't got a clear vision of how I will transform this degree into a practical job, but I am not worried, and none of you should be. The job prospect in this globalized market is wide. When my peers, with an admiring tone, ‘praised’ at the crushing advantage of my job prospect in Ancient Greece, I just smiled by. Alain de Botton, one of my favorite modern philosophers; his YouTube channel, The School of Life, has millions of subscribers, and he's probably earning millions from it.

From this case, I just want to say that don't let those bastards tell you studying what major is good or bad for job employment, follow your tuition is always right. Steve Jobs put this well in his speech at Stanford that I want to quote again here, about connecting the dots:

"... Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later... Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

Walking down the line, our visions may change into something that we could have never conjured beforehand. You just have to keep doing what fascinates you the most.

3. Life is like playing cricket

There’s nothing wrong to think life as a game, and cricket can be a very long game. Things can be going well stably, and suddenly something happens! Often when those big opportunities or challenges hit you in the face unexpectedly. You can't plan everything out in advance, but what you can do is plan to be prepared; pace yourself with perseverance and patience in this long, life game. At the same time, the details and discipline matter; stamina is the virtue you will need with all the ebbs and flows. It’s awfully a key aspect to work and stay in shape; physically, mentally, and emotionally with all the distractions of crowds going around.

We all want a life full of meaning, and meaning isn’t something you stumble across; you have to build meaning into your life by commitment. Perhaps it’ll be in your work, in your religion, or your love for all fellow human beings; it doesn't matter, as long as what you are committed to is beyond yourself.

4. Don't forget to manage the side-ways

When we are so focused on that one thing, it's highly likely that we'll forget some other things. The key term is called Collateral Damage. People always say that life can be divided into different stages. We can choose to do one thing at a time, accomplish it, and move on. I think this common perception is very wrong. It's often hard for us to make a moving-on decision because there could always be more that we can potentially maximize. Mathematically, there is no largest integer; we could always add one to the infinity. Realistically, there's hardly any rich say that they've earned enough money, they'd say to themselves: "I could get a little bit more..."

Besides, you will miss some opportunities if you try to do everything sequentially. Juggling is the right word to be used here; you have to keep your eye on all the balls and give energy to the dropping ball simultaneously. If you drop one, it collapses. At this point, some might say: "you know, I am kind of busy..." It's all about practice. Those people we look up to probably have been practicing the skill of juggling all the time. Mark Zuckerberg was able to teach lessons while building up Facebook.

Our early career has begun without us noticing. In university time, we will start to make attachments. Relationship is something we will always need to manage; the team members, our friends, or our loved ones, who we can share our trauma with…

5. People's starting points are really different

Do not expect anything to be fair. When applying for universities, you and someone else somewhere around the world may have exactly the same great stats, but he's a double legacy (students with some kind of familial tie to the university, e.g: parents graduated from the school for their undergraudate. It approx triples your chance of getting in). Family conditions are never within our reach. A significant proportion of the student body at these ivy league schools are legacies such as kids from professors, recruited athletes, or low-income students. The rest of them are just super smart, hardworking with exceptional essays, but remember you are basically talking about 1% of them.

However, knowing that fair competition doesn't exist, we still have to try, because if you don't, you will still end up at the original position.

6. Life is all about choices

Elon Musk could give everyone on Earth 30 dollars, but he also could choose who to help. If I had stayed in engineering, I could not have done the other things: fall in love with philosophy and learn more about politics. I have to figure out what I want to care about and what I want to do with them.

Another example would be we could either be stuck with the mistakes we made in the past, or we can choose to move on, which is a lot easier. Honestly, I find many people around me living their lives backward, trying to change certain things they have made - talking about what they could have done to change the face of their break up, improve their grades in exams, or which particular stock they could purchase...

It's critical to know that you can't change those, but you can learn from them.

7. Don't take yourself too seriously

Arrogance deprives people. The reason why many leaders fall is because of hubris. I see some prefects in my school walking around every day bragging about how much of an academic elite they are; it feels unpleasant. Everyone is qualified for the top-level universities in their own ways. It really depends on what the admissions committee is looking for on that day; an international level debater, an entrepreneur, or an athlete...

There's more than just peer competition in our lives. From what I see in those so-called elites who think they deserve to land on the top of the pyramid, I think they’ve crossed the line between confidence and arrogance. Their belief in their own unique importance has made them forget about the role of luck, and it’s poisonous. What we all should do instead is embrace humility and generosity; the discipline we all need to build up a cohesive community.

8. Avoid playing finite games

There are two categories of games: finite and infinite games. "A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”

There are a few things I want to do for life, and there are things I want to drop immediately if I had the chance. I am not totally into the Sciences, and I guess I will probably take the minimum amount of courses on math and science from the general requirement. However, I would love to keep reading, writing, running.

Reading books is one of the few things that I can find intentions. This habit gifts me the dynamics of life, which I can look forward to something with a sense of purpose, which I didn't think much over all these years. There are two questions I keep asking myself before getting out of bed every morning :

· "Am I doing the things that I care about?"

· "Will I be proud of my life at the end, seeing what I am doing today?"

By starting at the end, everything I do now is for the sake of having fun. I’ve stopped overthinking about the practicalness of what I am doing. As long as what I love doing benefits me long-term, I believe that good things will happen.

9. Befriend with yourself

While seeking my true best, the worst part of this 'thriving' experience is that I sometimes felt alone.

Apart from my parents, who have always been my biggest fans, I don't feel people around me wanted me to do well. Even the people you thought were close to you are not giving you their best support. My roommate, who has known me for 6 years, talked shit behind my back about how much of a utopian thinker I was, dreaming of getting into the big-name universities...

There are many examples I could give. When I was rejected by Oxford, I didn't tell anyone, but it seemed to me that everyone knew. There were people, who I thought I was friends with, saying 'any good news?', 'has Oxford sent you an unconditional offer yet?' It would just be too much if I tried to mention them all here. I don't want to sound full of hatred like I feel unfair about how I am being treated. It's just a reminder of how important it is for you to be kind and befriend yourself. When everyone else could betray you, it's only you who won't let you down.

10. Use people's feedback to update yourself

Always reach out to people’s feedback; beware of the honest advice people give you regardless of whether they are at the entry-level or smarter than you. They are gifts. One way of self-assessment is to ask yourself: “am I at a reflection point?”
Remember that asking for help is an act of independence; it’s not a sign of weakness. Recognizing others’ value on certain aspects and learning from their particular skills is how I remain vital in my daily life. The process has always been from experience, feedback, reflection, learning to eventually grow. We don’t have to be alone in all this.


It’s always good to look back for lessons we’ve learned from our mistakes, but keep in mind to look forward to self-discovery, change, and confidence. Never imagine if the story is over; there are much more chapters in this life-long journey; you just need to be curious, care about things, and let them open. Stay interested, so you will be interesting.


Lastly, to build a life full of meaning, we need to commit to things that are bigger than ourselves. Some men and women make the world a better place just by being kind and helping others. Those things that we didn’t know we had any impact on, like helping others, can be the most satisfying thing we do in our lives.

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