- Putting things in perspective
My journey has really been different from other people's stories on the internet. Today, I've just got rejected by 9 institutions I applied for (some UCs, all liberal arts colleges, and a few other universities).
Motivational speech on the internet tells us to learn to be happy regardless of the outcome; focus on the mean and just allow the consequence to be in its way. But at the end of the day, when the result is less than what you expected, fears find you. It never occurred to me that one day I will need to compromise and worry about fulfilling the UK universities' grade requirement (because I have never imagined myself going there). Of course, I am not trying to avoid the fear, but it has been tough and challenging that sometimes I even doubt myself, 'is it worth keeping moving forward, or I'd just be better off settling down and going to an okay university?' To be honest, when I was picking elite schools, I went for the brand name. But after researching through websites, I found out they are all totally different; some of them I still liked, and for some, I changed my mind.
I never questioned myself if I should have applied or not; even when I knew my chances to get accepted were probably right next to zero, I sent my application anyway. However, not once did I think that I was a strong candidate. The competition is intense, and some seriously exceptional candidates are better than me. University admission is honestly the first time me doing everything possible right and yet still not gotten the result I wanted. In high school, when I work hard for something, I can always assure myself that I will get that A in the final. Movies and pop cultures just get it all wrong. In movies, you see all the smart girls with brilliant social skills end up going to Harvard easily (like it has a 100% acceptance rate). But in reality, a lot of more-than-qualified people end up being rejected from all Ivy League schools. Rejections don't say much about the candidate. In fact, 'success' comes in many forms; plenty of successful people went to 'regular schools.' (Of course, for application-based schools, our fate is to a certain degree within the hands of others (unlike exam-based institutions); even the admissions office can't tell you precisely why you did not get in.)
One major change for me this year is that I started to accept my weaknesses and strengths. I know I am really good at a few things, and I am not so great at some other things. Being good at that few things doesn't make me the valedictorian in our graduation ceremony, but being bad at other trivia like math doesn't make me a terrible failure.
When I was scrolling down the recommended section on YouTube another day, I saw a few video covers of people looking devastated when receiving rejections by their ideal universities, like there's a bit of a hole in themselves given the results. Last year, one funny anecdote is when one of my friends told me that her roommate got a B in her English Literature class, and it was the end of the world – she cried for the whole evening. I couldn't get it; why is it not okay to make mistakes? It does not mean that she will never be able to get into a fine university or find a job. For heaven's sake, just learn from where you did wrong and move on! I wouldn't say it's a rare phenomenon to see this in China; people stress out about their GPAs as if nothing else matters. Well, it does matter a bit, but not as much as they often think it does. By the way, one problem I see when people encounter adversities and feel down is that they sometimes try to bear all it alone. Just talk to someone: your parents, your friends, or even teachers, whatever! (well, I also know people who keep complaining to their friends, but that's another case).
My self-esteem won't vary the slightest even when all I get are rejection letters because they don't define my capability, and they should not define yours. For most of the schools I applied to, over 90% of applicants are sadly rejected together with me. It happens every year, and it shouldn't be embarrassing for any of us who are courageous enough to climb the ladder to the sky.
However, there had been a time when I used to put enormous pressure on myself, "I'll only be an intelligent person if I get into an Ivy league school or Oxbridge!" I always felt like I needed to prove my value of existence to someone else and earn their validation. Ultimately, it was really only about me; It was me who decided to apply to all the elite schools. Apparently, that path didn't work out. It's no big deal because the thing is, I am always welcome to try again. But I don't think I'll be doing that because redo a year means opportunity cost; I should move on to the next chapter of my life (university) and get the most from there, never inhibit my ability to grow.
- Figuring things out...
Intellectuals have always been saying, "find your passion and pursue it." But what they fail to stress is that it's not always so easy to figure out what exactly it is that you love doing. For me, all I can do to find what I truly love spending time on is to cast a wide net and do a lot of different things (volunteer, participate in clubs that I'm not sure I'd be interested in, join in random activities that school arranges) and see what suits me.
Starting this year, I figured out that there are a few things I want to do for life: read, write, and educate (at least for now). Recently, not only I've been reading more (mostly novels), writing more about my life (blogging), I've also been trying to get a taste of what an educator is like; sharing my thoughts on public policies, morality, and justice with people I think would want to listen.
Looking around, it seems that the majority of people are just following the crowd; doing this and that because 'many others are also doing this' or 'it helps me with a good job prospect.' I can tell that they are not genuinely interested in what they're doing. It doesn't bother me, but from that experience, I started to ask myself constantly, 'where do I want to be in a few years down my own path?' Proudly, I don't see any vagueness; all I see is me working towards my goals.
- Pace myself
We hear the importance of work ethic around us all the time: Elon Musk regularly works 80 - 100 hours a week (that's around 13 hours per day on average); Chinese children study from 7 a.m to 10 p.m on weekdays, or they're considered lazy. I genuinely don't think that's the right thing to be preaching in our society; it could lead to severe mental destruction, extreme burnout, and depression.
In order to keep pacing myself, I'll try to go out as often as I can; be friendly, and get to know more people (who knows I'll get along with at the end). I realized that many of my best friends are found in the oddest times: Johhny and I used to fight in our business classes; now it feels strange whenever he's not sitting beside me during lunchtime, met xxx last year and didn't really talk to her much for the entire time, but in Y13, she turns out to be one of my best buddies.
However, it's essential to know our limits, and we have to learn to push ourselves. When I decided to focus on the things that matter to me the most, it seemed that I had to drop some of my commitments in the first place because I won't have time for them all (therefore I did: rowing, tennis...). Nonetheless, I can confidently say that I have never pushed myself as hard as I did in the first half-year of my Y13. Just think about juggling; once I've learned to juggle 5 or 6 balls, juggling 3 balls is easy. Now I am taking 5 classes; if I am okay to handle it right now, in college, when I need to involve in clubs, do my research and thesis at the same time, it won' be such a trouble. On a related note, I do set aside some time in my schedule for leisure. Working 70+ hours on academic obligations is a sure way to burn out; our minds need to rest once in a while.
I realized some months ago that there are different types of intelligence. At school, I've met people who were pretty average academically but with incredible social skills, and that was enough to carry them far. I met people who are brilliant at writing academic papers but terrible at sports. I met other freaky smart people in math, but they weren't ambitious at all. Obviously, I have no problems with them for not pushing themselves to their potential because they all had their own reasons for doing so. If all they want is to get good grades, make their parents happy, and fulfill the requirement to go to their ideal universities, that's totally fine.
The people who are the MOST talented aren't necessarily the people who will shine the brightest. Here's a memorable quote on Quora by Prakash Sanker:
"The saddest thing I learned through my college time was that these awesome colleges pump you up – they tell you that you're brilliant and have the potential to do awesome things. But then, 4 years out, they push you towards one of 5 professions – lawyer, software engineer, consultant, investment banker, or graduate student. It's really sad that the SMARTEST people in the world - people who are taught to reason about the systems of power in the world, people who are given the tools to mentally reason about architecting their own lives…end up doing one of 5 things."
When I tried to be social, many of my peers often said 'weird' things about me randomly starting a small talk or conversation with others. But there's no other time in life other than high school or university where we'll be surrounded by people who are in our age group and eager to meet others. Just think about how cringe it would be to do the same thing at a random Starbucks when I start dating after I am outside of school. Perhaps that's what happens at every stage of your life; no matter how much effort you put into building your personal image, it's still imperfect. At the same time, reflecting upon others' attitudes, I want to carry humility. I don't tell people any achievement of mine unless they ask, and I rarely try to assert that I'm a fine person at doing xxx in my school; there's always someone better.
- Keep thriving
I always encourage myself to take a well-rounded approach to academics; when I am done with my school work, I go back and do other work. When my core courses are all Math and Physics, I find myself leaning more towards the things that are different. I may never use calculus ever again in my life, but I remember the English lesson I had of learning different variants of English, Economics lessons on Poverty (people in South Africa who spend less than 1.8 dollars a day), and the saxophone lesson I took of playing Jazz music...
Even with all the rejection letters that I've received, one thing I can be sure of is that it won't be the end of this chapter. I know when people around me figure out that I got rejected by these many universities, they are going to say it has been a hopeless waste of time; I'd never think of that. Perhaps I just need to surround myself with positive people; they don't need to be smart or smarter, as long as they have their own view and thinking, it's good enough for me. Maybe it just simply depends on how I look at it. For some (no names), rejection means soul-crushing; for some, they get accepted by all Ivy League schools and eventually turn them all down and go to their local state school in Alabama (mainly due to financial issues, ivies often don't offer full-ride ride scholarships)... And for me, I just have to stay open and stay learning.