Alma mater: Cal Poly SLO
Occupation: Broke student
3 Successes: Boogying into the night with my roommates instead of preparing for a morning final, Changing majors junior year of college, Strengthening friendships and forging new ones
3 Failures: Having too much pride to admit I was not alright; Failing to apply myself earlier in my life; Physics III, quite literally (the class with the morning final, lol)
"It is pretty common to hear people talk about how they don’t have their shit together. I’m so screwed for the midterm. I don’t know how I’m going to survive this week… Am I ugly? These cries of self-deprecation are readily remedied with words of reassurance and encouragement. While this mentality of self-doubt may seem toxic, I can assure you that the grass can be even more toxic on the other side.
Throughout my life, I was always on the opposite end of the extreme — a person who had too much pride in being secure and self-sufficient. Growing up, my mom believed it was imperative that my sister and I become comfortable dealing with tough situations. There’s this phrase in Cantonese she’d use that reflected this idea, 你要吃苦 (nay yiu sik fu), which literally translate to you gotta eat bitter, or as I like to word it, you gotta eat sh*t. What this saying meant was that in order to elicit growth, you had to endure hardships. While there is no denying that I still was raised with a silver spoon pretty far up my ass, I found great reassurance in my ability to adapt from the overseas sh*t eating adventures my mom put my sister and I through. From the time we got stuck in a remote village in China during a typhoon when I was eight, to the summer I spent living in a decrepit dorm with my cockroach buddies in Shanghai in my early teens, I came to believe that I was resilient enough to handle anything life threw at me. It wasn’t until life scoffed at my arrogance and knocked me down a few levels that l realized my greatest strength was the main contributor to my biggest failure.
Following my sophomore year summer internship, I quickly learned I spent two years studying something I had zero interest in (jesum crow why was I studying accounting?!). My gut told me I was selling myself short. I realized I wanted more freedom in my work. I was in dire need of a creative outlet. So, at the beginning of junior year, I went to talk to my adviser, Jamey, about switching into my school's Computer Science program. Initially, she was hesitant to approve my decision. She warned me about the difficulty of the courses, how impacted the program was, the extended timeline of my graduation, and the grades I needed to attain to be admitted. She wanted to be sure I understood what I was getting myself into. In spite of all this, I was adamant on switching and she agreed to sign the contract (Bless your soul Jamey).
While those initial quarters of the Computer Science curriculum absolutely wrecked me, junior year wasn’t just about the struggles of changing majors — it was about other events happening in my life as well. While I’m not going to delve too much into my personal life for a bunch of strangers to read, my intention is to emphasize the topic of mental health and the importance of having a group of friends you can rely on.
There’s the gender norm that men aren’t supposed to show emotion or that grown men don’t cry. For the longest time, I ascribed to this idea. As I eased into this rigorous new curriculum, I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to get the grades I needed to switch. Consequently, I was more stressed than I had ever been in my life. While school did its toll on me, something came out of left field that rattled me in such a way that I had no idea how to deal with it. That October, one my biggest inspirations, a skateboarder I looked up to growing up, lost his battle to leukemia. For months, there were instances where I kept myself from crying by telling myself how ridiculous it was to be rocked this hard by the passing of someone I didn’t personally know. I pent up these feeling because I thought they were irrational; crying about it wasn’t the masculine thing to do. I never gave myself a chance to fully grieve. I swallowed those tears. To compound the distress further, family issues continued to escalate back home, cranking up the fire on the pressure cooker that was my mind. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my significant other, about how awful I felt out of the fear of how I’d be perceived.
As I was in denial that some wild shit was bubbling in my head, these emotions that I shoved deep into my conscious began to push back. It began to take its toll on me. There’s that saying that goes, 'Your perception is your reality.' That saying could not be more false in my scenario. I thought I could deny that these emotions existed until they disappeared; I’ll tell you now, that sh*t does’t work. As I continued to refused to acknowledge this rancid stew brewing in the back of my mind, I couldn’t put my finger on why I kept getting episodes of sleep paralysis or why I felt this immense weight on my shoulders as I tried to keep up this facade of composure. Throughout my life I was always able to figure my way out any situation, but this was different. I felt the walls closing in with no escape route in sight. As the year progressed further, I felt more and more unlike myself as this negativity slowly permeated into the fabric of my character. There were times at night where I asked myself, 'where did I go?' Even though I eventually succeeded in getting the grades I needed to switch majors, there was already major damage (pun hella intended) done to my psyche.
It wasn’t until the lid violently blew off the pot that I realized in retrospect how bad of a place I was mentally. That summer, as family issues reached a breaking point and my relationship failed, life delivered me a knockout punch straight to the dome à la Mike Tyson. As I lay there sprawled on the floor at the most vulnerable period in my life, somewhere in my thick skull, I finally realized I couldn’t handle this on my own. It was at that point where I did what I personally consider one of the most difficult things in my life: opening up to my closest friends about my personal issues.
Throughout that period when my friends helped me pick up the pieces, something strange happened; I gradually began to feel better than I ever have. For the longest time, I thought I could handle anything, but lo and behold, I am now not ashamed to admit that I needed help. At the end of the day, your image doesn’t mean sh*t and your ego only gets in the way of enjoying life. Be mindful of the source of your emotions and understand the purpose behind your actions. Living life worrying about how people perceive you is pointless; when you dictate how you live based off externalities, you are only being dishonest with yourself. Be human, be resilient, and be open. Remember that when life slugs you in the face, know that you can turn to the people in your corner to help pick you up. With their support, you’ll come to realize that life is pretty damn sick."
Alma mater: MIT
3 Successes: Finally found a place to work (McKinsey) that accepts that I really don’t know what I want to do yet, Introduced three classes of students to MIT through running university orientation, Found strong mentors in my fraternity and among MIT faculty and staff
3 Failures: Descended into near-depression in my sophomore year, Never made it through a winter season of rowing training without injuring myself, Didn’t learn to be spontaneous until way too late in my college career
"I had what you could describe as a 'successful' freshman year. I scored pretty high on my grades, was able to manage my time well enough in college to continue on with the rowing team, and I was able to really ingrain myself in the fraternity I rushed right as I arrived to campus in the fall, Zeta Psi. I was riding on a high going into May, even while I was staring down finals week, with four exams, one after another after another. I had my research all set and would even get to live in my fraternity over the summer! I wasn’t even that far from my girlfriend, who was living at home in Connecticut; we could visit each other very easily with the myriad trains and buses speeding up and down the Northeast Corridor. The summer turned out to be my most exciting yet, and I couldn’t have been happier. As anyone can guess, it didn’t carry into the fall.
My sophomore fall started with a shock. No, it wasn’t the classes I was taking (at least, not yet) or the blues of actually having to deal with weekly problem sets. It was something much more personal. After the entire summer and on my first day of classes, my girlfriend decided that things needed to end. I was blindsided. Yeah, it was a high school relationship and very few of those ever end well in college, but I had already passed the usual endpoints; we made it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and time off of school. During my freshman year, she was a rock for me (if you ask my friends, too much of one), even though we went to different schools.
I started to drift a bit, like I pulled up an anchor, as I realized the first problem that caused me to spiral downwards. Because I spent so much time with her, be it on the phone or in person, I didn’t socially connect with many people in the Class of 2018 outside of my friends I saw every day in Zeta Psi and on the rowing team. I considered her and I way too permanent, and ended up without knowing enough people here, which honestly hamstrung me socially for the next year or so, as I began to finally make the connections and friendships I should have made in freshman year.
That wasn’t all. During my freshman summer, while I was doing research in Cambridge, my family was starting to move back to London again, after we had just moved to Connecticut three years prior. Already, I knew that I was going to be much more alone, given that any contact with my family would be on a five hour time difference, which is an issue when your free time is in the afternoon. Then my parents started splitting up. Throughout the semester, I avoided much contact with my parents, and by extension my siblings, because I couldn’t bear to hear anything new about the fights and the vitriol between the two, since it clashed so strongly with my mental model of my earlier stable family. Another anchor that I had keeping me from listing aimlessly was pulled up.
Lastly, a couple of weeks into the semester, I realized that I had absolutely zero passion for what I was doing in my classes. Hours spent poring over dynamics and materials problems for my mechanical engineering classes left me with only an exhausted mind and no satisfaction that I actually was doing anything useful. In the spring before, I had thought I would be excited moving into these in-major classes, but I couldn’t have been further from reality. By the end of the semester, I dropped about half of my classes and switched majors to the one with the only technical class I had left. I didn’t know whether I would actually enjoy computer science, but I couldn’t drop artificial intelligence without losing the ability to row, so I powered through. Thus, academics weren’t even constant for me.
Suffice it to say I was unhealthily adrift at this point. Why open up when there’s always the possibility that the world will knock you right back down? Why put myself out there when everything seems to be crashing down around me?
Had I not had my brothers in Zeta Psi who I lived with, I might have continued to spiral. They brought me back out into the world to be social and productive again. My friend Sam, who I still keep in touch with and visit as much as possible in New York City, worked with me closely on every lab in that AI class. Eventually Sam, who was the Interfraternity Council president, even saw something in me and gave me the push to try student government in the IFC; this became a new rock for me to hold onto as I continued on the IFC for the following two years. My pledge class brought me more and more into the social life around the Institute, inviting me to socials, introducing me to their friends around the school, and helping me realize the outgoing side of me that was starving for human interaction.
My biggest takeaway was to always remain open to the world, no matter how often and how strongly it challenges your resolve. With time, I figured out a way to get around how I supposedly lost my anchors. Probably to freshman me’s surprise, I got over my ex quicker than I expected. In my junior year, I found a job that allowed me to actually not know what I want to do yet, even as I prepare to leave the Institute. Now, as my mom and dad both remarry, I feel like I am finally back in their lives (and those of my second mom and dad) and have absorbed the shock to my system, bouncing right back. Without finally opening up, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I am here because I finally decided to keep the door open."
Alma mater: University of Texas
Occupation: Business student
3 Successes: Featured in HuffPost’s 10 Girlboss Women in Tech and Their Advice For You, Transferred into the Business Honors Program for my school, Interned at Deloitte after freshman year
3 Failures: Never made a 4.0 during a college semester, Rejected from the Gifted & Talented Program every year during elementary and middle school, Stayed in too many Friday nights
"I’ve taken the Gifted and Talented exam, an entrance exam for a program only for 'students with a high-performance capability in intellectual, creative, and artistic areas with an unusual capacity for leadership', and was rejected every year x 7. Growing up with an annual rejection from this program, I began to think that because I didn't meet the program's definition of success and creativity, I would never have these characteristics. But with every rejection, I gained the courage to always try for one more shot. I’ve become very risk-seeking and pursued opportunities that I wouldn’t have had the guts for (such as KodeWithKlossy), flying alone internationally, and attending my first college formal. I was never accepted into the Gifted and Talented program, but I developed an unimaginable amount of grit and a perspective that titles and labels fluctuate. I think we are so focused on the reputation and brand of a school, company, or program that we forget about the resources we have within us. The only program that you need is you, and you are the only one that sets the limits."
Alma mater: UC Berkeley
3 Successes: Meeting my high school mentor; Paying for a year of tuition; Being in a position to start teaching others
3 Failures: Not prioritizing learning; Taking too many GPA boosters; Not getting lunch more often
"When I reflect on the countless missteps I've taken and the rejections that I've swallowed, I find that many of my 'typical' failures end up giving me a slap in the face for my bad habits or aspects of life that I've taken for granted. For example, getting rejected from Berkeley, not getting an final round with a good bank, and getting rejected from a cornucopia of student organizations each gave me a chance to fix up parts of my life.
It turns out that the biggest failures of the short life that I've lived thus far are uninformed outlooks and bad habits that I felt have gone on for too long or simply ones that I did a horrible job of noticing. One of my failures I regret the most is not getting lunch more often. This regret doesn't just stem from the new foodie persona that being in the Bay Area has pushed onto me; rather, it belies the missed chances I've had to sit down with the people I cared about and interesting folks that I wanted to meet. Through my first two years at university, I worked hard to get internships and straight As under my belt, but that came at the expense of fostering the friendships that I've only come to appreciate now. Time and time again, I would prioritize work over goofing around with friends, deeming that as a waste of time.
At the end of the day, I did not fully appreciate the people I was surrounded by. Going to university is an incredible opportunity not just because of the degree, but also for the amazing diversity of students and professors you're surrounded by. UC Berkeley is a good example of that, and I'm damn lucky to have appealed in. To me, 'getting lunch' simply means meeting a new friend, catching up with an old one, learning about a new concept, or seeing things from a new perspective. Who knows what that extra Chipotle burrito bowl, Sharetea boba, or Fieldwork beer will come with."
3 Successes: Obtained a Fulbright grant, Joined Acacia Fraternity at Cornell, Participated in the Long Island Challenge
3 Failures: Failed another person in a relationship, Pursued a Fulbright for the wrong reasons, Stayed in the wrong undergraduate major/school because it was beneficial to my family
"I have never felt as defeated as I did towards the end of 2017 in Finland. I am on a Fulbright grant and when I initially received the honor last summer, I was ecstatic. But then I realized, after the honeymoon phase of a new country wore off, that I was not ecstatic anymore about pursuing the studies in which the grant allowed me to do. I suppose I was initially driven by the pleasure that the recognition of the award would give my parents. It was a deep-rooted issue in which many students face; the fear of not being good enough. Fast forward to today, I realize this thinking was flawed. When I hit adversity and loneliness in a new country, it was very difficult for me to overcome the emotions because my motivation was fuzzy. It took a great deal of self-reflection and reassessment to recourse my life. For this, I don't completely regret the experience, as it pushed me to create direction again and analyze my problems. Yet, it took some looking into the mirror to admit that just because someone offers you a great opportunity does not mean that is the one greatest for you."
Alma mater: Duke University
3 Successes: Designed and executed an independent research project as a freshman, Produced some pretty nice music, Made amazing friends
3 Failures: Rejected from everything I applied to during the first semester of my sophomore year, Got my first C at Duke, Fell in love for the first time then got my heart broken
"After spending countless hours preparing for my first summer internship recruiting season, I was denied by every single place I applied to. Because of this failure, the first semester of my sophomore year was incredibly tough.
Growing up, I always had incredible confidence. I believed that anything I worked for was attainable. The first time that I really woke up and saw that I could fail was when I fell in love for the first time. I always thought that romantic love did not exist. I remember how hard it hit me as I gazed at a girl I was seeing while she was playing her favorite soul song for me to hear. That was the first time I imagined a future with someone. Life said it was not meant to be for a lot of reasons I still do not understand.
The only other time I felt such a piercing sense of defeat was being rejected by all the consulting and banking firms I applied for sophomore year. I spent my entire freshman year networking. After being flown out to multiple cities, I was pretty confident in my ability to secure an internship as a sophomore. The recruiting process was one of the most taxing experiences I had ever gone through. I read through Case in Point as a freshman and again as a sophomore; I could not go to sleep without at least knowing who the top 3 gainers and losers were in the stock market; and I found myself taking important phone calls or writing important emails almost every day for months. After receiving my first rejection I was not completely shaken but my confidence slowly started to go down as I received the second and then the third. Rejection after rejection came and I completely broke down. I started second guessing my value and began to doubt myself in everything.
I felt this overwhelming sense of failure because in a campus like Duke, every success is just a placeholder for the next success and every failure makes you want to hide under a rock. Fallibility does not feel welcome, and when I look around at other students it feels like there is a fake sense of confidence that everyone lives with. Uneasiness with failure just breeds more stress and unhappiness but nobody is willing to say 'I failed.'"
Alma mater: DePaul University
3 Successes: Reached my junior year of college as an 18 year old, Volunteered to tutor U.S residents for the U.S. citizenship test, Raised over $1,000 and shaved my head for childhood cancer research
3 Failures: Denied from every other university I applied to; Flunked U.S History; Worked in a pizzeria for 2 days, never got called back, and didn't get paid
"Having two older 'screw-up' brothers really puts the pressure on the third to avoid the same mistakes. Having a D average since the 2nd grade really doesn't give the impression of success. Being told by your elementary school principal that you 'won't get anywhere in life' isn't the ideal phrase to hear when you're 7 years old. My only issue was that I never changed.
I was accepted into a reasonable high school because of the sibling rule in the charter system, and I transferred out at the end of my sophomore year with about a 1.9 GPA. I failed my first and only class of my life, and it was U.S History. I still keep that fourth quarter report card on my nightstand so I look at the straight D's and the single F every time I clean my room. Surprisingly, even to me, I had never failed a single class at that point. There's nothing like going into a new school during your junior year as a high-risk liability to the program. After a few weeks of my usual self and finishing an online class to cover for my failure, something clicked. For the first time in my life, I realized that I was surrounded by peers that wanted to succeed and teachers that wanted to help. I picked up my grades to a B average for two years and applied to every school I could for general engineering, which was a complete long shot, but I had to try. I was denied from every single one. Late in the year, as all of my friends accepted their offers of admission, I almost fully wrapped my head around never going to college. One day my parents and counselor had a surprise meeting during class and pushed me to try one more application as a marketing major instead. There's nothing more motivating than seeing your mother cry one more time over your mistakes.
On national college decision day, I received an acceptance packet for DePaul University and the weight on my back for 12 years lifted ever so slightly, but I knew I still had a long road ahead. Today, for the first time in my life, I have a life plan. I'm passing my classes and am planning on adding a minor in music management to help achieve my goal of creating a music promotion company right here in Chicago. Every week, I go into class and think about the past, but I also think about the future and even the present just to remind myself how much work I still have to achieve my dreams."
Alma mater: MIT