Year: 2017 (Undergraduate Studies), 2018 (Graduate Studies)
3 Successes: Got into BreakFree Hip Hop, Joined Cornell Application Development as a Designer, Interned at Facebook
3 Failures: Rejected by almost every company ever, Actually failed some classes, Realized how little I had my sh*t together my junior year
"During my junior year, I realized I had no idea what I was doing with my college experience and was not passionate, in any way, about the career path I had laid out for myself. I was going to classes and failing in them because of my lack of interest, so I took a step back to re-evaluate what was wrong. Despite being a junior and feeling an overwhelming pressure to, like everyone else, continue on with the path I had paved, I took a sharp pivot and began to try new things that have made me much happier. Don't ever be scared of detours if they'll lead you where you need to go."
Year: 2018 (Undergraduate Studies)
3 Successes: Served as President of Forté Cornell, Was a leading TA for my major's classes, Ran a highly attended "Cornell Business Bootcamp" program with one of my friends
3 Failures: Rejected by all the finance and consulting clubs on campus, Didn't receive a return offer from my banking internship, Failed to make any friends freshmen year
"My whole college journey has been some sort of Failure Project on an individual level. Every semester, I feel like some impending failure is dangling over my head, and as small or menial as it seems now, I used to feel that my future would only consist of failure. My freshmen year, I was in a long distance relationship where I failed to see the signs of abuse and resulting mental trauma. I was so afraid of leaving this person and being 'forever alone' that I continued to be in this relationship, despite knowing that it was not healthy in the slightest. For me, the real failure was embedded in how I did not respect myself; I let someone treat me poorly and didn't love or acknowledge myself in return. Overcoming this failure meant respecting my own process and remaining calm about my own well-being. I've also reached a state where other people can't make me feel anything less than who I truly am.
My sophomore year, I continued to apply to ultra competitive business clubs with no fruition. I would get rejection after rejection, with absurd reasons backing these rejections (“too intense”, “not intense enough”, “cannot see her as a mentor”, “cannot see her as a mentee” etc.). Irrationally, I thought this was the end of my professional career. I never took a step back to understand that I was simply not aligned with these clubs - my personality, goals, and passions were simply different from what these organizations had to offer. I applied because that’s what everyone around me was doing. I failed for pursuing the status quo and not discovering my personal fit. To solve this, I streamlined my process and made sure that I understood clubs and their missions in detail. As a result, I found my niche and joined three amazing groups that I legitimately care about and can add real value to.
My junior year internship was a prestigious internship that I thought I wanted to do. I loved the people, I enjoyed the firm, but I did not enjoy the work I was doing. I forced myself to like it over the course of the internship because this was an internship (and eventual job) anyone would be lucky to have. Yet, here I was, both not understanding or appreciating the tasks I was doing. It felt like the biggest failure of my life. Did I seriously go through an arduous recruitment process only to not see the value in the reward? Do I lack the skills for this job? Am I not good enough? To compensate, I forced myself to enjoy it. Likewise, those were the most miserable 8 weeks of my professional life; my work had nothing to do with my professional and personal interests, and my love for the company culture did not outweigh the fact that the job did not excite me. I thought there was something wrong with me because I was 'failing' at a job people would kill to have. I ended up revealing my honest feelings for the role and, unsurprisingly, did not receive a full-time return offer. However, this event led me to take more risks during my senior year; I recruited for industries I was less acquainted with but far more interested in. I not only realigned my professional goals with my job search, but I also found a group of people going through the same ordeal as me. Now, I'm back on track with a job I'm energized about and laugh at the times I was freaking out. While this failure shaped me, I refused to let it define me."
3 Successes: Currently working at Spotify, Interned at Google, Elected President of Delta Sigma Pi
3 Failures: Rejected from LinkedIn, Failed a Mushrooms exam (lol), Denied from 4 different business-oriented clubs in my first year
"I had spoken to a bunch of current employees of LinkedIn and thought I was an amazing fit. The role was focused in Ad Sales, which I had done the previous two summers. I had reached out on LinkedIn to numerous employees, managers, and interns while prepping for the interviews. I sat in on seminars and learned all about the company's values and latest projects. I had two interviews that I thought went really well. But, I was rejected. I was pretty upset by this and asked the recruiter what I had done wrong or why they thought I wasn't a good fit. The recruiter said I sounded formulaic and did not have a strong enough narrative of why I wanted to go into sales. This experience actually helped me realize that I did not want to continue in sales, and led me to where I am today! However, that rejection is definitely one that hurt the most; I spent more time on the phone with LinkedIn employees than I did with any other firm."
3 Successes: Served as Executive Vice President of Cornell Consulting Club, Transferred out of AEM, Spent last summer in Thailand building a sustainable distribution strategy for 870 households
3 Failures: Didn't run for President of Cornell Consulting Club, Transferred into AEM, Had food poisoning too many times to count while in Thailand
"I was incredibly impressionable when freshman me stumbled down a crowded aisle of Club Fest tables. I weaved and bobbed and somehow found myself surrounded by booths of students in pant suits each advertising themselves as the best business club on campus. There were promises of transferable skills, alumni networks, jobs upon graduation.... it all sounded like something I needed in my life. A few sweaty handshakes and quarter cards sealed the deal. Days later, I proceeded to apply to Cornell Consulting Club; I was drawn to this community because I found individuals that would serve as my role models. I think we all have this story. We've been sucked into groups that mold our ambitions and shape our personalities, shaving a bit of individuality to be a part of the collective in the process. We all have mentors – people we aspire to be in four years. Although I never explicitly set the goal of being President of Cornell Consulting Club, I failed to acknowledge my own skills and accomplishments that made me a fit for the role. For me, it was not a matter of insecurity, rather a mental challenge to consider myself equal to these people I placed so high on pedestals all those years ago. And again, this story is not uniquely mine. This phenomenon is so ubiquitous, it has been coined by psychologists as the Impostor Syndrome – that nagging feeling of never being worthy, intelligent, or competent enough despite a lengthy list of accomplishments. As the self-proclaimed consulting god, Victor Cheng, said in his daily email today, 'Arguably the people with the greatest accomplishments are the most insecure – in part because they are close enough to perfection to see it, but never close enough to reach it.' I, along with many people at Cornell, am guilty of brushing aside my greatest strengths while dwelling far too long on my weaknesses and disappointments. In fact, this culture is being glorified in Facebook meme pages (with larger followings than school newspapers) at every top university. Here, you can find the normalization of tanking GPAs and disapproval of high paying internships (among other day-to-day failures). Personal excellence is not frowned upon, but it is not commended either. There is excellence in everyday actions if you strive to be the kindest, most thoughtful, and most passionate person you can be. Internalize your accomplishments and build on them as you move forward. External standards and titles won't keep you warm at night. But, then again, Kanye says your degree(s) won't either."
3 Successes: Interned at Amazon, Served as the Editor-in-Chief of Cornell Business Review, Am a classical piano composer
3 Failures: Rejected by Harvard, Yale, and Stanford twice; Didn't pass the University of Iceland Medical School entrance exam; Never got into a research lab as a biology major
"I almost left Cornell after my first year—at the time, I had decided I wanted to go to medical school, but I didn't have the money to do so in the US. So, I tried to get into med school in Iceland. The system is quite different there; there is no undergrad, just six years of med school. However, you have to take a twelve-hour entrance exam. Hundreds take it, and only a handful get in. Most people who are serious about the exam spend about six months preparing. I, on the other hand, started studying about two and a half weeks before the exam date, a few days after my Cornell finals. I figured I could do it: after all, I had a full year of college on the rest of them, and I figured the fact that the exam was in Icelandic would not hinder me much. Perhaps that would have been true in an ideal world, but I'll never find out. I placed three spots below the cutoff, a matter of a few points. Truth be told, I was rather lazy about my studying, and I didn't put in nearly as many hours as I should have. At any rate, it was a failure, and the next entrance exam was in a year. My parents were disappointed, my relatives, surprised, and I... I was unsure. I could see it simply as another failure and to keep trudging through pre-med at Cornell with the hopes of getting a full-ride into an MD/PhD program. Instead, I chose to learn from it. I realized that the reason I had put off studying for so long was because I really wasn't crazy about going to medical school. That summer, I decided I would try new things at Cornell. I enrolled in two Econ classes along with my normal premed ones. Two weeks later, I realized I really didn't like Econ, so I swapped those classes for CS. Two years later, CS is still my major. There are days when I wish I had stuck with pre-med (and they seem to line up suspiciously often with CS exam dates), but if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing."
3 Successes: Developed genuine friendships with supportive people, Earned letters for four straight years for the Cornell Men's Soccer Team, Interned at McKinsey
3 Failures: Lost a starting spot on the Cornell Men's Soccer Team in two straight years, Didn't earn a single minute of playing time for my club soccer team during senior year of high school, Rejected from multiple consulting internships
"Maybe I should have expected it, but it still felt like a punch to the stomach. Sure, I hadn't played great, but I still thought I deserved to start. It was the fifth game of my junior year, and I had been benched. I didn't know it then, but I would not play another minute at goalkeeper that year for the Cornell Men's Soccer Team.
At least I lasted this far... I remember attempting to console myself. The year before, I had only made it to one game before screwing up and losing a starting spot. As the weeks following my benching dragged on and I came no closer to regaining a place in the lineup, my confidence waned. My performances in practice suffered, and I resigned myself to a backup spot for the rest of the season.
Once the season ended, I faced a critical decision. Was I okay with just being another guy who fills a roster spot, or would I push myself to improve and earn more playing time?
I thought long and hard about this question. In doing so, I realized that much of the anxiety that had been detrimentally affecting my play had stemmed from a preoccupation with what others thought. I had been worried about what my friends, my family, and even people I didn't know might think if I lost my status as a starter. Once I realized how unhealthy that sort of thinking was, I started trying to change my state of mind. I turned inward, focusing the next nine months on improving with the help of trusted coaches and teammates.
It ended up being an arduous 373 days between official starts, but I eventually made it back in the lineup. It was extra sweet that my first game back was a historic win over our rival Syracuse. I was able to finish my career on a high note, starting the last twelve games of my senior season.
Coming back from this failure wasn't what made the whole experience so valuable. What I learned about myself in the process was instead. After all, a failure is only a failure if you fail to learn from it."
3 Successes: Accepted to BreakFree Hip Hop, Covered my own housing and food expenses starting sophomore year, Participated in Cornell/Culinary Institute of America Alliance Program
3 Failures: Rejected by Hilton Worldwide, Performed poorly in Business Computing, Instability with on-campus jobs
"As a freshman hotelie, I felt extremely pressured by my friends and other hotelies to work at The Statler Hotel as soon as possible in order to follow the trend. I got a job in the Hotel's banquet department the second semester of freshman year... and immediately regretted it. I did not enjoy the job, and the hours made me feel stressed out about managing my time spent on academics as well as extracurricular activities. I realized I only pursued the job 'to feel like a hotelie,' but that feeling was not too rewarding. I quit after a semester and found a TAing role during my sophomore year that was not only enjoyable but also flexible."
3 Successes: Interned at Blackstone, Served as President of Cornell Undergraduate Asia Business Society, Made a group of great friends at Cornell
3 Failures: Neglected a long term relationship which didn't work out, Almost got kicked out of the officer cadet course while in the army due to poor performance, Not performing academically well in high school
"I was previously in a relationship of about 4.5 years which ended during my sophomore year. While there were several reasons why the relationship ended, one of the biggest factors was due to my neglect of the relationship as a result of work and school commitments. By the time I wanted to improve things and make the relationship work, it was far too late. The subsequent months were particularly difficult, and I still find it so sometimes."
3 Successes: Served as a White House Intern within the final class of the Obama Administration; Named a Forbes Under 30 Scholar; Co-founded the Black Ivy Pre-Law Society, which was featured by Teen Vogue
3 Failures: Failed my driving test 4 times, Received a -32% (yes, a negative score) on my first college paper and fractured my ankle in the during the same week, Sobbed like a baby and couldn't speak coherently when meeting Michelle Obama for the first time
"Like most college students who are used to receiving an A+ on everything in high school, receiving a -32% on my first paper freshman year really felt like a new low... and I didn't know how to motivate myself to push forward. Up until that point, I was frequently recognized for my writing skills so I felt like my favorite teddy bear had been snatched away. I seriously considered dropping out of Cornell for a hectic 30 minutes (before I realized that I was being dramatic and that my mom would kill me). That disastrous grade now represents the necessity of learning how to adapt and dust yourself off, regardless of the circumstances. I ended that class with an A- because I refused to give up, a lesson and life skill that I have had to review over and over again as a Cornell student and young adult. Perspective and perseverance can truly make the difference when you feel like you're at the end of the road."
3 Successes: Becoming President of my fraternity, Joining Social Business Consulting, Receiving a full-time offer from Deloitte Consulting
3 Failures: Getting rejected by 50+ firms during junior year, Poor academic performance in my freshman year, Not joining the clubs that I joined sooner (earlier than junior year)
"For my junior year internship, I applied to – let's just say – many, many firms. I received a rejection from about 30-40% of them since they weren't accepting international students at the time. I didn't have much luck with the rest of my applications either and ended up interviewing with just 4 out of over 50 firms that I applied to. While I had initially wanted to do consulting, I soon realized that it would not be a possibility during my junior summer. Needless to say, it was very stressful to deal with all the rejections while still being expected to adequately juggle academics, social life, and other commitments. Eventually, I received my only offer from an e-commerce firm in Boston – a place I never expected to work at. In hindsight, it was the best experience I could've gained during that summer. That internship exposed me to a field that was completely new, and, as a result, my learning curve during the summer was steep. It helped me develop a very useful skill-set and I gained unique insights. Most importantly, it helped me differentiate myself from all those peers that had pursued an investment banking or consulting internship and wanted to do consulting full-time. While it may sound cliche, I realized at the end of my internship that results only follow persistence and hard work. What once seemed like the end of the tunnel had opened up into a whole new world filled with opportunities that I didn't even know existed!"
3 Successes: Interned at Microsoft, Served as Editor in Chief of The Cornell Daily Sun, Interned at Boeing
3 Failures: Got rejected by most of the companies I applied for; Was half an hour late to an interview; Rejected by Theta Tau, BreakFree Hip Hop, and the Opinion section of The Cornell Daily Sun
"I was considering applying for a highly selective internship for The New York Times, which would allow interns to code web applications used for story coverage and online designs. It sounded amazing, but I barely had the recommended experience and suspected that I would be eliminated because I was only a sophomore and was no software prodigy to make up for that fact (many past interns were grad students in technology and design). Initially, I griped about this to a friend and said 'I don't think I'll get the offer even if I applied,' and he said 'Not with that attitude, you won't.' After he said this, I realized that I was not only afraid of getting rejected, but also reluctant to put time and effort into something that I might not even get at the end. I hadn't even tried yet and was already pessimistic. In keeping this mindset, I forgot that the application process itself could prove to be something valuable. I had about three days before a submission was due, so I had to get ambitious. I could draw, but since this was a technical internship I had to go beyond traditional art. Wanting to make something unique, I heavily consulted Stack Overflow over the next couple days, used a digital art application and my knowledge of coding to make an interactive storytelling experience that combined music, data-driven animation and depth perception: http://syd6.github.io/snowfall. I was still rejected, but out of this experience, I picked up a few skills that proved useful in other areas of my life (creative pursuits and project ideas for The Cornell Sun) and ended up with interactive art that I could show to my friends or other recruiters. I keep reflecting on this as a reminder to not get prematurely discouraged by high barriers and to stay unflinchingly open-minded even in the face of failure, because that's the only way change and improvement can happen."
3 Successes: Won the DP Brown award for Cornell Food Science 2016-2017, R&D Intern at Kraft-Heinz my sophomore year, Merchandising Intern at Walmart my junior year
3 Failures: Quit being an athlete, Didn't get elected to the executive board of my sorority, Cut from business fraternity rush
"My freshman year, I decided I wanted to expand my social circles while simultaneously furthering my career prospects, leading me to attempt rushing a business fraternity. I had heard everyone tell me about how competitive they were, and despite my rather bland resume, I decided to go for it anyways. I enjoy networking so the first couple of events came very naturally to me. I made it all the way to the final round – I could practically feel myself as a member of the fraternity... but then bam, I was not offered a bid. I felt incredible rejected, as if the entire business world stamped a big red 'NO' on my life. Luckily, that's not the case with my professional career (as far as I know!). There is no weird 'rejected list' I am now on, and that one decision has not affected me at all in the long-term. However, at the time, I felt really unhappy and confused. Up until that point in my life, I had usually achieved my goals if I put forward my best effort. It taught me a lot about not getting what you want, but holding your head high anyways. Yes, I did eat Lucky Charms and feel talent-less that night, but the next morning I decided that it was an oversight. I decided to let myself be successful regardless of what some strangers thought of me during the 3 hours they knew me. Now I do want to be clear – I do not hold the decision to cut me against anyone, and I have many friends in business fraternities. While business fraternities have a good structure and goal, I personally can just as easily function without being a part of one. In hindsight, I do cheer myself on for making it all the way to the final round as a freshman with approximately zero work experience or prestigious connections. In fact, I am grateful for the experience I had because it made me tougher. I am also delighted to say I have had plenty of professional success despite not being in a business fraternity – there are so many other ways to advance yourself beyond just conventional clubs. At the time, this felt like a failure. Looking back, the only way I could even consider this an failure would be if I let it fully break me down. I turned it into an opportunity for reflection, and decided to move past it."
3 Successes: Interned at Accenture, Published two case studies, Got a competitive internship as a sophomore
3 Failures: Rejected from 3 firms within a week, Got yelled at by a professor for 20 minutes, Let a crazy semester get the best of me
"After two years at Cornell, I figured everything was settled – I knew how to do well (enough) in my classes, I had my friends and favorite professors all figured out, and I was pretty sure I couldn't be rattled despite the junior year chaos. I was wrong: from the minute the semester started, everything else (internship recruitment, serious friend stuff, and extracurricular involvements) piled on. Before I knew it, I was 9 weeks into a 14-week semester with grades far below what I expected of myself and too afraid to ask for help to resolve the situation. I failed during the entire semester to perform well as a student even though that's something that matters to me a lot, and I look back on those few months as a semester during which I would do a lot differently. Still, I learned a lot about how to handle tough conversations, and the confidence to recognize and manage situations that are starting to get away from me has carried me through a lot since then."
3 Successes: Founded a social impact startup called Utthan/Patuka, Former President of Forte, Interned at Citigroup
3 Failures: Rejected by a pre-school, Did not get into a business fraternity, Lost track of my passion for making change because I was afraid of what people would think
"By the end of freshman fall, I had planned every move that would help me 'succeed' at Cornell. In other words, I knew what clubs I wanted to apply to and whose footsteps to follow. I had figured it all out. Except, I got rejected from both a business fraternity and a consulting club within the span of two days. Like every other normal business minded student, I thought my life was over. I hated myself for how I had screwed up the rest of my time at Cornell. Who would respect me now? Who would hire me now? How could I be as cool as the upperclassmen who were in those organisations? People said those organisations shaped their experience at Cornell. Now who would shape mine? I probably cried myself to bed that week and thought that the remaining three years at Cornell would be a black hole. Fortunately, I had some sense left in me – or maybe just some luck – and one day decided to randomly open Denice Cassaro's email. 'Applications open for John Jacquette Entrepreneurship Award for social entrepreneurs,' I read to myself. Psh, why should I ever apply to anything again, I am a failure, I thought. Perhaps it was the fear of getting rejected again that made me hesitant to apply for a solid week. But something inside me made me do it and the submit button led to not only the award, but to two of the most important things for me at Cornell – founding Utthan and meeting my mentor, Professor Streeter, who interviewed me and has played a huge role in everything I have achieved at Cornell. Failures do not define people; the way you deal with them do. Everyone fails at something or other and it is ones' ability to bounce back that differentiates you. Had I not put my fear or failure away and taken a risk, I would have never opened new doors for myself. Even after freshman year, I have failed multiple times and gotten rejected from many things, but I value these rejections because they are what have made my successes so valuable. They keep me grounded and motivate me more than my achievements do. More importantly, they have contributed to decisions that have led me to better things. At the end of the day, no single organisation or person shaped my Cornell experience; my decisions did."
3 Successes: Never have been cut after an interview (Am I jinxing myself?), Team was awarded first place in a 24-hr long relay race for charity (ran 20 miles), Served as the Director of Finance of Anabel's Grocery
3 Failures: Forgot to set my alarm and arrived at the firm in cold sweat, (Re)introduced myself to the person who conducted my final round interview, Quit my job as a waitress after 5 days
"As a sophomore intern I normally arrived to work at 7am, but woke up one morning with my phone reading 8:30am (I either forgot to set my alarm or snoozed it too often). I jumped out of bed and panicked. I ran every scenario of how my company would fire me in my head and wrote my manager the most apologetic email confirming that I was on my way. After nervously waiting for an Uber – since the subway would have been too slow – and getting stuck in traffic at three different intersections, I arrived at my desk in cold sweat. In a broken voice, I apologized in every way conceivable. My colleagues looked up from their screens and welcomed me with a friendly good morning. After I was seated behind my computer, still trembling, my manager came over to calm me down. I was told a terrible analogy of how Michael Jordan also misses shots, but that doing so does not make him a worse player. The team understood that being late is completely human and in no way a reflection of my motivation."
3 Successes: Becoming a hip hop dancer with BreakFree Hip Hop; Successfully transferring into an Ivy League school and then signing full-time with McKinsey & Company; Making a diverse set of lifelong friends
3 Failures: Bombing one of my most important interviews because I spent 30 seconds on the phone trying to say lucrative but saying ludicrous instead (was rejected less than an hour later); Failing my way through high school and then overworking myself to compensate for it; Unsuccessfully attempting to "seriously" start a healthy exercise and diet plan 5 different times
"I still remember the night I was rejected from NYU’s Stern School of Business. I had just received the envelope in the mail, and excitedly tore it open in my room. I genuinely thought I would be basking in the light of acceptance. Instead, I was met with the exact opposite. I cried for a long time that day, and I saw a look of both disappointment and sadness in my parents’ eyes that I will never forget. They weren’t disappointed or sad that I was rejected from Stern – I think they were just heartbroken that I had been crushed by my own actions.
See, getting rejected from Stern was a terrible moment in and of itself, but this was simply the proverbial tip of the iceberg. To understand my failure is to also understand why not only just Stern, but also Stanford, Boston College, Northwestern, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara rejected me. It’s to understand why I still have deep rooted fears about falling short again and why I insist on surrounding myself with friends that are all passionate and driven about everything they do in their lives.
While high school is, I suppose, still a childhood experience, my high school experience is a distinct and personal mark of shame. The memories weigh on me like a trillion tons, and I still can’t forgive myself. The weird thing about this failure is that it’s a combination of so many different failures. I could write about how I never studied and scraped by my classes. Maybe, I could write about my horrendous video game addiction. I think I could also talk about how I gave up tennis too easily, sacrificing one of my greatest passions. Or, I could talk about falling in love with one of my best friends, only to ruin our dynamic by throwing her through a selfish hurricane of unnecessary drama and emotions.
Obviously, failure is relative. It relates to your mindset and where you perceive gaps in where you want to be versus where you are today. For me, my goals were simple, clear, and four-fold. At the time, I wanted to go to a great college that would lead to a high-performing career, get healthy and look fit, and be with that best friend I was talking about earlier. Achieving these things would have been fantastic, but I failed to work hard and put myself in the positions where I wanted to be. Going to a great college? Instead of studying and getting good grades, finding my extra-curricular passions, and searching for internships like my intelligent friends, I sat at home either gaming on my PC or Xbox 360. What about getting healthy and looking fit? Nah. I quit the tennis team because I thought it was too hard to balance with my life (even though the commitment was certainly manageable), told myself that I would ‘start being fit tomorrow, so I can eat a lot of unhealthy food today’, and blamed my mom for feeding me too much at the end of the day (talk about the ultimate first world problem). Falling in love? Nope! I decided to date some of her friends instead, put her in a tough spot by professing my feelings at probably one of the worst times possible, and then ruined the short relationship we had by acting overly clingy and focusing on the negative.
At this point, I probably sound like an awful type of person, and I was. My mindset was wired in the wrong way, and I think I felt a sense of entitlement to certain things. I believed that I could reach my goals without acting, and this mentality led me to undershoot all my expectations. I wish I could provide an inspiring message to represent this entire experience. Instead, all I can say is that I was pushed against the wall and forced to change – in my head, there was nowhere else to go. In some sense, I inadvertently rewrote my DNA; my perspectives towards the world shifted dramatically. I recognized the need for hard work and responsibility. I realized that I had been given a great privilege by my parents… but was throwing it all away. So, towards the end of my senior year and at the start of college, I worked to clean up my act and essentially become a better person. I am eternally grateful, every single day, for the admissions committees of Northeastern and Cornell for taking a chance on me and letting me access their students, faculty, and facilities.
Ironically, this high school failure brought me directly to another one. Today, I am overworked and stressed. I fear that I will slip up or burn out one day, only to return to my lazy and entitled self from years ago. This fear serves as one of my primary motivators, and it’s why everyone thinks I’m some crazy Type A try-hard professional. It dawned on me that what I considered to be one of my greatest successes – becoming a crazy hard worker – also ended up being another great failure when I heard that someone didn’t like being around me because I ‘stressed him/her out.’ Since then, I’ve never stopped thinking about that comment.
Today, I am attempting to find a fine balance, finding a way to reconcile with my past while continuing to reach for, in a calm and rational way, my goals. I am understanding, quite recently, that there is more to success than just professional attainment. Yes, I still want to go to an amazing grad school, and yes, I will still probably scare some people off because of my intensity. But, at the end of the day, I am attempting to broaden my horizons and I’m proud of myself for doing so.
While I do struggle with accepting my failures, I don’t regret where I am. If I could do this all again, including high school and all the same trials and tribulations, I would in a heartbeat. In high school, I used to see accomplishments at face value – attaining the trophy mattered more. Presently, I emphasize the process over the result – the process is what is most interesting, as from the process, I takeaway memorable life stories. Similarly, I see success and failure as a process. The road to success always makes for a better narrative, and the recovery from failure, a better one. After all, it was Nelson Mandela who said it best, 'the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.'"
3 Successes: Served as President of Medium Design Collective, Stalked recruiters better than your ex-girlfriend stalks you, Became a product designer in less than a year
3 Failures: GPA dropped faster than Future's new album, Pulled all-nighters too much, Did not spend enough time with people I love
"When I think of failures, I think of actual failures, the ones that make you feel real sh*tty about yourself without a justifiable reason. I do not consider rejections from companies as failures; I actually highly appreciate them because, thanks to them, I know I am not good enough. Then, I can stop fantasizing that I am actually better than I think I am and get my ass to work. The three failures I listed are failures that can't be justified even with my minor successes. Ironically, it is exactly the success that I aim so hard for that results in these failures. Throughout one of the hardest periods of my life, and also the period when I worked the hardest (to be honest, I am still in that period right now), I learned three painful lessons. (1) GPA might not matter (if you work in tech), but leaving a semester after solely prioritizing career over academics was simply not worth it. Getting an internship is overrated, while being a critical thinker (especially in an academically challenging setting) is underrated. Also, I encourage y'all to take humanities classes; they keep you grounded and remind you what matters the most. (2) Sacrificing my physical well being to achieve short term success is stupid. I believe there are plenty of people who can sleep less than 4 hours a day and function perfectly fine; those are the chosen few. I am the walking dead without enough hours of sleep, and being a zombie for almost a semester almost killed the things I value the most about myself—my positive spirit and my passion. Success is a life-long effort. Occasional sprints towards a short term goal should be fine (I tell myself so because successful people do that when they are young), but understanding the bigger picture is way more important. (3) SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE. This one thing will decide whether or not you will be happy, and I messed it up a bit when I was too focused developing my career. If I have time to watch random skateboarding videos (FYI, I don't know how to skateboard at all) on YouTube for 30 minutes, I should also have enough time to reach out to a close friend for a cup of coffee."
3 Successes: Interned at Deloitte Consulting; Made incredible friends through my major, fraternity, clubs and other opportunities; Joined Cornell Consulting Club and held executive board positions
3 Failures: Did not complete my real estate minor (or take more classes that interested me), Rejected by Goldman Sachs for a quant position, Did not expand my photography career
"In my last year as an undergraduate at Cornell, I began filling my schedule with courses that interested me, rather than courses that were supposedly 'easy' and required. Although I took many more 'unnecessary' courses that did not apply towards any form of accreditation, I engaged in my courses much more and gained even more knowledge than I felt I have in previous years. For this reason, I chalk this up as a failure in not engaging in a wider variety of courses that I would have enjoyed during my undergraduate career."
3 Successes: Interned at Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet; Served as Styling Director, Technical Director, and Vice President of The Thread Magazine; Served as Performance Director of BreakFree Hip Hop Dance
3 Failures: Got a 14% on my first Biology exam, Didn't win a case competition in my major of study, Rejected by many companies for internships
"Let's be honest here - we've all had that one ego-busting experience where we were pretty sure we'd achieve something but in the end, fell short: a sports game we thought we had in the bag, an interview we mistakenly thought we killed, or a recipe we thought would win Top Chef but actually tasted like sh*t. For me, I thought I would win a case competition. I'm a firm believer in the phrase 'hard work pays off.' My junior year, I worked tirelessly for 5 months, pulling at least 9 all-nighters in e-Hub, going to class with gross hair and bloodshot eyes, and ignoring my academics to work on this project. Towards the end, I thought to myself, I put in so much effort... how could I not win? A couple people get picked from each class. I have to be in that group...right? Nope. I didn't win, and several of my classmates did. And I don't mean to diminish their accomplishments; they certainly worked hard at this task too. I just had such high hopes. I had both friends and peers review my work and tell me, constantly, 'don't worry, you got this.' One of the toughest parts about failing is not being able to ignore your brain when it daydreams about your missed successes. Winning could have opened a lot of doors and yes, the personal validation would've been a sweet icing. But I had lost and I had to come to terms with it. I had to face all those people who I told I had entered into this contest and look at myself in the mirror with extreme disappointment (wearing pretty clothes can help fight this a little bit). In a cliche way, it's a struggle picking yourself back up. I guess that's all a part of the process. Failure is a learning experience. After some time passed and I stopped beating myself up about the competition, I realized that the world wasn't over and the case was, sure as hell, a humbling experience. A renowned dance company I enjoy watching lives by the motto 'Go To Grow.' I fell flat on my face, but I can say for certain that I grew from that experience and I am very thankful for that."
3 Successes: Graduating Cornell in 3 years, Incoming Rotational Associate at D.E. Shaw & Co., Inculcating a community of creative nihilists
3 Failures: Being confronted about being mean constantly, Finding happiness ephemeral, Never receiving a degree from Harvard College
"At an info session for my business fraternity, I was asked by a sophomore if I felt that my internship challenged me more than anything else I had done. I probably shouldn't have snapped back, but I was feeling moodier than usual. 'No, I don't find things like a job or school all that challenging. They're engaging for sure, they can be difficult, but the most challenging things in life are personal. Heartbreak, death, remorse, finding meaning or meaninglessness.'
I have always felt most defeated by the things that ripped me farthest away from meaningfulness and into depression. Nothing has ever come close to the heartbreak of watching a three year long relationship finally crumble away on the last afternoon of my freshman year at Cornell.
I regret my actions when I hurt people accidentally, and litigating and re-litigating broken personal relationships tends to uncover accidents that were previously glossed over. The successes I share matter, but what I worry about the most is not finding fulfillment in other people and not being able to cover it up with intellectual and financial success.
Gladly, this story isn't that bleak. We're the closest of friends again now. But, the future's always hazy."
3 Successes: Elected President of Cornell Strategic Consulting, Grew my confidence in making new friendships, Rediscovered my love for reading and writing
3 Failures: Failed to get an interview for over 15 internships, Didn't make enough time for fun, Prioritized academic requirements and competition over interests
"In high school, I took a very diverse course load – as many of us do. I enjoyed the variety in my daily routine: reading Spanish short stories, calculating forces, and debating American politics. It wasn’t until a college counsellor pointed me in the direction of studying engineering that I had even considered the field. Rather, I was drawn to various majors like Cognitive Neuroscience or Economics, which may have been my academic focus had I not been accepted early decision to Cornell University.
There, however, I would go on to study Operations Research (OR) in the College of Engineering, where I was quickly swept into a new world of problem sets, formula sheets, and seemingly infinite lines of code. The students I encountered there were unlike any breed I had come across previously: tenacious in their study habits, determined beyond belief, and impeccable in their execution come exam season. Being the competitive person I am, I allowed myself to be dragged into the ring with them, furiously pushing myself to not only keep up with but excel beyond the pack. It was only recently that I came up for air following a conversation with a friend about books we had enjoyed. In reflecting on the conversation later that evening, I realized that though I was doing well and learning a lot in my studies, I lacked the academic fulfillment which I had enjoyed in high school. Caught up in the competitive frenzy, I had mechanically focused only on the required classes at hand, and in turn, neglected the others in which I was truly interested.
This is not to say that I regret my decision to study OR. On the contrary, I think that there are very few majors which I would prefer. I only want to point out that our interests often branch beyond the list of classes which will comprise our degree. It is easy to let that list consume your academic experience, as mine did. Luckily, it is not too late for redemption. I have three semesters left at this magnificent institution and intend to fill them with new pursuits."
3 Successes: Getting accepted into Cornell University, Made inspiring and supportive friends, Served in several leadership roles on campus
3 Failures: Bombed a prelim (or two), Forgot languages/hobbies I had engaged in for years, Should have pursued a more interesting major
"I failed when I didn't run for a position I should have ran for. When I was interested, the first person I talked to explained to me how much work it would be, but still encouraged me to go for it. However, I wanted a second opinion before deciding what to do. The second person was the current position-holder, and their words of encouragement would have been the perfect push I needed. 'No, you aren't ready.' My hopes dissolved in a five minute conversation that left me on the table wondering: where did I go wrong? I worked hard, showed commitment and responsibility, and was well-liked in the organization. More than that, I had the same number of semesters of experience as the president. But this wasn't about politics, it was about the principle. At the end of the day, it wasn't about an election. It was that someone else's words got the better of me. A failure worse than letting other people down is when you let yourself down. At that time, I didn't stand up for myself. Now, I have learned that you are going to encounter all types of people in the world. Make sure you shine for who you are."
3 Successes: Raised 4,000 RMB to support two orphans with disabilities through elementary school in rural China, Elected as President of Cornell Undergraduate Asia Business Society, Knocked out my opponent in my first ever Tae Kwon Do match in college
3 Failures: Got rejected by 20+ companies, Puked in my best friend's parents' car when she was the designated driver, Got rejected from an A Capella group at Cornell
"In my freshman fall, I auditioned for, in my opinion, the best A Capella group at Cornell. Having sung in chamber choir for 5 years and in my own A Capella group in senior high, I was quite confident I would make it. The fact that I had not experienced many instances of rejection prior to college did not help with keeping my pride in check. So, after walking out of the final round extremely confident, I was beyond devastated when I received the rejection call later that night. It can seem like you are a complete mess-up when you fail at something in college, especially when it’s the first thing you try-out for. A new environment with new and competitive faces surrounding you can exacerbate any feelings of inadequacy. After that rejection, I felt inferior and as if I hit rock-bottom.
However, this experience taught me one of the most important lessons I have learned at Cornell. That lesson is to take control of your own life, and shape any situation, no matter how grim, into something better. Never accept a failure as purely that, as every closing door is an opportunity for you to open another. For me, I dedicated my freshman year to both my business society and my Tae Kwon Do team instead. The result? I made the most amazing friends and I still don’t know what I did to deserve them.
If you ever find yourself reeling from a loss or rejection, understand that such events occur to all of us at Cornell. Do not feel inadequate or defeated. Take life by the reins and bounce back even stronger."
3 Successes: Finding my first mentor; Finding my opportunity to mentor; Having friends that are passionate, eccentric, and will last a lifetime
3 Failures: Not quitting things that did not create value for me, Getting a sub-2.75 GPA, Not having enough drinks
"There are a lot of 'failures' that are considered to be more traditional: being rejected from an Asana programming interview, not getting into an organization, or failing to meet expectations on projects. And, those types of failures may as well be ones that others would probably find more interesting. However, I think those failures were successes in disguise because they served as foundations to learn and understand myself and my growth. Of my failures, the following are more riddled with regret and guilt which still affect me today. Not having enough drinks is my biggest failure. At the surface, the statement does refer to a slight inclination towards alcoholism (that I cannot deny), but at its core is an umbrella statement that encompasses most failures in my life. Not having enough drinks means that I:
1. Prioritized my work over myself.
2. Took the people around me for granted.
As for the first point, I am a caffeine-immune, self-identified workaholic. I guarded eHub during times when no healthy human being should be awake. And, I am the person you never invite to movie nights because I definitely won't make it. Working hard is great, but working great is hard. It's so easy to occupy your time, but it's not so easy to decide that you can deal with one less club, one less hour of studying, and one less hour of work. Overworking myself made me retire from things that I enjoyed the most. It made me less empathetic towards people that relied on me. And, it made me complain and bring negativity to myself and people around me. Secondly, I failed to foster better relationships with those people around me. For example, I rescheduled more lunches than I can remember. I avoided seeing people with whom I would strike conversations. I even time box each minute I use to talk with my family. Studies show that happiness stems from connecting with people. However, I was more focused on measurable successes like getting a job, finishing a project, or getting paid. How does this relate to having more drinks? If I had more drinks then that would mean I had free time to spare. It would mean that there were more times when I wasn't stressed and allocating every hour of my life. If I had more drinks, then it meant that I was surrounding myself with my friends and meeting new ones. If I had more drinks, then it means that I would have understood that life isn't just about success. And, it also isn't just about the journey to achieve it. To me, life is about finding the time to celebrate yourself and the people you meet along the way."
3 Successes: Built six 3D printers starting in 9th grade, Made my own research project in a top MAE lab Freshman year, Founded OpenLoop and built a $150,000 Hyperloop pod in 18 months
3 Failures: Earned a C in differential equations... twice, Rejected from the CS major... twice, Burned a ludicrous number of bridges by being a self-centered ass (also literally burned myself one time and spent 2 weeks in hospital)
"This one's not about imposter syndrome... it's the other thing. First some background: I was born with literally every privilege, except maybe that my family was in the 98th percentile income bracket instead of the 99th. Then, I got lucky because all my hobbies in high school turned out to be highly marketable skills. Long brag-filled story short: my career's great, and it would've taken serious work to make it anything else. This story is about what I'm missing outside all that. When I came to Cornell, I was a clueless narcissist and I didn't get better very fast. I bragged way too much about my research, which didn't even end up publishable. Just kidding, that happened, but that's the cop-out answer for a freshman year failure.
Real story: freshman fall, I accidentally threw away a good friend for a (20:20 hindsight, nonexistent) shot at casual sex with her, then threw away several more by pretending that I was proud of that fuck up (???). I cringe hard inside whenever I see those people again. Sophomore year, I pretended school was a joke for me (it wasn't - refer to differential equations) and made all my friends avoid the topic like the plague because I'd brag at every opportunity. I guess I was reassuring myself? Meanwhile on Hyperloop, I did both an astonishing and horrifying proportion of the design work myself because I was too bad at communication to delegate work. I left the team with dozens of awful hacks that needed to be completely redone. It's a miracle it ended up working. An enormous credit to the rest of the team there. Junior year, I feel like I did OK, but I probably just haven't figured out what went wrong yet. If you haven't caught the thread in all these stories, it's that I'm bad at communication unless it's technical or the shallowest of small talk. And when I don't know what to say, I default to stupid sh*t about my own accomplishments. This isn't the result of neglect as a kid or anything like that – my parents are dope – and like I said, I had every advantage. I just happened to like nuts, bolts, and code much more than socializing as a kid... and missed lots of social development as a result.
The point is, I think the real variation in full-spectrum 'success' of students at Cornell isn't that big. When you adjust for advantages, I think the spectrum is small. If I've done better professionally, you've done better socially. Or had a larger positive impact on your community. Or sacrificed more for the people you care for. Or something else I can't even name – there are whole parts of life I don't know enough about to know I'm missing them. Summing it all up, please don't believe I'm better than you –especially if I act like I am.
 If we aren't close you might not buy this, because I'm pretty good at networking and I've got really good explanations for technical stuff sometimes. Trust me though, it's real.
 For friends reading this, please don't worry or feel sorry for me because of what you read here. It's the product of some very deliberate introspection and none of this self-criticism comes to me naturally. On a day-to-day basis, I absolutely love myself and my life (as you likely well know)."
3 Successes: Interning at Facebook Design my sophomore year, Teaching a 2 credit class on Product Design at Cornell, Losing 30 pounds
3 Failures: Getting wait-listed and being a spring admit to Cornell, Averaging a B grade in all my AEM classes, Repeating calculus twice in high school
"I think a big failure of mine is how I viewed people, evaluated people, and made judgments about them. A close friend of mine told me that 'you think that because this person worked at x company and went to y school that they are immediately a better human being.' Going to Cornell and being apart of a business fraternity definitely contributed to that mindset and I think it's a dangerous mindset that all Cornell students fall into. Think about the last time you heard about someone or looked up someone. What were you looking for? What they're interested in? What they do for fun? What keeps them up at night? Probably not. It seems as if our eyes are wired to scan for specific things like Goldman or Google and repeating this list of so called 'accomplishments' to our friends when describing another person. 'Oh yeah this person is f*cking sick - J.P Morgan TMT, Cornell Engineering 4.0, Harvard Business School, and now she runs a VC Firm in SF' and the usual response is 'damn...why not Goldman TMT?'
I think these things are expected – like 'oh that's just 99% of this person, but what about the 1% that isn't there? The stuff that's missing?' We forget to think about how this aforementioned woman felt as a brilliant engineer in a male-dominated environment. Or, we forget to think about how hard it must have been for this engineer to thrive and succeed in an industry riddled with sexual harassment. I've failed to view people as people. Instead, I've been viewing them as walking resumes. I hope to change this culture every single day."
3 Successes: Getting an internship at Thomson Reuters my freshman summer, Being able to dance with BreakFree Hip Hop, Starting a street wear clothing brand on Instagram
3 Failures: Giving up on the clothing brand three months in, even though it was doing well; Believing that I could end close friendships by blocking them on social media because I was scared of confrontation; Getting rejected by most of the leadership positions I applied for in college
"It was 90 degrees and I was sweating profusely underneath my hoodie. But I kept dancing. I was 14 years old and was making my first YouTube video. My 'tripod and camera' consisted of my iPad 2, a violin stand, and a chopstick to hold everything together. Back then, I had a dream of becoming YouTube famous, so it would be no surprise that getting a notification for my first comment would make my heart skip a beat. It skipped a beat all right. Because the comment just had two words: 'you suck.' I immediately deleted the comment and lost all my motivation to continue making dance covers. I was doubtful of myself, and afraid of criticism. Yet, I continued making videos because I was doing something that I truly enjoyed.
Fast forward to 4 years later: I auditioned for BreakFree Hip Hop, a dance crew at Cornell, first semester of freshman year and got rejected. I had wanted to be on this dance crew since January of my senior year in high school, and I secretly knew the names of almost every member on the team. After practicing so much that my whole body ached the next day, I believed that I was ready for auditions. Little did I know, I wasn’t going to get in. Yet, I continued to attend their events and workshops because I was doing something that I truly enjoyed. Of course, I had my fair share of failures... like dancing at a party and being told that I looked like I was having a seizure, or that other time when I forgot the choreography on stage. OR THAT OTHER TIME WHEN – okay we get it. But along with those also come important life lessons that lead to future successes: like how I realized that I shouldn’t try popping and locking at parties, and how I shouldn’t obsess over small mistakes that other people might not have noticed. Failures and successes are like socks. They come as a pair."
3 Successes: Hiked an active volcano in South America, Interned at the Boston Consulting Group, E-board member of Art Beyond Cornell
3 Failures: Kicked out of homestay while studying abroad, Failed a computer science prelim, Spent 2 semesters fulfilling requirements while sacrificing life interests
"While studying abroad in Argentina and Chile, I had the opportunity to live in homestays. In Argentina, I lived with a 74 year old nun and former therapist who became my second mother. Conversation was always so easy as we talked about race, love, religion, and everything in between. Having had such a great first experience, I was optimistic about my second homestay in Chile. It turned out to be not quite as imagined, as my homestay mother didn't know what it was like to live with a university student who liked to go out... and I didn't know what it was like to live with a woman who had to know my every move. I was so upset that she had asked my study abroad director to find me a new place to live – mostly because I had to spend the next few days living with her and she would go into her room as soon as I got home. It felt like an attack on my personality, but I later understood that moving was best for me. In fact, I moved right down the hallway to her neighbor's apartment. If I had not done so, I would have missed the chance to live in the most loving homestay."
3 Successes: Built a fantastic relationship with my family, Elected president of the Cornell University Chorus, Hired by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as a bilingual project assistant for Celebrate Urban Birds
3 Failures: Lost track of my own needs in times of stress, Denied an important promotion at work, Had an unsuccessful summer stock theatre audition
"I have always been cautious in my love for performing. Perhaps my parents did too well in teaching their children to be good and humble. In show business, it seems there isn't much room for humility. Over the years, I’ve starred in regional musical productions, been told that I am talented and should pursue what I love, and I am flattered by these experiences. Nonetheless, I downplay comments like, 'Bridge, you've got something special,' 'I hope you do something that makes you as happy as you are on that stage,' and my father's refrain, 'This is what we've been telling you for years... but you don't listen.'
Needless to say, it was rather out of character for me to decide to audition for summer stock theatre. But, the Lucey family went to see 'La La Land.' I watched the epilogue through tears because my dream was playing before my eyes in bright technicolor. 'Are you… crying?' asked my brother, clearly not affected by the movie that spoke to my interests so acutely. I emerged from the movie theater, audibly sobbing, vowing to myself that I'd never again lose sight of what brought me joy.
I figured out how to make a theatrical résumé, and a friend took headshots. I printed out ten glossy prints and stapled my paper résumés to the back of each one. I got a ride home one weekend in March, and my parents drove with me to Boston for an audition conference. As soon as I walked into the warmup room, however, I knew I didn't fit in. Every other girl there was wearing a shorter dress, brighter lipstick and heavier eyeliner, and each one had a tall stack of headshots with her résumé printed right on the back.
Post-audition, my 'offers' came from four groups: two were programs that cost over a thousand dollars each, and two were comparable to indentured servitude. The companies I had aspired to hear from were interested in kids attending theatre schools, who could belt louder than I and who chose confidence over humility in the casting room. I felt foolish for making the trip home, for getting my parents' hopes up, and for printing ten copies of my own headshot, most of which weren't needed. When I got back to school, the few people who knew I'd gone asked how the whole ordeal had been. I said I'd gotten a few offers, but none of them were worthwhile. I was ashamed then, because I was hiding my embarrassment by playing it cool.
The experience left me humbled. Even more so than before, I brush off compliments. 'I'm so glad you enjoyed the concert,' I reply to a woman complimenting my solo. 'You're very kind to say that,' I say to an artist telling me to follow my dreams. But, their words don’t fall on deaf ears. As time passes, I’m realizing that I can’t ignore my passion. Rejection is part of the artist's reality, and I’m willing to fail again for something I love. Failure is part of the human experience. "
3 Successes: Successfully joined the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Interned at The Source Magazine, Graduated from Cornell University
3 Failures: Needed an extra semester to graduate; Lost more competitions at Cornell than I'd won; Allowed my ego to get the best of me, turning people away
"I lost sight of my priorities. I got consumed with myself and my social perception, and knowingly placed my involvements and how they would build me up above my academics and post-graduate responsibilities. I got satisfied with just 'getting by' in my classes rather than doing my best. I felt that my personality and involvements would help me, when in reality, nothing matters if you don't have your degree. I didn't take my mental health seriously, and was too prideful to open up for help when I needed it. I regret being so caught up in myself that I lost sight of who I was and what was most important. It happens, but I didn't pay enough attention to the signs. I'm better for it now."
3 Successes: Serving as Conference Director for the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) 2018 Conference, Being part of a family and dance organization - BreakFree Hip Hop, (Finally) living with roommates in college
3 Failures: Getting rejected by Kraft Heinz, Falling asleep in every class ever, Not being able to answer the question: Who am I?
"One of the hardest things I have learned at Cornell is that effort does not always correlate to results – you can study all you want and spend as many all-nighters as you physically can and still fall short of your peers (funny, ‘cause I’ll always fall “short” of my peers).
Like many students, I put a lot of pressure on myself to pursue a bomb-ass internship this summer – the summer after junior year – supposedly the most important internship of one’s college career. And so, when the opportunity to intern for Kraft Heinz presented itself, I jumped on it right away. Who wouldn’t want to spend the summer with the company that makes your favorite mac ‘n cheese and ketchup?
Up until that point, I thought I had been taking the right steps to prepare for this kind of opportunity. Sure, I had a later start than most in the Food Science department, but I was surely working my butt off to make up for that lost time. Well lo and behold, in the midst of having to travel straight from a product development competition to the last round of interviews, I found myself in a room full of engineers; a week later, with a rejection email; and a couple of months later, surrounded by peers going to major companies for the summer.
A lot of people, especially at Cornell, probably have gone through something similar. You work so hard just to come out empty-handed and then starts the mental cascade of doubt over everything you’ve ever done. What did I do wrong? Was I not qualified enough? Is my parents’ hard work to pay my tuition just going to waste? Was I just unlucky?
A wise friend once told me that luck is not something that comes out of nowhere. Luck is actually preparation + opportunity. You need to have the proper knowledge, training, and essentially, everything else that encompasses preparation ready so that when the opportunity arises, you can go after it. This is the moment where people would say that the stars just magically aligned one day. But luck is not as accidental as we think. This failure - this lesson - thus taught me to gain more confidence and work even harder. So, when another opportunity arises, I’ll be prepared and consider myself lucky."
3 Successes: Traveled to Europe for six weeks, Passed the CFA Level I exam, Received a full-time offer in management consulting
3 Failures: No return offer from a top bank, Rejected from every club I applied to my first semester of college, Didn't get into any "elite" colleges when I first applied
"After getting my junior year internship at a top bank and ending recruitment before most of my other friends, I felt on top of the world. Like many of my peers at Cornell, getting an internship with a coveted company defined how successful I was within the business community. As the summer approached, I was sure that if I worked hard, had a positive attitude, and put in long hours, I would be well on my way to becoming a coveted investment banker. Needless to say, things did not go as planned — I was told I was not good enough. Crushed, I began to wonder what I had done wrong; were things truly out of my control as my mentor had mentioned or was I the one that wasn't cut out for it? In order to prove them wrong and cope with rejection, I set out on a mission to land as many banking offers as I could and fortunately came out of my senior year interviews with some great opportunities. However, due to family circumstances and serious career self-introspection, I realized that my two years of preparing for a field I had no passion for had taken a slow toll on my mental health.
My finance summer internship exposed me to field with a steep learning curve. It aided me in developing my technical skill set all while letting me gain unique perspectives in finance. The experience boosted my resume and credibility. It also helped me realize what I did not want to do. As Henry Ford said, 'failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.' At the end of the day, everyone will fail — It's not a matter of if but when. How you bounce back and utilize what you've learned during the process of failure is what differentiates you."
3 Successes: Traveled to 27 different countries; Volunteered at an elephant conservation center in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Minored in Cognitive Science
3 Failures: Not pursuing things that created value for me, Only going home once a year, Getting my wallet stolen in Portugal and effectively getting barred from entering the UK
"Before you skip over this profile because the above accomplishments seem meager, read until the end.
If you think you aren't perfect enough, then odds are you are already more perfect than most others.
Those who are seemingly the most successful claim to be the least perfect. This is because the more you accomplish, the more you know how unaccomplished you are. And the more humble you become. Before you start stressing about getting that internship, take a deep breath. What constitutes as a 'respectable' professional is also a byproduct of the people you surround yourself with. From the moment I transferred into AEM, I had pushed myself into the strong current of mainstream finance. The stressful competitive culture had normalized itself into my daily life. First semester, I tried out for a dance club, took Swahili, and researched for a psychology lab. However, quickly after my transfer, I focused my energy on business clubs and organizations. Don't get me wrong – Delta Sigma Pi is my family. But I regret not realizing that the choices I made didn't have to be binary – I could have been focused on business while also staying involved with other unrelated clubs.
By sophomore year, I felt like I had lost all agency. I joined a sorority (like many girls), I joined a business frat (like most business majors), and I settled with a group of friends (to fit in). It wasn't until my junior year that I felt like I had the courage to carve out my own path. After four years in college, I've realized that my most impressive accomplishments are experiential. My first version of my successes was generic: 'Investment Banking Analyst at Goldman Sachs, Studied abroad at University of Oxford for an entire year, VP of Professional Activities for Delta Sigma Pi.' While these are easy and 'impressive,' they only touch the surface of my identity. Live life not by how many new lines you can add onto your resume; live life based on how many new items you can add to that 'interests' section because those will be reflected in your work experience.
I leave Cornell with one word that helped me through it all; torschlusspanik - the fear of closing doors. Anytime you mindlessly open a mainstream door by default, remember that you are effectively closing doors to dozens of opportunities you may actually enjoy. Live life opening as many doors as possible. If one shuts on you, it probably means it's time to explore all the other ones that are waiting to be opened."
3 Successes: Managed to work on several side projects inspired by spontaneous encounters, Got through a big relationship problem, A project of mine was featured in a design publication
3 Failures: Wasted too much time and energy caring about unnecessary things x 3
"This past year has been the most challenging and life-changing year for all important aspects of my life. I messed up interviews because I had doubts about my passion and multiple emotional breakdowns because of the shattered relationships with people I cared about most. It wasn't until recently that I realized that those things happened because I spent too much time and energy worrying about unnecessary things and people. I cared about them too much... so I let them determine my daily happiness, which was super super super super super unhealthy. Luckily, I got through it all. Thanks to an amazing group of friends (you know who you are) who were always there to listen, give super honest advice, and (not meant to be cheesy or anything) literally offer their shoulders for me to shed my tears on. Four things I learned this year:
(1) Always spend enough time loving and improving yourself, I promise that it’s an important key that’ll get you through sh*t in life
(2) When in doubt about your passions, just take a step back and think about why. If you can’t find answers, keep doing what you feel most right about at that moment. Don't just stop and let time pass you by.
(3) Love and be grateful for people who are willing to listen and support to you, not judging and providing you that freedom to learn and grow.
(4) Take work seriously, but with everything else “find humor and lighter side, and enjoy the ride” (got this from one of the interviews of my number one muse, Yan Yan Chan). Life is beautiful, don’t ever let anyone or yourself take that away from you :)"
Carunya (Caro) Achar
3 Successes: Interned for the AFL-CIO, Used organizing and student power to reinstate student bus passes/increase Cornell payments to TCAT by $1.25 million annually, Personally covered all of my food/travel/living expenses during my study abroad in Dublin
3 Failures: Cried during an interview, Got rejected from an internship program for three summers in a row, Failed the Cornell-mandated swim test
"When I first heard about Cornell's swim test (a graduation requirement that forces students to jump into deep water and continuously swim for 25 yards on their front + 25 yards on their back + 25 yards with a stroke of their choice), I laughed. Sure, I thought it was antiquated and a little unnecessary, but it hardly sounded that difficult for someone who had grown up attending Texan summer pool parties. When the day arrived, I headed towards Helen Newman feeling a little more nervous than expected but otherwise none the worse for wear. It was only after the lifeguard blew her whistle that I started panicking. I had jumped into the pool and immediately begun hyperventilating — the water was colder than I had expected and the chlorine was irritating my contact-clad eyes. Fear of having to take Beginner Swimming my first semester at Cornell kept me going for longer than I thought. I weakly breast-stroked my way to one wall, sadly backstroked my way back, and was halfway through doggy-paddling the final 25 yards when I felt my body failing me. Feet firmly on the floor, I walked out of the pool and told the lifeguard that I had failed. She informed me that I was welcome to come back and try again the next day but otherwise, I would be automatically enrolled in Beginner Swimming. I felt so crushed. I didn’t want to spend my whole first semester walking to class with wet hair (in Ithaca, that’s legitimately a health risk) or having to drop Swedish Massage with my friend to instead swim laps in a pool! Turns out all those years of playing chicken at pool parties ill-prepare someone for multiple continuous laps of multi-stroke swimming. I told myself that it wasn’t worth putting myself through the torment of trying again —of failing so publicly within my first few days at this new school. However, at the encouragement of some friends, I mustered up what little courage I had left and returned the next day. This time I both borrowed my friend’s goggles and talked to the lifeguard beforehand — letting her know about my previous mini-panic attack/failure of the test. She told me to swim in the lane closest to her and coached me through the whole experience. Miracle of all miracles, I passed. It wasn’t smooth by any definition of the word and you won’t see me joining the club swim team any time soon, but I was free from the jaws of Beginner Swimming. Now, three years later, this failure (which in the moment had felt so insurmountable and had threatened to ruin my first semester at Cornell) makes for one of my favorite stories."
3 Successes: Served as the Class of 2019 Convocation Chair, Selected to be the Cornell Representative at the Deloitte National Leadership Conference, Developed a diverse Cornell family of incredible friends that support and inspire me to be my best self
3 Failures: Missed all my finals and had to take Incompletes in 5 of my classes Freshman year, Stayed in an unhealthy living environment and relationship for far too long, Rejected from Oxford Study Abroad
"Nothing screams failure to a Cornellian like fleeing your dorm room, ending up in the ER, missing all of your finals, and being forced to take an 'Incomplete' in all of your classes.
My greatest failure was both personal and academic. It was a series of events that occurred over the course of my second semester at Cornell which culminated in my spending finals in the Emergency Room with a 104.3 fever. This episode is my greatest failure because it could have been prevented, had I let go of my pride and known when to ask for help before it was, evidently, a bit too late.
As my freshman spring semester progressed, my living situation and relationship got increasingly unhealthy which resulted in my feeling isolated, unsafe, and anxious to spend any time in my dorm room. Despite my incredibly compassionate professors offering to intervene, and the physical warning signs like pervasive anxiety and not being able to sleep for weeks at a time, I refused to change my living situation out of fear that I would lose my freshman year dorm friends and boyfriend at the time. This, in hindsight, was my (nearly) fatal error. By the end of the year I was so run down I couldn’t function, and I had to be rushed to the ER after a nurse took my temperature and it read 104.3. After an intensive course of antibiotics and IV fluids, I left the hospital with the realization that I had missed all of my finals. I would be returning home to Chicago with 5 incomplete classes.
The end of freshman year broke me, and I had never felt like more of a failure. Not only did I fail as a student, having not completed any of my classes, but I also more generally failed as a human as my physical health and well-being deteriorated. Somewhere along the semester I lost all of the qualities I was proud to possess, and I allowed myself to be controlled by toxic influences in my life because I was too scared to ask for help and be anything less than the 'perfect' student, friend, and daughter.
This 'perfection' mindset literally almost killed me, and it served as a major wake up call. Although the experience was miserable, it forced me to finally confront my fear of imperfection. Utterly failing taught me that accepting help from loved ones is not weakness, but, instead, is a sign of how strong loving yourself (and all your failures!) can make you. "
3 Successes: Getting elected as Cornell's Student Trustee, Interning as a Teaching Fellow (and following my passion for education), Facilitating for the Intergroup Dialogue Project
3 Failures: Getting rejected by 15 organizations my freshman year (including every consulting club), Letting my campus commitments get in the way of my friendships, Didn't take care of myself (or my grades)
"I remember my first ClubFest. What a time – when every organization pushed quarter cards into your hands as you maneuvered through Barton Hall signing your Net IDs left and right joining listserv after listserv. I remember walking up to club after club with hopeful eyes, speaking to the upperclassman (many of whom are featured on this website) and hearing about how amazing their experiences at Cornell have been because of their participation in various organizations. The possibilities seemed endless. Then, I remember getting absolutely hung out to dry when I applied for these clubs. It seemed like a cycle that I couldn’t break – I went from info sessions to social rounds to getting humiliated in technical interviews. I remember feeling hurt and knocked down time and time again. I applied and applied and wore my suit more times in those three weeks than I could have ever imagined. I figured that I would get something, ANYTHING. Instead, it was rejection email, after rejection email, after rejection email. I would read the emails over and over again, 'Hello Dustin, Thank you for your interest in ____. Due to the extremely competitive applicant pool, we are unfortunately unable to extend you an invitation to ___.' It hurt more with every rejection, but it wasn’t until the 14th one when I came to a realization. It wasn’t until I understood that I was trying to fit a mold that I didn’t feel comfortable in that I started to succeed. I was elected Freshman Representative on the Student Assembly. I honed in on what I loved to do, which was bettering the Cornell student experience. I became a Resident Adviser, met people that support me and that I love, facilitated for IDP, moved up to the Executive Board of the Student Assembly, and eventually was elected the Student Trustee – all of which I did without compromising who I am and what I believe in. I don’t regret any application that I submitted. It was through those experiences that I was able to explore and understand my own interests before committing to an organization. This is how I connected my interests and carved out my own Cornell experience. There is no need to follow a path already set when you have the potential to create your own. Explore, commit, and then decide how to connect the dots. Only then will you be able to truly see the full extent of your interests and find your place to thrive."
3 Successes: Served as Campaign Coordinator for Climate Justice Cornell, Ensured that Cornell stayed committed to 2035 carbon neutrality, Found lifelong friends and learned to love myself as a result
3 Failures: Failed to push for fossil fuel divestment (rejected once by Cornell's trustees, but still a work in progress), My Climate Action Plan Hackathon was a bust, Every class I've taken that met before 10am
"When the trustees were voting on fossil fuel divestment during the fall of my sophomore year, I (wrongly) envisioned myself as an apprentice to the cause at best, and a complete and utter impostor at my lowest points. I had only joined the club that previous spring, and I was still trying to shed my 'shy Asian' skin which had served me so well throughout middle school and high school. I was no Social Justice Warrior or activist in high school, and the mere idea of speaking at a rally was enough to send spikes through my heart and tears to my eyes. My mind was besieged by wave upon wave of doubt – about both the best course of action and my own ability.
At the time, I told myself I was letting the pros handle it, standing back as the upperclassmen wrung their hands about how best to respond. We could stage a sit in... had the trustees even come to a decision? Unclear. Request a meeting and creation of a divestment committee? Perhaps, but would that unnecessarily delay our success? We had unwittingly scheduled an Environmental Justice workshop on the same day as the vote, and were all preoccupied as the trustees debated their options without us. I write an op-ed to buy ourselves some time, and continue to watch as our supporters start drifting back to their busy day-to-day lives.
October, November, December passed. I converse with faculty members and reach across the aisle to University Relations for help planning a clean energy policy and activism panel. Then in January, during winter break, I see a frantic message in my inbox – the trustees are going to vote on fossil fuel divestment. Apparently, the trustees had tabled the vote back in October since it was so contentious. Then in quick succession, news articles from the Daily Sun to Bloomberg report Cornell's failure to divest from fossil fuels. Inside Climate News reaches out to us for an interview – what are our next steps? Before we have time to gather our bearings, a second knockout – Daily Sun reports that 2035 carbon neutrality isn't a priority for our University President because what's the use in 'drawing lines in the sand'? We had heard rumors during the previous semester, but clearly hadn't pressed hard enough to verify them.
To be perfectly honest, I was in mild shock from the events of that week. It was enough to jolt me out of meekness, though I regret not stepping up earlier. Every forward step I took was tentative and apology-laden, but at least I was making progress. While I am not so arrogant as to believe I was the sole reason for events progressing as I did, I still can't shake the feeling that there was a chance I could have tipped the scales somehow, in which case the campus paid a steep price for my personal insecurity. When peers and faculty approached me for updates, I delivered excuses veiled in platitudes and delectable morsels of dirt against the trustees. Smile as I might during the day, when I was alone with my thoughts at night, the crushing sense of guilt and defeat felt thick enough to smother me and liquefy my innards.
But I digress... I realized at that point that not having the answers was not a valid reason for inaction. The panel, I recognized, would no longer serve as a broad recruiting event. It was a defiant rejection of the university's abdication of climate leadership in favor of greenwashing. I threw myself into learning about how to organize and mobilize, about intersectionality and solidarity, into planning the panel, writing and presenting SA resolutions, op-eds, recruitment, working meetings, rallies, strategizing with allies, and eventually meeting with the administration.
With mountain loads of help from smarter, more experienced peers, faculty, and external advisors, we were able to salvage our plan for carbon neutrality by 2035. But to this day, our university remains unnecessarily invested in and corrupted by fossil fuel interests. We don't even have a sustainable investment committee like how many of our fellow Ivy League counterparts do. I don't think we're too late to make a difference, but we're definitely late to the party. I've found that it is often difficult to recognize success or failure in the moment since most events fall somewhere in between. My most formidable enemy is still myself (though I've grown kinder), and my biggest failure was jarring enough to make a visible mark on my identity and worldview."
3 Successes: Ran a marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon, Landed my dream job at BCG, Surprised myself with a higher GMAT score than I thought I could achieve
3 Failures: Failed my driver's test; Got rejected from Duke, my dream school; Failed to garner the promised number of attendees for a Cornell Consulting Education Series lecture
"During my junior and senior years at Cornell, I was in charge of running the Education Series for the Cornell Consulting Club. The Education Series is a public, weekly series of workshops and presentations aimed toward students interested in learning more about management consulting. I was really excited to lead this series and try new partnerships with other organizations in the Cornell community! So, I got a bit overly ambitious (foreshadowing). I had the opportunity to partner with a recruiter for Teach for America (we'll call him Tom) for a presentation. Though I initially thought it was difficult to find a topic that would tie together public K-12 education and consulting (you can imagine – completely separate private vs. public sector spheres), I thought I'd take a 'it'll all work out and come together somehow!' stance for once (testing out the entrepreneurial mindset that does not come naturally to me) and take a chance.
The idea for the presentation was that it would be an 'industry deep dive' into education consulting, featuring a Skype session with a previous Deloitte-consultant-turned-TFA-teacher. We would begin by talking about how consulting can apply to niche sectors like education, then introduce Tom to talk a bit more about TFA specifically. I booked a large auditorium (Klarman Auditorium), expecting (and enthusiastically assuring Tom that we would get) at least 75-100 attendants.
On the day of, the new club members who were required to be there, were there. I waited for the rush of other members of the Cornell community to come in...and was met with awkward silence. There were only 15 members in the audience, and Tom was visibly disappointed. We presented awkwardly to a silent and near-empty auditorium. What was worse, when the time came to Skype in the consultant-turned-teacher, we had a ton of technical difficulties and I had to hold my 15-inch screen laptop facing the audience, turning the volume to max in order to get the call to work; we couldn't connect to the projector no matter what we tried. So there I was, flustered trying to get the technology to work, while also embarrassed about having let Tom and everyone else down.
Looking back, I wouldn't necessarily say I regret my decision. It was a good learning experience in the art of dealing with discomfort and thinking on one's toes. If I had to do it over again, I would have expressed my worries with Tom earlier on, so that we could have brainstormed together to try to get more attendees or think of a different idea for the event. I would have been more transparent and not have assumed that I could handle everything on my own. Comfort zones are meant to be surpassed, so don't be afraid to take a chance!"
3 Successes: Served as the President of Social Business Consulting (an organization that shaped my professional life), Completed a summer internship at a prestigious investment bank, Had the opportunity to be a mentor to many amazing individuals
3 Failures: Being ungrateful, Letting stress consume me, Letting important relationships fade away
"If there is a year where I felt like I was at my highest and my lowest, 2017 would be it. I purposefully made my failures vague because these are three different ongoing personal failures of mine that I have seen time and time again. This year, all three had finally caught up to me and dragged me to my lowest point. I had spent months worrying about so many different things because I was ungrateful for where I was and I didn't spend enough time attending to my personal relationships. This led to a strain in those relationships and also the end to an important one. I don't think I have ever felt such immense sadness in my life than I did this year. As a senior in college, I realize now that as we age, personal relationships become so much more important to our happiness. I take this past year as a lesson to continue cultivating my relationships with great friends and to never let important ones fade away even when there are other things to stress about."
3 Successes: Believing in the field of potentiality (thanks to The Alchemist) and striving to live in a way that is conducive to good energy, Pursuing all that intrigues me from cultural anthropology to motorcycles to wildlife conservation, Appreciating my family and upbringing more
3 Failures: Not correcting people when they call me Krystle (first name: Krystle-Mei), Declining an incredible study opportunity with another excellent university and succumbing to peer pressure by interning over the summer instead (though I don’t regret interning), Defining myself by others’ measures of success
"The culture of comparison is a double-edged sword. It motivates achievement – look at the Olympics, for example – and it also hinders individuality, as 'I should be this, or I should do that.' The word sometimes plagues our Utopian hopes and dreams into a reflection we don’t even recognize anymore at the end of the day. I understand that pursuing and doing what you want is a luxury – from a place of privilege – but I think that if you have the opportunity, then you should become more of your true self.
Being in a business fraternity (now disaffiliated by choice), I became influenced by the ideas of success as defined by what industry you’re in, whose working for what company, etc. It was a prevalent, low-key (arguably high-key) undertone within the group. If we’re Snapchat friends, you know that I journaled a lot at Washington Square Park last summer (2017). I liked going alone. When I was there, no one cared about what school I went to or where I interned at. I could simply be a person who loves parks and live music under the arch.
That got me thinking on measures of success. Particularly, those of career function and company (which I feel are two of the most prevalent ones at Cornell) made me judge people superficially – some people I’ve never met before who maybe did not work at Goldman Sachs but could have been the kindest people on planet Earth. Because someone has an internship at XYZ company doesn’t make them better than someone else. Because they work there, it doesn’t even mean that they’re a good person necessarily. Shouldn’t we care more about the depths of a person’s human spirit rather than how long their work hours were during their summer internship?
From then on, I’ve worked hard on unlearning using ABC company or XYZ club as tools of comparison. If they are benchmarks for success in your eyes, that’s for you to decide. However, I realized that they simply weren’t mine – weren’t what I wanted mine to be. I’ve always been someone who marched to the beat of my own drum. I became a little lost, but I found my way again. To share, a few of my personal measures of success are self-awareness, self-enlightenment, and enjoyment of life. I try every day to live out the mindset of being, acting, and thinking in a way where I would be proud of who I was today if I were to die tomorrow. To me, this is success."