Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pursue what you love, but don't necessarily love what you pursue

Stanford tries to get to know you as a person. No, but seriously. They do. The best advice I can give you is to use this to your advantage. If you are someone whom has yet to apply to colleges, you may be thinking that this advice is banal, trite, and contrived. If you are someone whom already has, you know precisely what I'm talking about.

After 'finishing' the Harvard and Dartmouth applications, I scrounged the internet to see if I had actually completed the application. Their 'supplements' were anything but supple. They were a few questions, if that. As I clicked the submit button I couldn't help but feel like I had just had a one-night stand. I’m a guy…I’m not supposed to care about that sort of thing, but I couldn't help but scream in my head, “ DON'T YOU WANNA GET TO KNOW ME FIRST?!?!?!??!?!”

The University of Pennsylvania seemed most interested in whether my family was in any way connected to the school. Major turnoff.

Princeton and Yale had finely crafted applications, but Stanford’s just seemed to be even more personal.

I felt that through the Stanford application I was going to tell the admissions board whether or not I was a fit for the school. I got the sense that at every other university, the admissions board was going to tell ME whether I was a fit or not.

Supposedly this is a confession blog...right?! So here’s mine:

Stanford students are known for their fervent passion. Demonstrated passion was likely the deciding factor in many of my classmates’ applications. Unfortunately, I made the rookie mistake of having my passion become my obsession. After I was physically injured and no longer able to play football or track competitively, I had to find a new outlet to satiate my ambition (I hope you read this diatribe and learn something from it). My friend and I created an algorithmic trader. Essentially, this program parsed data real time from the NYSE and ran it through a series predetermined quantitative tests in order to determine the valuation of a specific stock from a self-created list. In non-nerd, that means we basically used math in order to predict stock prices. I started out with a few hundred dollars...before I knew it I had a few thousand....ten thousand....fifteen.... twenty-five....fifty..... Seventy-five thousand dollars…

Jewelry. All the food in the world. Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren suits. Parties in Malibu every weekend. I was making it rain. I thought I was God. My friends thought I was God. My ego grew exponentially in accordance to the figure in my bank account. Even if you took the derivative of my ego, it wouldn’t have phased it. We are talking e^x status here. I did whatever I wanted. Never cracked a book senior year and still managed straight As.

I was the F**king man, right? A baller and a shot caller. I was living the dream. Young money, right? Disregard females, acquire currency, RIGHT? No... I wasn't 'the man'. In fact, I couldn't have been further from it. To be honest, I wasn't even a 'man'.

I was sitting in the middle of a party in Malibu on a Saturday night, but I was lonely. Surrounded by people, but I was alone. Like any other teenager who feels alone in a social situation, I pulled out my phone. No new text messages. Huh. That’s weird. I always have at least ONE. I checked my conversation history with my girlfriend…I was going to ask her, “What’s up sweetie?” Huh! Something must be wrong with my phone! It says the last message between us was two month ago. Being the inquisitive individual I am, I checked the other people I talk to the most. My history says I haven’t talked to them in at least a month! That’s ludicrous! Then it hit me. I had blocked them. Yes. I had blocked everyone who was “bothering” me. I blocked my girlfriend. I blocked my best friend whom I have known for my entire life. I blocked my own mother. I blocked them from contacting me because they “interrupted” me getting real time stock data. Think about that for a second. I blocked everybody in my phone who actually meant something to me in pursuance of paper that has nothing but perceived value. The only people left in my phone who were unblocked were as superficial as the motives I had become an embodiment of. I dropped my phone. The screen shattered. I picked it up and stared into the screen. I saw my broken life, morals, and most importantly—my broken heart staring right back at me. But she didn’t break my heart. I broke it.

About now you’re probably wondering, “Why did I just read this harangue? This guy is just a narcissist! I don’t care about his life story! All he cares about is himself! HOW IS THIS EVEN GOING TO HELP ME GET INTO STANFORD?”

And I’m about to tell you…Patience Padawan…

Intellectual passion and dedication are closely intertwined with another concept: desire to change the world we live in for the better. In retrospect, I realize how many days of school I called myself out of because I thought there would be a lot of market movement, and I wanted to be in on the action. I realize that every day I would sprint to my car to get home in time to trade while completely disregarding my friends/girlfriend. Looking at the mountain of empty energy drinks in my room, I understood how many all-nighters I pulled in order to adequately analyze the numbers. I realized that I completely disregarded every other extracurricular activity that I had been involved in prior to investing. I rededicated myself to cancer awareness groups as well as Alzheimer’s awareness groups, groups that I had a devout dedication to because so many people in my family had been afflicted. I rededicated myself to tutoring underprivileged students for free. I rededicated myself to teaching students sportsmanship through an after school camp. All of those things I was doing prior to investing. Was I wrong in my original path? Yes, but I changed it accordingly. I got my friends back. I got my life back. But I'll still never forget what I missed. I forgot my anniversary. I forgot my mom's birthday. Two events that I will never be able to makeup for. Two things that act as scars moving into the future. Why wasn't I a man? Because I shirked responsibility...I gave up the things that truly matter to me.

What you have to realize is Stanford is truly looking for intellectual passion. They are looking for people who have mental dedication to a cause or causes. Most importantly though, they want people who are problem solvers and can adapt to a situation. They want you to have a positive impact on the world, but they can tell in a heartbeat if it is a feigned attempt in order to get into a good college. Pursue what you love, but don't necessarily love what you pursue.

A LOT of people stress over GPA and scores when it comes to getting into elite colleges. Let me make this VERY, VERY clear: Grades and scores are a PREREQUISITE to BEING COMPETITIVE at these schools. No one has ever gotten into Stanford solely because of his or her GPA/score(s), nor will anyone ever get in on solely on that criterion. And that's why I love Stanford. Trust me… a perfect ACT score wasn't what got me into Stanford.

I know a lot of you dream about getting into just one top school, but the truth is a good number of you will end up having more than one than one excellent option. I ended up getting a likely letter from both Cornell and Duke. I truly thought I was going to one of those schools. On that fateful March 29th , I won the lottery. I got into every Ivy I applied to. I didn’t tell a soul—not my parents—not any of my friends—not even my girlfriend. I turned off my phone and hopped into my car. I kept it to myself…because I needed to think. And I didn’t want to make anyone feel badly about not getting in. When I need to think, I drive around aimlessly. Especially at night. So I found myself sitting on the beach at 3 am…looking up into the stars and at the moon and I started ruminating. I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter where I picked, all that mattered is that I would be happy. After I read that magnificent email on March 30th, I knew in the bottom of my heart that Stanford would be my future home. You may not realize it, but where you belong will reveal itself in one way or another to you. Just like when it revealed itself to me on that fateful Saturday night in Malibu.

Why? Because I’m so embarrassed of my actions