Sunday, May 15, 2011

What I learnt from Stanford

Stanford University. One can say only so little about the richness of its history and its exceptional contributions to society at the global scale.  

It had been a dream of mine to be a part of its richness. The first time I tried, I got on to the waitlist. Then, over the course of the past year, I realized it was what I wanted to try for again. So I did, as a transfer applicant. Though, this time, my acceptance probability was reduced significantly: only 1-2%, about 20 students in number, of a 1800 strong applicant pool are admitted as transfers. 

I just received my admission decision yesterday. It wasn't the news one would like to hear.  
A rejection letter, even so with praise, is no consolation. The decision has been uneasy to swallow. 

At the same time I have had realizations that, even though obvious at first glance, come only with stark out of comfort zone experiences. Certainly, I have been fortunate to experience these early on, and it is only just of me to share this knowledge. Just, in hope that what I share is useful to you in your future decision making, or as another view point that may help broaden your horizons.

Before I begin, let me thank all those who have given support and loved me through this phase. :)

Have faith in yourself. Know that you are a champion. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Each and everyone of us has the potential to do the greatest of great things. Its only a matter of self-belief that takes us to materialize this stellar potential. 

I'm not the smartest one around here. But I know I can make big things happen. And that is all that is going to help me make those big things happen.
The problem is that by the time we realize this potential most of us are not young anymore; and have fixed, sometimes inflexible, world views and values. No, that doesn't mean there is no hope for the elderly. Look at Colonel Sanders' (of KFC), for instance. But, of course, the earlier you start, the better advantage you have at creating more value out of your realized self belief.

Most people rightfully cautioned me when I shared the decision of applying to Stanford, at such odds; while some were plain hopeless. Should have I been too? No. I'm proud that throughout these two months - of application and of wait - I never once lost self belief. In retrospect, it may not have even been wise to put most my eggs in such a small basket, but we are all learning, and have the room to take such risks.... 

Take risks. If you can, take big risks. If you can't, take smaller risks. But take risks.
Taking risks puts you ahead of most risk-averse people. And most people are risk-averse. This Stanford risk - risk by virtue of time, money and energy - was a good move despite the results. The potential upsides were much, much, larger than the downside. The downside? Opportunity costs. Time, and indirectly tuition money, I could have otherwise spent in other seemingly fruitful activities. 

It is essential not just to try, but to try by taking at least some amount of risk. That makes the results even more rewarding.  Listen to your heart as much as you would to your mind. Your inner self knows what direction is best for you. Your mind does the driving.

Now that I know for sure Stanford is not where I'm headed, I can progress with full focus on my present work without any provoking distractions. Something that will be more precious than gaining admission itself.

Sometimes, things don't go your way. Its alright. Keep trying. Try for the joy of trying. Not in expectancy of the result. The journey is much more enriching and enjoyable than the destination itself. You never know what, maybe another path, you like along the way. Another path might lead you to a place better suited for you. Thus, there is hope as long as you are moving along your path, and learning with each step. Keep going.

Have you heard the incredible story of Groupon? The company was offered $6 billion by Google, just 2 years after its founding. Its founders' story is very interesting. Andrew Mason started out with a company, The Point, that aimed at inspiring social change through collective action and fundraising. All on-line. Most reputable investors thought that this concept was an epic fail. Even Andrew did not expect it to yield returns from a commercial point of view. But only because he tried, was he able to evolve The Point into Groupon. Today Groupon, based on the same "social change" model, assists smaller businesses to compete with  the big daddy's of consumer society, and mints money as it does so. 

On the other hand, there are examples of those who always tried, and were never successful. Or those who tried, and took millenniums to achieve their targets. The bottom line? Sometimes, things don't go your way. Its alright. You keep trying. Try for the joy of trying. Not in expectancy of the result. 

Lastly, rejoice failure. Smile. And move on to the next challenge. The biggest take home through this experience has been dealing with the ego. There have been moments where I have been sucked into it, and there have been others where I have been stripped off it. And the biggest positive has been that I have realized to acknowledge mistakes, apologize, and move on. You win some, you lose some. But you win all, if you learn more each time. 

If you ever have the time, look at Lalit Modi's twitter feed. Here is a man who created billions of dollars in value. Created and sustained many thousands of livelihoods. And what is he doing now? Indulging in a derogatory war of words with rivals publicly. Mr. Modi may have been unfairly ousted by politicians at the Cricketing Board in India (BCCI), but irrespective, is this what great leaders are made of? Egoism? Shameful public degradation of each other? Even though I have great respects for Lalit Modi, his reaction to criticism is alarming. 

At the same time, even though some of you may not agree, Barack Obama epitomizes all that I have had to say. He believes that he is a true champion. He takes risks. He keeps trying. And he accepts defeat in smile, and moves on.

My  own future plans. Now that Stanford is out of the way, I will continue to build on the truly wonderful opportunities I have at the University of Maryland; pursuing entrepreneurial avenues of work wherever I go: Washington DC, Costa Rica, London, Copenhagen, Mumbai, or Beijing. There is a lot of good work, with potential high returns, that needs to be done with/in the environment. I hope to continue meeting great people, learning from my surroundings, and initiating/inspiring change at all scales possible.