2017 has been a busy year.
I’m happy to say that the promise I made to myself at the end of 2016 wasn’t in vain. Sure, the results weren’t exactly what I expected either, but it has been an interesting ride nonetheless.
Let me explain.
After a series of succesive disappointments, I saw myself welcoming a new year. The previous one hadn’t been kind to me and I was looking for a respite, a fresh start. I really needed to regain my focus, so I commited to changing those things that upon looking back on 2016, I simply regretted or wished I had done differently.
Now, I know there’s a lot that can be said about the futility of New Year’s resolutions, but there’s only so much complaining you can do until you realize it’s time to do something.
“I can’t change the situation, so I’ll change my approach” – you tell yourself, and before you know it you’re starting to make plans, phone calls, lists and so on and so forth, and now that the ball’s rolling you also realize that you have no intention of stopping it.
This isn’t much of a revelation at this point, but this year has served as an important reminder that the best thing to do if you want to achieve something is just to get started.
While I contemplated whether I would finally be applying for scholarships to pursue a master’s abroad, I was actually making projections for 2018. I questioned whether I would be ready to take the TOEFL or the GRE, or if I would even be as competitive as my peers. There were so many reasons I had conjured up in my mind as to why this dream should be pushed even further back, and I had all but convinced myself of it until a friend changed my mind.
“People like us are really good at rationalizing. Don’t wait another year. Do it now.” – he said to me.
And as it turns out, he was right.
That single conversation over Facebook messenger changed the course of my 2017 for good. Shortly after I began researching about the requirements for the scholarships I would apply to and their respective timelines, the exams I needed to take beforehand and who I would ask for recommendations. At that point the plan had been effectively set in motion – the rest was just following through with it.
At the beginning of this year I had already registered and started preparing to take the TOEFL. February came and went and with it, so did the test date. Though anxious about my performance, I would eventually check it off my list after seeing the results. I then waited patiently until the call for applications had been issued.
Ultimately, I applied to two different scholarship programs. I painstakingly pored over my statement of purpose, writing and rewriting sentences and paragraphs until it was just right. I managed to secure the recommendation letters and the remaining documents required of me. I sent them both in trying my best no to attach any expectations to this adventure, and then I waited again for a response.
Much to my surprise, the people on the other end of these applications wanted to get to know me better. What I remember most about the interview process are the two-hour long bus trips to and from Santo Domingo, cab rides in the big city and walks along the Winston Churchill. There was more waiting involved and with each trip, a bit more anticipation than before.
I honestly didn’t expect to be called in for any sort of interview, much less anything with the word ‘final’ attached to it, but it happened. “It’s so close you can almost touch it” – I told myself, and then I would daydream about the possibility of studying abroad and what that would look like for me. These were the thoughts that helped tide me over while I waited some more, this time for something definitive.
All or nothing.
Yes or no.
Good or bad.
I recall how the adrenaline rushed through me as I opened those emails.
All of a sudden I was Charlie Bucket, eagerly holding a Wonka Fudge Mallow in his hands, hoping to find that elusive Golden Ticket once he unwrapped it.
“Thank you for applying…” – I began to read.
But just like Charlie before me, upon opening it I instantly realized there was no prize. The chocolate, sweet as it was, became a distant afterthought in the face of such bitter disappointment.
It was yet another humbling reminder that no matter how much time, effort and resources you expend on any given enterprise, there is no guarantee that things will work out in your favor.
I had spent the majority of this year wholly invested in the scholarship application process, checking things off of my list, going from one thing to the next, waiting and anticipating, traveling, procuring documents, and the like.
But somehow, it hadn’t amounted to anything. It hadn’t been enough.
At least that’s what I told myself in the weeks that followed, while I tried to adjust to the novelty of not having anything else to look forward to – no pending emails or deadlines, forms to fill out or tests to take. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t miss the bus trips to Santo Domingo. After five or so of those, it becomes less of an adventure and more akin to torture. I’m sure you can relate.
Anyways, time continued on its wayward path and as is often the case, it brought some perspective along to share with me.
Sure, I was disappointed, and that’s not a bad thing. Honestly, it’s normal to feel that way when something you care about doesn’t work out. We generally hope for the best and want to believe that we can achieve the things we set out to do. Hell, I would have loved to write my own triumphant story about earning a scholarship to study abroad, but I’m sitting here now with a different story to tell and in the end, maybe something more meaningful to say as a result.
Everyone loves a success story, but not many people stop to think about all that it implies. Success is rarely (if ever) linear, yet we torture ourselves with thoughts of attaining it, apparently unaware of the sweat and tears, mistakes, struggles and disappointments that precede it.
And herein lies another important reminder that this experience rewarded me with: failure isn’t final – it’s just a part of the process. Again, this is anything but revolutionary at this point, but it’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re feeling like you’ve hit a dead end.
“[Failure] isn’t fatal, so don’t act like it’s fatal.” – Seth Godin
It is so crucial to mantain a healthy sense of perspective, and sometimes you’ll need other people’s help to regain it. While it was very tempting to look at this whole experience as a washout, I was forced to reexamine my position the more I thought about it.
I had been looking and learning about these scholarships before graduating from college (more than four years ago!), but had deemed them unattainable for whatever reason. To be honest, my assessment was probably accurate then.
Notice the emphasis on that last word? That’s because another important thing that we fail to take into account is timing. Thankfully, I’m not the same person that I was four or five years ago, and as a result, the judgments I had previously made about my own self no longer hold up.
“You have to realize that where you’re at right now is not where you’re going to be five or ten years from now.” – Franchesca Ramsey
I may not have been prepared to apply for a scholarship straight out of college, but I did it now and somehow obtained better results than I had expected. Who’s to say I couldn’t make it all the way through the next time around? The only thing stopping me is choosing not to try again.
Spoiler alert: I’m not ready to give up just yet.
“Nobody gets to name you. Find your identity in the one true place.” – Jamie Tworkowski
With that being said, the last thing I wanted to mention is that regardless of the outcome, no one thing, person or institution can define you. Scholarship recipient or not, I am so much more than this one experience.
In that same vein, only you can determine what success means to you. To me, it’s about being persistent and proactive, about welcoming new challenges and pushing your own boundaries. Great results are rewarding, but they don’t tell the whole story – the one you and I are currently writing day in and day out, word by word, struggle after struggle.
Whatever you do, try not to lose sight of that narrative.