Sept. 5 is celebrated as Teachers’ Day in India. In school, this meant expressing our gratitude toward all our teachers for educating us. Learning, however, is a perpetual process. Any person and any experience could leave a profound impact on our lives, which is why my list of teachers includes the friend who encouraged me to overcome my fear of driving, as well as the person who inspired me to dream big.
Sometimes, we do not even realize how profoundly an individual has influenced us until we have looked back and connected the dots.
About two years ago, the less confident version of me was waiting anxiously for her admissions interview with the alumnus of the concerned college. Having gone through the admissions interview process a number of times until then, she felt well-prepared. What happened during those two hours transformed her into who I am today and continues to teach me something new every time I reflect on it.
I was compelled to question my reasons for choosing astronomy as a major. Was it only the dazzling pictures that attracted me to the field or was I keen about working on actual scientific problems? Did I even know what ‘research’ is? Was I prepared to stay in love with physics and mathematics forever? What had I done previously that reflected my interest in the field? What did I do apart from school-assigned work that demonstrated my passion for understanding the universe? Needless to say, I was taken aback initially, for I had never thought about things this way. I felt ashamed at not having anything substantial to say; for having been content with just schoolwork and never allowing myself to do something just because I felt like doing it.
Nobody but you can hold yourself back
Humility is a noble virtue, but it shouldn’t make you underestimate yourself. Know your worth and do everything you can to achieve your dream. Don’t be bogged down by obstacles. My interviewer’s father was not keen on sending her to the United States. Did she sulk or wallow in self-pity? Hardly. On the contrary, she applied to colleges anyway without letting her father know until it was absolutely necessary. I am not suggesting that one should not obey one’s parents or take their opinions and advice into consideration, but that, often, you really do know what’s best for yourself better than anybody else. Learn to go for it, but also remember to be strong enough to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions. A good way to judge would be to probe very objectively into the ‘why’ behind others’ advice and also the ‘why’ behind your own decision. Does it make sense logically? Is it rational? Would you be able to deal with adverse consequences, if any? There may be times when you just cannot follow your heart; don’t be discouraged, find another path that leads to your dream.
Well-behaved women never make an impact
She asked me when was the last time I had disobeyed convention or challenged authority. There had been many situations in which I had thought of things differently, but never summoned up the courage to tell that to the person in charge. When asked why I did not do what I thought was right, I honestly told her how I feared negative reactions when she said, “Well-behaved women never make an impact.” It took six simple words to make me see sense. I always had a choice. I could either live with the way things were, or make them better. I was never going to be in a situation where everyone agreed with me, or could see why I was doing what I was doing.
Do what you love
I mentioned reading as one of my hobbies, and immediately winced as she asked me which was the last book I had read. I was ashamed that I had not read a book in the last few months. I realized right then and there that if I could not make time for it, I did not love myself and my hobby enough. It’s important to remind yourself that you don’t remember your test scores from last semester, but you’ll always remember the book you read fifteen years ago, or the time you went for a drive with your friends just because you felt like it. Grades are important, but they only help you reach the next step in your career. What makes people happy is what is most important. Do things that make you happy, these remain with you forever.
I was terribly ill a few months before this interview and my illness had left me weak and frail. When that came up somewhere in our conversation, she reprimanded me for letting my body win over my mind. She was right. Over the last two-and-a-quarter semesters of my college life, I have had to ensure I stay healthy and happy on my own, for I did not have the comfort of my home or my parents whenever the world started to get too real for me. I only had to tell myself that I had better things to do with my time and my life than to sulk and feel bad about being ill, having too much work to do, or perhaps, not having work to do. I want to challenge myself and I am going to motivate myself and enjoy every moment through these challenges. What I worry about today is something I laugh at myself for fretting over a few years later. I have learned to live each moment, and not let deadlines bog me down, but enjoy the satisfaction of having tried my best.
Convert the negatives of your life into positives
Somehow, the conversation took a turn towards some unpleasant experiences with my peers in school and she asked me why I did not write about those in my application essay. I had always tried to put it all behind me by trying to forget about it. Instead, I should have used those experiences to become a better and stronger person. It’s how we choose to deal with tough situations that makes all the difference. Now, I consider myself fortunate to have had to deal with difficult things so early in life for I grew wiser and stronger because of them.
It wasn’t the interview I had anticipated it to be, but I cherish every single moment of it. I shall always be glad I applied to that college, for it gave me an opportunity to meet this extraordinary individual and learn so much from her, most importantly that…