How often do you think about how good your past could have been? Don't you think it's psychologically confusing when you're told to reevaluate the past in order to learn from mistakes, but then you're reminded that looking in the past leads to stagnation and laziness? And, let's say, you somehow do manage to avoid the temptation of looking backwards. It's damaging to the human mind to look into the future too, since one loses sight of what's practical and realistic. Keep thinking about the present, they say! Live in the now! Only the loons care more about the past and future than the present.
Being a classics major with a strong computer background tends to bias me against that line of thinking. It's a rare combination, but it makes for a much more diverse life than the issues we have to deal with in the present. All time tenses that the human mind can comprehend are worth studying and learning from.
And so, with all that said, I have no qualms with looking back at what I've done in the past and perhaps regretting many of the things I've done. In this Soapbox, specifically, I want to write out loud for a bit about my impressions of my college applications, two years after my mother and I filled them out and sent them in.
I always have and probably always will live under the shadow of my direct family. What I mean by this is that I have grown up in a family composed of three of the most intelligent people I have ever met. For everything I've ever learned, my family knows fathoms more about it than I do. Mind you, I'm not complaining, just pondering my development. I feel like I definitely grew up in an environment receptive to learning, but I also feel like my personal achievements were smaller than perhaps they were, compared to what my family has accomplished. This is not a damaging thing (I know my parents read this), just an admission of fact.
I am admitting all of this because of the topic I'll get to in a second. I don't think it's been made clear how much I respect my family for their intelligence and, shall we say, kickass mindpower. Imagine being conditioned with insight into school faculty dilemmas and having access to the who's-who-in-the-academic-community sorts of things. It's cool.
But when I was in high school, I think my school and other influences expected us poor students to know more than we actually did about living and studying at college. There're a lot of things you can only learn about while at college, and after you learn them, everything becomes so much easier. We were but sheep being herded into educational corrals, persuaded with such terms as "enriching learning environment" and "low student-to-teacher ratio". Like we knew better then. I guarantee you most kids decide between colleges based on the school colors, the appearance of the women, or the success of the football team.
I was much more prepared for what I needed from the university I would be attending, but I still feel like I did a sloppy job of picking places to attend. Looking back, I hardly put any effort into the process.
And I was eighteen. What the Hell do 18 year olds know about themselves and what they want from their education? If you're applying to a top-notch school, you have to convince those people that you know what's up, that you are crystal clear about who you want to be, and that you have the credentials to justify your pitiful existence at a hallowed university.
Well, the best thing I knew how to do was bullshit my way through my application essays. It worked in high school. If you read the old Soapboxes, you'll see just about what level my mind was working at in high school, and even with all I had learned at that point in my life, the material had not yet soaked into my brain -- education had not mingled with experience. I thought I knew myself (of course, I say that now too, and I probably will write the same thing five years from now), so I thought I could maybe breeze into any institution I wanted without trying too hard. Did it my whole high school career.
Well, I didn't get into the really prestigious schools, so I was left with three in-state schools. I ended up going to UT Austin. Don't get me wrong -- I love it here, and I definitely plan to graduate from this place. Austin's a wonderful city and the campus has everything I need and the resources to get what I want in the future. The professors are excelsior, particularly in the classics department, and I'm able to take computer and business courses on the side. The school is much tougher than you'd think for a public school -- most classes are extremely valuable to one's education. UT is probably the best place I could've gone to for college.
But I think about the quality of my applications which were written only two years ago and I have to shudder. I had no clue what was going on, and for some reason, it didn't occur to me what was really important to put down for my short answer questions and essays. That's not to say no one tried to tell me that I needed something that expressed the real "me" -- I heard that enough times to make me sick. But it didn't click.
It clicks now. If you really want to know the skinny, I wrote my essay about how I used to stay in a house on the beach in Maine. It, like, changed me and stuff. The usual bullshit. High schooler's attempt at Tintern Abbey or something. You know, if I had read that essay, I wouldn't have just placed the application into the "no" pile. I would've whipped out a Zippo and set that thing ablaze. I'm somewhat ashamed of my efforts to get into the prestigious colleges now. Can you tell?
I know exactly how I would fill out my applications if I could do them over again. I failed, two years ago, in showing the admissions people who I was and who I had the potential to be. I do acknowledge that even though I had just developed a web site (and I think that understanding the importance of a web site and having a philosophy behind it is more important than most people will think), I didn't really understand its usefulness to my mental freedom and to my future career. There was a lot of stuff I was just beginning to get my hands on, like college, that I hadn't grasped before I filled out my applications. I imagine I was in the same boat with a lot of other kids. They didn't know shit about their own lives either, beyond what their favorite brand of t-shirt was, or if they were lucky, how they felt about carrying around all their school books without lockers to stow stuff away in (you know, drugs and guns in schools and all).
I will not sit here and tell readers that I am a perfect human being with no room for improvement -- I have my family as a constant reminder of how little I actually know, and I understand that how I see myself in the present is often a distorted and blinded lie that I see through later in life. But things have changed a lot for me since I got to UT Austin. I've discovered my personality type is roughly categorized as an INTJ type, a visionary. I've learned and relearned Latin, mingled with the heavy duty linguists, crash coursed myself with computer details and programming language syntax so technical it would make your eyes burn, travelled around parts of Europe, networked, goofed off, negotiated contracts, served as project leader of some design jobs, experienced incompetence in corporate business firsthand, begun and maintained a long-distance relationship with my first and only sweetheart, and many more unmentionables. And while everyone goes through this sort of initiation process, and some may consider these events to be very shallow and insignificant, they were nonetheless developments which changed how I think and feel. They've certainly equipped me for life.
In reading a lot of books, learning more about my own life through dealing with more and more independence, and finding articles and essays which discussed the human personality, I became more and more affirmed about who I really was. I passed an intellectual plateau shortly after I got to UT, and I'll experience many more in my lifetime. Most of the time, it's just small steps that you take in order to become more well-rounded and more mature. After getting more of a taste of what the real world is like, writing a winning college application would be easy for me now.
I am aware of who I am and how I match up to other people and what makes me different or similar to others. I know my strengths, and more importantly, I know my weaknesses. The next step is self-correction, ridding myself of bad habits and adopting good ones, all while learning. I am more confident in my writing abilities and I am not willing to write a bland, boring essay about how the rocks on the Maine beach sparkle (or whatever it was I thought was cool to put in an application essay at the time), when I could fully express myself, even going so far as to express strong opinions which could possibly throw off the admissions people. It's not about telling a university what you think it wants to hear, it's about showing them that you are an individual who craves a superior education and who will make a difference in the world later on.
With what I know about myself now, I could really clean up on those applications. It is too late to fix that, however, and I'm not yearning to return to those days to redo it all. I am extremely happy with where I am, and it just goes to show you that things work out for the best.
The next wave of young adults are beginning to send out for applications so that they can fill them out and hope to get into a great university. No doubt they will find themselves confused and lost as well, not quite sure of who they are and what difference each individual path will bring. Personally, I recommend that all high school students try to go to some university primer program, so that they get accustomed to what exactly college will be like. Getting accepted is much more difficult, though, because it depends on someone who are barely allowed to drive to be able to convince serious, well-studied academics that they can actually think and contribute to a university with too many applications and not enough class chairs to seat everyone.
Would I have gotten into those prestigious universities if I knew then what I know now? Maybe, maybe not. I still have a long way to go, and God knows there is plenty of potential in me I have not unlocked. But I think I could write a much more convincing and expressive essay which described who I am, if I had another chance. At least then, the decision some admissions schmuck had to make would be more challenging than just a quick glance at the old essays.
Does it matter to me now? Like I said, I've made what appeared to me to be miniscule steps, but after a couple years, it's added up. Things are good and life is sweet. It's good to be me right now, and I'm thankful that everything's worked out so well so far. The most important thing is that I've realized my past flaws and now I'm ready to apply my new knowledge to the present and future. And to me, that's the only way to succeed in a world of regrets, mistakes, and the ignorance of youth.
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