You Get to Decide

pave your own true path

I can remember my very first “she did it anyway” moment so very distinctly.

I grew up in Istanbul. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go to the United States for college. I talked to my parents during middle school and made sure they knew my plans. I scoured every magazine I could find (this was well before the days of the Internet and Google) and took comprehensive notes on each of the colleges I thought I might be interested in. I talked to everyone I knew so I could gather more information. One of these people was an American I met during a trip to Israel. When I told him that I wanted to study Computer Science, he told me that I had to apply to Carnegie Mellon University as it was one of the top colleges in the field.

I still remember running back to my hostel and writing the name in my diary.

When I returned home, I told my school counselor that I was going to apply to CMU.

“You’ll never get in,” she said.

Maybe it was because I was so driven to move to the US that her comments had an adverse effect on me. Instead of feeling dejected, I felt mad. How dare she tell me I can’t get in, I thought. How dare she.

From that moment on, I made it my personal mission to prove her wrong.

I applied early, I worked hard, I studied and studied and even flew to Pittsburgh for an interview. All so I could make my dream happen.

And, of course it did.

But not at first. When I heard back from the school for early admission, the answer was no. They said they’d put me on the waiting list and that I had to keep improving my grades and they’d see.

I didn’t give up then, either. There was no way I was letting the counselor win.

I studied even more.  Until my grades were much, much better. I stayed fixated on my goal and never wavered from the possibility of making it happen.

Many, many months later, I got the telegram (remember, no internet back then) that said I had gotten in.

It was as if that one moment removed any doubts I might have had inside me. I knew then that no one would ever get to tell me what I couldn’t do.

I got to practice this attitude several times over the years. When I applied to graduate school and asked if I could graduate with both my Masters and undergraduate degrees at the same time, I got 18 “No”s before the head of the school gave up and let me have my way. When I worked on Wall Street, I negotiated my way into a part-time job so that I could volunteer more. When everyone told me it was career suicide to work part-time, I proved them wrong by getting promoted to Vice President the next year. I can go on and on.

Looking back, I am so grateful for the absolutely unacceptable attitude my counselor had. If she hadn’t been so mean, my “she did it anyway” attitude might not have kicked in. Thanks to her, I learned to follow my own lead and do things anyway.

I have found that life is not about accepting what other people think you can do. It’s not about not being afraid. It’s about believing in yourself and taking a leap and knowing it will be hard but doing it anyway.

Because only you get to decide what you can and cannot do.

Comments

  1. awesome story, Karen! and of course I always love your art….I should have spotted this as yours from the moment I saw it :) Thanks for sharing both.

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