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.


  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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