What I Wish I Knew

An essay about Tina Seelig’s “What I Wish I Knew Before I was 20”

A good education, ever-supportive parents, similarly purpose-driven comrades, a great ambition in life, and with the odds on your side- a mix of all these ingredients and you know you’re on your way to what everyone wants- a happy and successful life.

A book that I recently finished, entitled What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, captured the statement so well that I felt the urge to share it for one reason, we should all have our favorite success stories that we can turn into our inspirations, our dreams, or shall I say, our “goals”. [H1] And I think that this will help you find yours. Apparently, this original, mindboggling, one-of-a-kind book is my favorite. [H2] From this ingenious work by Tina Seelig, an Engineering professor in the University of Stanford, I’ve learned that we continue to carpe diem because we have things that we have yet tried, places where we have yet gone to- basically, dreams that we have yet fulfilled- and we all try to burn the midnight oil to get there. We try to work hard. At some point in our lives, we even try to push ourselves to the very limits. But then again, trying to get there is not enough. There very well is a huge difference between trying to work hard and actually working hard. Because from what I’ve picked up from this inspirational piece, going for that aspiration of yours and having a little bit of grit to actually do the “impossible” will take you places.

Let me share you a story. This narrative is about a young lady who dreams so big that more than half of the people she knows says she is too ambitious. At times, even her parents think she is. We begin her story from where most stories I’ve known of begin with- the protagonist’s childhood. As a little girl, this young lady had this witty dream of becoming “world-class” and she thought that joining small interclass competitions in school will eventually get her there. The first real contest she’s ever joined was a Chinese Calligraphy writing competition. This seven-year old then spent weeks of training to perfect the meticulous strokes of the characters, and after giving everything she’s got on her first competition, she finally had a taste of triumph- her very first. That one time when her name was announced as champion and when she was asked to come onstage to receive the award gave her the drive to continue to take on risks, learn new skills, and be victorious all the more. It gave her so much joy- a wonderful sense of fulfillment. And more than anything, she felt a step closer to her dream.

Over the years, she had joined almost every single competition her school held- from both English and Filipino composition, to storytelling, vocal solo, declamation, and extemporaneous contests- you name it. At some point, she even tried out for her school’s swimming, football, chess, and hip-hop dance team. She won some, lost some- but one thing that kept her going was her ultimate dream. Eventually, she reached that instant during her years in High School when she was chosen to represent her school in seminars, NOPSSCEA, and academic competitions. Yes, it sure is funny how this kid couldn’t figure out which specific craft to focus on, but give it to her- she has managed to keep an equal ratio of her sweet victories and heartbreaking losses. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t call her much of an academic achiever when she was in elementary and during her first few years in High School. In fact, she was leaning more on the arts and sports. Her only favorite subject was English. Truth be told, this was probably the one subject she was really good at. You see, during sixth grade, she almost got a nine of seven in Math, and the year after, she got her first “D”- an actual nine of seven- in Science. An 80 in Grade 6 Mathematics was tolerable, but an almost-failing 70 something in Grade 7 Science was not. That day she received her first D was both one of the worst and the best days of her life. Yes, it did give her great fear and humiliation, but at the same time, it also gave her the determination to do better. It was the worst of days because the first twelve years of her life had seen overwhelming success and little failure, and to receive such low of a grade was crushing for such an ambitious young lady. On the brighter side, she also considers it as one of her best. After all, if it weren’t for that mortifying “D”, she wouldn’t have had maximized her potential. She wouldn’t have had leaped from that spot of her springboard. That event wouldn’t have had told her to start pushing her skills beyond limit. Because from that day on, she vowed that she would never get another nine of seven or even an almost-nine of seven in her life. Ever.

Because of that promise she had made, she ran the extra mile by studying even harder than she ever did. It was tough at times, but at the end of it all, she’s learned that all the great things will outdo those tough times she’d had. And she sure is glad for all the sacrifices- both big and small- that she had made. Today, she is a proud member of the Mathematics Trainer’s Guild Philippines- the national team that sends young mathematically-inclined students to different international Math competitions to represent the country. Armed with grit and whatever trainings she’s tackled up, she went and took the exams. After the qualifying exams, she qualified again for the YMIITP, the Young Mathematicians’ In-house Intensive Program, and by God’s grace, was able to make it again to the MOSTP, the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Training Program. She spent five weeks of her summer learning Math which she once thought was “impossible” given her past grades, but nonetheless, she made it. She wouldn’t have been a member of the Philippine Team if she didn’t have the grit to take the qualifying exams for the third time. And yes, you read that right. Just literally like Miss Universe 2015, Pia Wurtzbach, she had also failed twice before making it on her third shot. She first took the exams when she was in 5th grade and took her second the year after. It was only during her last year in Junior High when she decided to try again. And today, this little girl, now all grown up, is more than happy for having made that decision.

What she still can’t get over with and what she finds amusing is her past aspiration when she was 12. As you’ve read, she had once tried out for the swimming team, and was so passionate about swimming then. Coincidentally, the Olympics that took place last 2012 stimulated her hope to represent her country in the Swimming Olympics. Clearly, she was not able to pursue this. She now finds herself instead, lined up for the “Math Olympics”. It’s funny how the universe conspired to make this young lady’s dream come true. Nonetheless, her aspiration of becoming “world-class” is now fulfilled. As of today, she is beyond grateful for the many blessings that she has been humbled with and is now eagerly preparing for her first international competition which will be held soon. She is also hoping that she will be able to bring home the bacon for her country, and be able to motivate many people out there. For now, let this be the end of this ambitious young lady’s story.

I guess that by now, you’ve already figured out that this young lady I’ve been well talking about is none other than myself. Also, you might be pretty much laughing both mentally and verbally at my guts my own “success” story. Believe me, I did too. But then again, this is one very important lesson I’ve picked up from What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: “Never Miss a Chance to be Fabulous.” If you’ve got something good, don’t be afraid to show it! This lesson is perhaps my second most favorite from the book. I’ve learned that when you’ve got the chance to do something, always make it a point that you do your best to be able to showcase your talent and skills. Now looking back to the road I took, I’ve realized that everything I’ve learned and read about is true. The lessons I’ve picked up such as: knowing yourself and taking choices to make meaning, being optimistic in everything you do, using failures as motivations to do better, and so many others- have already been executed by myself unknowingly. You might have even done so, too!

Now at sixteen, I’ve realized both by observation and experience, that most people out there miss a lot of great opportunities because these opportunities are dressed in overalls. This means, they require a lot of work. And boy, human as we are, do we hate it. In retrospect, only those who have the drive to make life more meaningful than it already is are the ones who exert so much of their willpower to love this work. Therefore, these people get to take on more opportunities and therefore, they have a bigger chance to get to their ultimate goals faster than the ones who’d rather stay in their comfort zones.

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 is a book that I’m more than grateful for having been written. It is the kind of book that will make everything in this world fall into place once every living soul gets to read it. It’s like chicken soup for the soul really, but for me, only better. To all millennials out there, I encourage you to read this book and use it to your advantage. Let’s skip the mistakes everyone else makes. Let us strive to make meaning in whatever decisions we make for it is us who will soon take the lead in our nation. And lastly, dear reader, consider this a gift. By reading this article of mine, you’ve saved about 8.3 dollars (415 pesos) to read a book that is an international bestseller, and one that I strongly believe is a piece ought to be required reading.