This past year has shown me more personal development than I’ve seen in my entire life. I went from somebody who thought high school was the epitome of learning to nearly dropping out. I went from watching the latest big thing on TV each night to going home and actually working on making it. The catalyst? TKS.
When I first joined, I started to realize just how far behind I was; not behind what was expected of me, but miles behind where my real potential was.
I went through nearly 3 months of the program without truly starting to internalize the key ideas. At this point, I realized what I had been doing wrong. My first big learning point was that you’ll only truly adopt a new idea when you discover at least some aspect of it for yourself. This is why the methods in high school aren’t effective anymore, and why TKS is modeled the way it is.
When I finally connected with this idea of experiential learning, it unlocked my ability to take on other concepts TKS had been teaching me. I started pushing myself harder to take advantage of opportunities and new environments where I could mess up and learn new things. Want to develop networking skills? Go to a conference. Better yet, speak at the conference! And if you didn’t know how to network, you’ll figure it out.
Lesson 1: Figure it out.
As I began to pursue more opportunities, I also started to hit obstacles.
Voice in my head: “Of course you did Tommy, if there weren’t obstacles, everybody would be doing it.”
But when I spoke with TKS mentors, the response I got was, “figure it out”. Seeing that it didn’t really make sense told me that I had to experience it first-hand to learn it.
A week later, I found myself at a massive conference with hundreds of professionals who were A) wildly successful, B) much smarter than me, and C) way older. But the third one is what really stuck out as a barrier. They weren’t there to talk to some 16-year-old kid, and this obviously created a problem for me.
I kept trying to reach out, and over and over I got brushed off or ignored. Discouraged, I found myself wandering around when the private speakers’ room caught my eye. At that point, I made it my goal to figure out how to get in and network with some of the bigwigs; surely they would see past the age barrier.
It took me about 10 minutes, and I figured out how to hustle my way in. Right as I walked in, I almost immediately felt a shift in environment. I walked up to a group of millionaire VCs and introduced myself to test it out. No brushing off, no ignoring; I was just another person at the event to them.
Finally, the idea of “figure it out” had clicked. Nobody is going to give you the answer, and if they do, it’s probably too good to be true. You will always be the best person to solve your own problems.
Lesson 2: You can learn anything.
This past summer, I started putting my TKS education to work by pursuing some projects in AI I was interested in. The problem was, you’re not really supposed to be able to develop artificial intelligence at age 16. A lot of resources I came across didn’t take long to mention some obscure concept from a grad-level calculus class or something.
But with a passion for something so cutting-edge and important, I wanted to keep going. So I cracked open a calculus book (Google-style) and started reading. And reading. And, uh, reading.
As I began to understand some of the math, I also started losing sight of how learning all these theory-based mathematical concepts were going to help me, even if I managed to wrap my head around some of them. But when I returned to some of the articles or guides I was reading on neural networks, I actually found that things were a little bit clearer with m̶y̶ ̶n̶e̶w̶ ̶m̶a̶t̶h̶ ̶d̶e̶g̶r̶e̶e a few hours of reading.
What really excited me was that this practice continued to prove successful, over and over again. Instead of getting hung up on the fact that people spend years learning what I wanted to know in the next few hours, I learned first-hand that if you just start googling, you will, at the very least, gain an awareness of what you don’t know. From there, it’s just a constant grind of reading and watching videos until it clicks.
Lesson 3: Think Big.
This last one came up multiple times throughout the TKS program. We’d be working in our teams on some project or trying to solve a problem in a particular industry, and when we finally settled on an idea, we’d simply be told “think bigger”. And we’d sit there wondering; “wasn’t the point just to solve SOME problem, not necessarily THE problem? How could we possibly solve climate change?”
But that last question is the closest thing to thinking big most of us had ever attempted. How could we solve climate change? What we didn’t realize was that people don’t just wake up one day and solve things like climate change by accident.
“Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world usually do.” — Steve Jobs
You can’t solve important global issues without asking the hard questions. How do we mobilize and find homes for hundreds of thousands of refugees? Or, how do we solve world hunger? At TKS, we worked on these projects with companies such as Airbnb and Nestle, and the problems were intended to be virtually unsolvable.
The point wasn’t to get us to solve some minor issue; it was a full-scale, globally relevant issue that forced us to think about really hard problems. This idea really resonated with me after my first hackathon experience at Hack the North, where my team and I created something that could disrupt technological accessibility for people with disabilities on the global scale. You can read more about the project on my website: click here.
Simply joining TKS won’t teach you these things; you have to experience them first-hand to truly adopt them as your own. And the only way to get the experience is to immerse yourself in opportunity, and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
Get out there and build something!