“What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced? How did you overcome it?”
My interview with Stanford did not go so well.
When he started asking questions like: “Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?”, “What is the change you want to make?”, “If you had 1 million dollars to do or learn anything, what would you do?” … I completely froze.
I realized that I didn’t have an answer to all these on the spot and it made me question everything that I’ve done up to this point.
For the first time, the realization that I’m alone on the other side of the world hit me, and I questioned my being here at all. What the f* am I doing living alone in Zürich?
I hadn’t stopped to consider the things I had to sacrifice and the responsibility I’ve taken on because it felt so natural, but then it all hit me. I began looking back on the life I had in Brazil and the things I left behind: my family, my friends, my horse, my crazy workout routine that made me feel pretty damn good about myself… Wouldn’t it have been easier had I just stayed? What is the point of anything that I’m doing? I haven’t actually achieved anything…
And so, I had a meltdown in the bathroom. I made the dumb – or maybe smart, now that I look back on it – decision of taking the call at the lab. At the edge of tears, I looked at my phone and wondered who to call. My parents were busy. I was alone.
I ended up reaching out to my boss. This might sound completely crazy, but if you knew this woman, you’d understand.
The advice she gave was not what I was expecting to hear, but I now see how it is the exact truth.
She said: “This was a great learning experience. It showed you exactly what you need to improve on… to be better at interviews. It has nothing to do with your life.”
And then she told me to go eat a big plate of pasta and take a nap.
As I was heading out of the lab, one of my co-workers – someone who has proven to be a great friend – noticed that something was wrong.
We sat down and I explained.
She smiled and said: “Ah Luisa, no one actually knows what they are doing. Everyone here that you see so focused on a project, actually has no idea if this project is going to work or not. No one knew they were going to be working on this, and no one knows what they’ll be working on in the future.”
And then she gave me a hug. Turns out, a hug is all that I really needed.
After a big plate of food and a full night of sleep (will I ever learn that sacrificing sleep is NEVER the answer?), here I am.
My thoughts are a complete mess. If my brain were a seemingly perfectly organized house, someone just went in and opened all the messy drawers and closets, revealing all the things that still need to be looked over and either thrown away or found a spot in the shelf.
The truth is that, for the past two years, I’ve had this mental checklist of what everyday should have, I lived with an inner schedule:
- A good workout (or workouts hahaha)
- Studying something / learning something new
And this worked great! Until it didn’t anymore.
Until my workouts didn’t bring me the satisfaction they once did, writing just didn’t seem so rewarding anymore, my work didn’t feel challenging enough, learning lacked direction and yoga felt repetitive.
This is my way of saying that I was bored.
But I had things to look forward to in the future, I had this internship.
And so I put very high expectations on this.
When I got here, I tried to deviate from the inner schedule, but guess what the plan I eventually came up with was:
To wake up early, get a good workout in, get some coffee, do some writing, work, go to the lab, learn something new, do yoga…
Notice the similarities?
I expected everything to change and was surprised that it didn’t. That the doubt, the fear and the uncertainty I feel, didn’t go away.
What I really wanted was change. But has anything really changed? I feel like the problems I’m facing today are the same problems I faced before.
This feeling of stagnation is a very demotivating thing. The realization that there are some things in my life that maybe will never change – some pillars of my personality that I just have to embrace.
And sometimes I get so caught up in these problems, that I lose sight of where I am, and how far I’ve come. Because I’m not in tune with these “pillars” I lose sight of the opportunities around me.
I’m threading a thin line here. The challenge of balancing planning the future and making the most out of the present.
I had to take a break, do the dishes and a few burpees because I was going down a rabbit hole.
This stupid interview made me question all that I’ve done and all that I am. But not because I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, but because what I’m doing – the challenges I’ve faced, the risks that I’ve taken and the things I’ve accomplished – can’t possibly fit in a 45 minute conversation.
The truth is, I don’t know if I want to go to a prestigious college. I don’t know the exact change I want to make in the world. I still struggle with seemingly irrelevant things like figuring out my schedule and balancing “work time” vs “me time”.
All this bundles up in my head and I am afraid that these inner worries are going to ruin this opportunity, that I’ll get so caught up in old problems, I won’t make the most out of my time here.
But, in the end of the day, I also know that I don’t need to have any of this stuff figured out. That what truly matters is the meaning that I assign to what I do.
So, I want to get out of this stupid rut I find myself in now. I want to realign with my goals and with the things that I know work for me. Most importantly, I want to have the courage and the peace of mind to say “yes” to what draws me, even if it’s not necessarily the decision most likely to lead to a measurable achievement; and to say “no” to what I don’t feel like doing but think that I “should” do.
I am drawing a plan for today and making a commitment for the next two months: to learn as much as I can and to record this learning.
If there’s one thing I always regret, is not recording every step of this journey. I found a beautiful quote in a friends facebook page today:
We get so caught up in who we are; We get so caught up in what we cannot do that we lose sight of what we can do now that we were never able to do before. As we become more aware of the world we’re presently in, we lose track of how far we’re come because so much of it was just unconscious.
Yes, many of the problems I still face are old problems, but this doesn’t mean that I haven’t changed.
This interview knocked me off my feet more than I’d like to admit, but it’s just because it’s a new problem I haven’t dealt with before, and I’m proud that this is the kind of problem that I am dealing with today.
Doing badly in an interview with f*ing Stanford? I’m already laughing at my happy demise.
Not being sure how to juggle so may responsibilities and the desire to say yes to every opportunity? What a problem to have!
And maybe the answer to the question of “what is the biggest challenge you faced today?” will always be “trying to decide what to cook for dinner…”. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t changed, it just proves that it was a silly question to begin with.