Learning from my (several) mistakes.

As a Junior in college, there are some things I have to think about. First, what am I going to do with my life once I graduate? Although there are still two more years before I graduate, there are things that I would like to do that require long term planning. The most realistic options I have are:

  1. Go to graduate school.
  2. Get a job.

Both of this require me to do many different things, but there is something that they have in common. No matter how things turn out, it is to my advantage to have a good GPA. Although this will be more relevant in certain situations, I can’t think of a single time someone has come to me and said: “The reason I had this amazing opportunity was because of my bad GPA in college.” Some people do have awesome success stories (think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs), but there’s a reason they are mentioned every single time people talk about school and doing well in life… there’s not many cases like theirs.

That being said, my GPA is quite in bad shape at this point. At a B almost B- average, there are many things that I can apply for, but would be only be considered as a candidate under special circumstances. Although I always think about doing significant changes in order to improve my situation, I always go around repeating the same (or very similar) mistakes.

As a freshman I decided to take a set of classes first term that proved to be completely manageable, getting an A average during my first term and IAP (the January ‘Term’ at MIT). With this confidence I tried out a set of classes my second semester that proved to be much harder, and no A’s showed up on my record at the end of that semester. In the fall term things were a bit more smooth but in the end just one A gracefully came my way. Spring term sophomore year I decided I had to kill myself by taking a class combination that was not pretty, not at all, and I successfully killed my GPA in the process.

A recurring theme in every term is the ending of it. Spending my vacations wondering ‘why didn’t I do such and such when I had a chance?’, such and such being perfectly legitimate things I could have done to make my life more manageable. Even though I always think about improving this situation, this term I had decided at first to take 5 classes, something that is a bit of a stretch for many people. This is particularly strenuous if you consider the amount of time I also dedicate to Taekwondo…

Although people may say to me ‘why don’t you just stop doing Taekwondo, that would free up enough time for you to do X or Y’, what people don’t understand is how much happier I feel when I do taekwondo. Not only I feel better about myself because I’m physically active, taekwondo also challenges me to improve in ways I would not be challenged otherwise. It really pushes me to improve in many more ways than I originally thought it would, and the way I feel when I do taekwondo is just… unique.

Now, that being said, I finally decided by registration day not to take 5 classes, and instead I registered for 4 classes, but then I added a UROP. I successfully registered for 60 units. Why didn’t I limit myself to 48 units? Well, I can’t answer that question very well. But now that I’m feeling the effects of all my commitments, getting on average 3 hours of sleep this past week, and, thanks to my sleep-deprivation underperformed at my first exam, I decided to really not just think about it, but actually executing it. I’m dropping a class.

For some of you this might seem like something trivial. ‘Sure Omar, go drop your class, whatever‘, but you simply don’t understand. Deep down, ingrained somewhere in my brain/heart, there is a need to prove to myself that I can handle more than what people expect from me. I feel a need to prove that I deserve my spot at such a prestigious institution, and that I can handle what others can handle, and even more. And this is all something I feel the need to do for myself, even if no one else cares. Other than that, I also feel a need to help people when they need it. For this reasons I always go around over-committing: to classes, extracurricular activities, and many other things. In the end, I feel very satisfied with what I’ve accomplished, except that as implied by my use of the word ‘over-commit’, there are adverse effects which tend to be an under-performance in academics.

If I want to change the trend I need to start by giving up on bad habits. I started out by dedicating more time to my classes this term, but the next step is to admit to myself that I cannot handle as much as other people around me do, and that it is just fine. There is absolutely no need for me to take more than 48 units per term for the next 4 terms, I can even graduate taking less units than that! I just have to realize that, even if everyone else goes on and take 60 units and get straight A’s, that’s not what I want for myself. I was pretty much what you would consider a ‘slacker’ in high school, I never had to work as hard as many other people did in their high schools before coming to MIT, and two years might just not be enough for me to catch up with the work rate of people who had been working extra hard for 4, 5, 6 years before coming here. I accept that: “hard work pays off”. Implied in that saying is the fact that the hard work everyone else has done for many years more than I have, has to pay off for them somehow. Because of this I might not be able to get a double major as some people will, or even a minor, but I can at least leave MIT having successfully completed a degree and getting the most out of it. By successfully completing a degree I mean making sure that I’m well prepared in my field of study so that I can be admitted to graduate school, or at least be successful at getting a job and performing well in it. And this is what I intend to do…

I’m sorry if I bored you with this long post, but it is something I had to write. It is through writing that I concrete what runs through my mind, and this is something that needed to be concrete. All of this having been said, my family is visiting tomorrow! I should be ready to receive them with a heart and a mind more at ease now that I’ve ‘settled’ some of my problems. At least in my head I have.


9 thoughts on “Learning from my (several) mistakes.

  1. I hear you Omar. Its hard to come to terms with your own limits but when you do and you respect them, you're so much happier. We are crazy over achievers and its never enough just to be here, we have to be here and doing more and better than our classmates, just like in high school, but its an unrealistic goal. Way to recognize all of this before finals time!! lol HAVE FUN WITH YOUR FAMILY!!!! (but study .302 a bit. too 😉


  2. wow, you could have described my life at MIT. at least you're more self-aware than me and realized this while you can do something about it.


  3. aww, you still got a year though! and i don't know about the whole 'being more self-aware'. i really had to talk about this before really making a decision… friends really made a difference =)-omar


  4. i know that the uprm is not the best when it comes to undergraduate institutions, but i found that i share a lot of your concerns and must do something about it, is good to know that i am not the only one with this kind of situations… and i am 100% with you that croem was not the most challenging, hard working school


  5. The GPA is just an indicator of responsibility, commitment, intelligence at some point, attitude … but at the end is the rest that matter, your interview, your extracurricular activities, your hobbies, your daily routine and personality, your vision of your future and your actions toward it. All of you are really winners because all of you have a goal and are working to achieved them. My respect to all of you; you all were born to change our world and you all will!


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