Letter to First Years

Greetings to everyone who is reading this, especially the first years. By now you are getting into the final stages of your honeymoon at Olin. Classes are intense. You have turned in an assignment or two and tried out half the clubs. All fun and games now, but as I said – the fascinating joy of the magical Olin world is winding down and reality is slowly creeping back in. So I am going to act like a sage senior here and give you some advice. I hope these things I learned during my time at Olin will help you one day.

You do not need to be good at everything.

Olin is very driven place filled with well rounded and talented people. Our school is known for that and, one of the reasons we have pass-no-record the first semester is so you can jump in on the magical ride of trying every single thing without it putting a dent in your first semester academic life. But some of you may already be feeling that some of your classmates are better than you.

It hurts, but remember, you are you. You are not anyone else. You are different from me. This is not good or bad; it is just a pure, simple fact.

You have things you like. Things you are good at. Not everyone likes the things you like. Not everyone is good at the things you are good at.

It goes the other way as well. You do not always like the things other people like. You are not always good at the things other people are good at. You do not have to be.

People who are “good” at things often have the advantage that some of what they do here at Olin they have done before. Their school had a robotics program, so they know something about robots. Their middle school taught a programming course, so they know something about programming. The unfortunate sadness comes when you have no background in those areas because you never had or did not know you could pursue those opportunities. If you have never done something before and are comparing yourself to someone who has a year of workable experience – of course they will be better at it.

It is okay to not know things. It is okay to ask questions. You are learning, and the point is that you are trying to get better – that you are always striving to be better than who you used to be because the only person you have to be better than is who you are now.

For example, I have been actively writing since I was 5 years old (for those of you who do not know, I am currently attempting to publish two books). Using a sore underestimation of 30 minutes every day for 16 years, that is 2952 hours total. You would have to write non-stop 12 hours every day for the next 8 months to get an equivalent. If I am not remotely decent now, then there is something wrong with me.

You may also think that you are learning at a different pace from your peers. You do not think the way everyone else does, thus you do not learn the way everyone else does. You learn some things faster and some things slower. Sometimes you have to go about it differently, or maybe even put in more time. But realize how you think also gives you an edge in other ways.

As another example, I learn things via mimicry, patterns, and examples (i.e. “bottom-up”). Do I think I’m an idiot when people around me are working hard and I do not get what I’m supposed to do because all I have is a concept to work from? Yeah. But how I think gives me an edge in creativity and ambition. I rarely have an end in mind; just a towering mountain of “what about this?”

Finally, time is a precious and limited commodity. What do you really think is worth it? How you prioritize your time affects how you learn new concepts just as much as your innate ability does.

These are delicate questions because many other factors can apply (like classes), and there are some sacrifices you will need to make. You can hate people, but knowing how to talk to them may be invaluable.
However, if you had one hour to do anything – what would you do? Is it worth it in the long run to spend your hour tinkering with python or CAD? Would you choose exercise or a nap? Reading alone or on an adventure with friends? Naturally, the more you do something, the more your mind develops in that area and the better you will get. Practice makes perfect.

Here’s a not-so secret of mine: I do not think I am good at writing. Why? The more you do something/learn, the more you realize how much you do not know, and the prospect of ever being good at it is scaled accordingly. It can blind you to your accomplishments. You may fail to realize just how good you are and what you are truly capable of, because you think of yourself as an impostor who does not deserve to be where you are.

Yes, being well-rounded is a defining aspect of Oliners. By all means, if you want to try out everything, then do so. Just remember, you don’t have to be good at everything.

Cheers!