Over the last few years, I was put through a lot.
- Putting in blood, sweat and tears into preparing for college entrance exams.
- Coming painfully close, yet ultimately failing to land my top college preferences.
- Dealing with the self-doubt that soon followed - “Was it bad luck? Or… am I just not as good as I thought I was?”
- Deciding to find out for sure, by trying as hard as I can, all over.
- Living alone for the first time.
- Living with roommates for the first time.
- Multitasking between academics, programming contests, side projects, internship hunts, hackathons, technical writing and Netflix.
- Clearing challenging interviews and landing very rewarding internships.
Needless to say, the last four years of my life made for one extremely wild ride.
This blog post summarizes one of the many things I’ve learned over this ride.
It all started during my first semester at college, away from home. This was the point of time where I kept wondering what I should’ve done differently to land my top college preferences.
And I noticed a certain behavioral shortcoming of mine. That shortcoming was fear.
Noticing this flaw set off a spark that eventually became a roaring fire.
I attribute that spark to be the reason behind landing my internships, improving my grasp of algorithms, remaining a high-scoring student in classes, pulling all-nighters for hackathons and saying YES to what I would’ve hesitated to do otherwise.
If I could go back 4 years and tell myself just one sentence, it would be -
Put your fears aside, relentlessly work hard and be visible to the world.
It’s very easy to succumb to fear.
Looking back, I was extremely afraid of failing. I used to tell myself “I’ll skip this test since if I don’t do well, it’ll affect my morale and I don’t want to feel sad.”
But looking back, I think I’d have preferred feeling sad every day back then if it meant succeeding where it mattered.
Fear of failure. Fear of imperfectionism. Fear of being “exposed”. Fear of looking dumb. Fear of inadequacy.
I started realizing that my entire approach to my goals was being hindered only by my fear.
“What if my rating goes down after the contest?”
“What if my internship application gets rejected?”
“What if I can’t answer a single question in the interviews?”
“What if they find out I’m an imposter?” (Read THAT blog post of mine, here - Imposter Syndrome)
But, now I believe it really doesn’t matter. What matters is making the most of every opportunity.
One of my proudest impulse decisions, was to cold-email Topcoder asking to join their team. At the time, this seemed silly since I was a sophomore who still didn’t have all the basics of CS down.
Admittedly, I’d emailed them with the intent of joining their problem-setting team since I had some experience in contest problem setting however Topcoder and I discussed, & decided their technical blog team would be a better fit for me.
I put myself out there, and it worked out. The fear of looking stupid was very real to me at the time - I was just a sophomore, who was I to send an email to Topcoder?
But the response I got, gave this attitude the green light.
The same attitude got me internship interviews with world-class, YCombinator backed startups because I sent emails to the CTOs and founders conveying my interest.
The same attitude got me to an international hackathon, competing amidst world class talent.
The same attitude got me posting and sharing my blog posts on Hacker News, LinkedIn, Reddit and Quora.
The same attitude got me the attention of recruiters from super cool firms.
The same attitude got me developer friends at firms like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Uber, Samsung and many more super cool places.
If I could go back in time, this attitude is what I’d like to force younger-me to adopt, instead of “What if I fail?”
In summary, if I had one sentence to tell younger me, I’d quote Harvey Specter from the iconic series Suits -
“That’s the difference between you and me. You wanna lose small, I wanna win big.”