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September 24, 2009

“Secrets to Success” in Grad School

Filed under: Personal Development — Fei @ 5:30 pm

writing

About two months ago, a friend of mine asked me my secrets to succeed in grad school, because she’s going to a top university for grad school (one of the big three). That really flattered me, coz I don’t really have any secret, and I don’t do well anyway…. (considering many of my colleagues are professors of distinguished universities, and/or are successful in business and become multi-millionaires.) Still, I wrote her a few emails regarding how I think of the topic (mainly from books… as many of you know.. I’m just a book worm :-))

With her permission, I’m copying some of our email correspondence (her identity removed), because I feel that what I told her is exactly what I should tell myself… over and over again. I should always remind myself of all these points…. regularly, frequently… sometimes it’s easier to tell others what to do than telling myself… I think the most interesting parts of the conversation are the “three circles” from “Good To Great”, and her elaboration on American confidence (she’s a white American).

In my response to her first email, I recommended the “three circles”:

I recommend a book called “Good To Great”. It’s a great book. I like it a lot. In the book, the author talked about three circles. One is what you are really passionate about. One is what you are born to do. And one is what makes economic sense. It is best to work in the intersection of the three circles. The key is “understand”. To understand your passion, to understand your strength, to understand the economic engine. If you understand your three circles and work in the intersection, your life will be brilliant. Oh well, I’m still in search of my three circles :p

In her response, I noticed that she was not a very confident person, which quite surprised me, because in my mind, Americans are in general confident. Oh well, at least that part she’s pretty much like me. I could feel that she was worried about grad school at that point (fortunately, she’s very happy about the school now). Going to grad school is a great change and challenge. I had a lot of doubts and issues at that time, and many people helped me at that point. So I feel good that I can pay back and help others. Then, I wrote an elaborated email to address her concerns, from my perspective.

WOW! You sound like a Chinese. Maybe I have stereotypes on Americans and Chinese. I always feel that Chinese are not that confident on themselves, while Americans are very confident on their capabilities, sometimes too confident. I was a typical Chinese and always felt that I was not good at this, not good at that etc. etc. which made me a quite pessimistic guy, which now I don’t think is good at all. I’m still not that confident on many things (it’s so deep in my subconscious mind), but consciously, I always try to encourage myself. You know, it is real hard, conscious mind only accounts for 10% of our brain, and subconscious mind accounts for 90%…. Anyways, that’s why I want to read some motivational books again and again, to change the attitude. I actually highly recommend one book for you. It is called “The magic of thinking big”. It’s so good that I planed to give talks on the findings of the book. I’ve already finished my slides and given some try round talks, but still not to a broader audience.

You heard of the book: the secret, or the law of attraction? Basically, the book says that you will get what you want. If you want success, you will get success. If you want failure, you will get failure. Whatever you want, you only need to think think think think really hard, and it will come to you automatically. It’s quite mythological, and it goes to some extremes, but it makes sense in some aspects.

Since you are born and raised in American culture, it’s natural that you have confidence inside you. You just need to uncover it. You have a Princeton degree, and it’s priceless, and you are NOT going to mess up <university>, it will be another shining diamond on your resume. Think about it, how many people can get both Princeton and <university> degrees? Not that many.

It’s really nice of you to think for your parents. The degree is expensive, and I know it. Instead of worrying this and worrying that, just make up your mind that you ARE going to excel at <university> and it will propel you to study harder. You can pay your parents back after you get your degree, maybe with interest. You can also work part time in libraries at <university>, just like what many Princeton students do at Princeton. But it’s not the your major concern. Your major concern now is your <university> degree.

I would agree with your parents that even though <university> may be expensive, it is the right choice. You will be emerged in a very prestigious culture that <another university> will never give you. Use me as an example, I had my undergraduate education at Peking University, which is one of the best universities in China, and I’m really proud of that.

Then I had my PhD. at Princeton University which we all know it’s prestigious level. Having attended the two universities, the people around me, the friends I make, are all different, and they in turn encourage me to do better. This is a positive feedback. If I went to a ordinary university in China, the odds that I would go abroad would be very slim, and life would be probably very different for me. However, it doesn’t mean that a graduate from a second tier school won’t do well. On the contrary ,some are doing exceptionally well. The inside strength, not the outside environment is the dominate factor. I don’t know how they did it and I can’t speak for them. But I do respect them a lot.

How to choose a University? For me, it’s mainly the culture. I like Princeton’s culture a lot. I believe <university>’s culture is equally good. I remember in one year’s reunion, the 40-year graduates did a survey and most of them were no longer working at the same major they got their degree, and over 50% of them did not even remember what their college major was. To me, school life is to be enjoyed, and it’s the culture of the school makes it unique.

Don’t be discouraged since nobody makes money in your area. One important aspect of schooling is to enjoy the culture. Just think about the 40-year graduate example. If it doesn’t work for you long term, just change major. No big deal. However, think cautiously when you do. I do really believe your major has a super bright future. Nobody makes money now (and I really suspect this) doesn’t mean you won’t make money. It doesn’t mean people won’t make money two years, five years down the road. For me, proliferating the findings from your major is the only way to sustain economic growth for mankind. Think how important it is.

Currently, people pollute the environment all over the world; people excessively focus on non-renewable energy such as gas, coal; people have formed the habit to waste everything. Those are big problems needed to be solved. Many people are aware of the issues now. Renewable energy is a really hot topic now a days, but was it hot ten years ago? Probably not. I’m sure people will aware of other environmental issues soon. And you have a real good start, because at that time, you will be an expert in the area.

Still, think about inter-disciplinary. Now a days many hard problems are solved by combining the wisdom from multiple areas. You have your niche, which is environment, you can talk to people in other areas and maybe you can find some BIG ideas. Just keep in mind, whatever you do, whenever you do things, always think: “is it efficient; is it effective; would it be better if….” You don’t need to figure out the solution.

Just identify the problem is one big thing. I’m actually very interested in talking to you to learn more about your area and probably we can sparkle some ideas together 🙂

It is common to have doubts sometimes. Maybe it’s because you are so into it that you lose the big picture. Maybe it’s because you tend to think from the same angle. A second opinion may be good sometimes. I actually have doubts all the time. I need people to remind me regularly.

The encouragement among friends are real important. I feel really honored that you ask me those questions. Hope my perspective can help you in some way. I’m also learning many things. My points may be incomplete or even wrong, so use with discretion. Maybe I will consult my problems with you someday :p

Fei

PS. sorry for my tongue if you find it too pushy. I hope you don’t mind.

And her response to the confidence part (other parts are omitted).

It was very interesting to me what you said about American stereotypes.  Maybe American culture rewards (and glamorizes) confidence more than humility and so from an early age here people learn that to be the “best” they must be confident in themselves, have confidence in their abilities, and be confident of success.  But, I think this is just the ideal, I think most people really aren’t that confident at all.  Especially younger women and girls.  There are a lot of problems in that regard in American culture.  Some Americans really are as confident as they seem, but I think for most people, it’s just a show.  They don’t feel as confident on the inside as they act on the outside.  But they know that’s how they have to act to get anywhere.  It takes a lot of energy!  I’m usually pretty good at displaying a lot of confidence for an interview or first impression, but then I have some difficulty maintaining it over the long term.
(That being said, not all Americans like overly confident people.  My Dad, for example, both my parents actually, are often suspicious of overly confident people because they think they are hustling people and putting on a show to trick them into something.)

I should indeed remind myself regularly……. and YOU, my friend, please remind me too….

P.S. my friend gave me more explanation on “American confidence”.

I just thought of something. It occurred to me that what I said about my parents not liking overly confident people might not be representative of the entire country, that might just be true of people in the Midwest or middle America. I’m not sure, I don’t know if there are also a lot of people on the coasts who share the same view or not. Anyway, I just wanted to disclose this possibility to you.

September 9, 2009

09-09-09

Filed under: 往事如风 — Fei @ 7:42 pm

Bride Groom今天是09年09月09日,一个好日子。黄历上也说“宜嫁娶”。今天结婚的人挺多的,我也第一次in a wedding,而且是个超小的wedding。

几个月前一位朋友吃饭时随便问我有没有兴趣当结婚证人,我从来没有当过证人,自然满口答应,不过当时也没有放在心上。一个星期前朋友又来问我下个星期三有没有时间,要结婚了。我自然说有了。。。然后自己也有些事很忙,都把这事忘了。

昨晚突然想起这事,赶快给朋友打电话。她也好,不紧不慢的,告诉我时间地点,而且她还没有网,只好让我写下来。我问她应该穿什么衣服,她也不在乎,说随便。我是打定主意要穿suit的,但groom自己不穿suit,那我是不是over dress了。。。过会她又打电话过来,说她们没有相机,要借我的相机。。。好吧,我那老掉牙的300D又有了用场。

今天早上起来,翻出我那西服,蹭蹭蹭地打上我Princeton的领带,跨上相机,出门也。。路上想到,是不是应该送些什么东西。。我这人是最不懂这些事情的了。。之前想都没想过,好吧,那也免了。。。

因为今天是个好日子,city hall早就被人定满了,他们是找了一个notary,在一个旅馆里。我到那一看,第一个到。再一看,连喊糟糕。。。自己穿了一身西装,打了领带。。。但出门时忙中出错,鞋没有换成黑色的皮鞋,穿了平常的休闲皮鞋。。。心里一冷,这怎么办呢?好吧,那就脱了西装,除去领带,休闲的当证人吧。。。

过了一会主角来了,看了觉得自己穿的还好,groom只穿了件短袖T-shirt,自己松了口气。当时就试验我的相机,给他们东拍拍,西拍拍。当然都是在同一个地方拍照。我早上出来的时候也没有跟老板请假,就偷偷跑出来了。。。一问他们,他们也没请假。。。呵呵。。。

然后notary迟到20分钟,我发现只有我一个人在场,问主角还有没有其他人。。。得到否定的答案。。。好吧,那我就是唯一的见证人了。。。。

notary带了个小孩过来,寒暄一阵后就开始讲填表的规矩,他们坐在那儿听,我就在旁边狂拍一气。然后重要时间到了,notary开始讲每个婚礼都要讲的话。。。先问bride,再问groom。。。当时突然觉得要有一个摄像机该多好。。只好拿着我的相机继续狂拍一气。。。还没怎么拍,notary就宣布他们成为夫妻了。。。

之后就是notary填表时间。。。主角突然想起什么,从包里拿出两枚戒指,互相戴上。。。继续拼命拍照。。。

notary突然叫“witness”。。。。把我吓了一大跳。。。发现是我填表时间。。。先是给我讲填表规矩(规矩真多)。。。然后我填表。。之后在结婚证明上签字。。。发现上面有bride’s witness 和 groom’s witness。。。但我只有一个人。。。不管他,签到正中间。。。

notary干这么多活不是白干的。。。下面就是结帐时间,bride从包里拿出150美元,notary就交出结婚证明。。。一手交钱,一手交货。。。

现在仪式也做过了,帐也结了,婚礼到此结束。。。。notary的小儿子突然把我叫过去,给我讲了一大通good bug,bad bug的事(他在看一本关于bug的书),然后在旁边的树丛中找bug。。。

婚礼结束,问主角们要不要继续拍照。。。得到否定的答案。。。不管他们。。。出去的路上继续狂拍。。。再祝贺他们一次,上车。。。直奔公司而去。。。

此婚礼时间不到40分钟,客人就我一个。。。真是个mini wedding。

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