Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 3: Here, You Can Have The Cake. I'll Take The Icing.

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Success means a lot of things: someone who's done a lot for the community, someone who's achieved mastery of a certain skill, someone who's gained proficiency in an area so as to be given the recognition of their peers, and, simply, someone who's succeeded at doing what they aimed to do. It reminds me of young people who've already made a difference in their communities, young people who would easily put any adult to shame with their strings of worthy accomplishments, older individuals who astound me with their expertise and generosity of spirit - all of whom I've had the privilege to meet, all of whom inspire me.

In all of these people exist at the very least the element of perseverance. And that makes perfect sense - with perseverance, you can overcome lack of initial skill and talent, but without the will to work, even the most skillful painter would accomplish nothing. Perseverance leads to practice, practice to improvement. Perseverance opens doors where giving up would not. The best crafted goals wither away without hard work.

I consider learning to do things without knowing how they'll turn out, and gathering the courage to do so, as one of my most meaningful successes.

Should I join this team of people whom I don't know, and who are coming up with a project that I feel strongly about? Why should my shyness deter me from getting involved?
I'm glad I did now, for I got to know these few amazing individuals, and in the course of the project, read stories from other people about their successes and failures.

Should I take this class in a subject I know zilch about? Why not?
I'm glad I did now, for I learnt how to read material in an unfamiliar area, how to articulate myself in a small class environment, and exposed myself to the wonderful world of medieval history.

Should I commit to volunteering for this program when I've never done such a thing before? What is so bad about jumping head in to something new?
I'm glad I did now, for my Fridays have never been more enjoyable, and I have a newfound appreciation for children and the great gift I've been given in being able to further my studies beyond high school.

All of these are the icing on the cake, if you will, of accomplishments. These are the things that are really important to me - these discoveries, these results of leaping into the unknown. Just listen to this chap:

Yes, xkcd is a legitimate source of advice on life. (c)

If I managed to do praiseworthy things in the process, all the better, but I'd relegate them to the realm of CVs and resumes, which are only concerned with the body of the cake, and not the good stuff: the icing on the top of it all.

I have many role models, some whom I look to for inspiration, others for motivation, but I can think of at least one person whose accomplishments I'd like to emulate: Professor McIlwain. I first met him in my Medieval Perspectives seminar - a class with nine professors and seven students - where he handled the Anglo-Saxons module. To listen to him read out poems in rhythmic Old English was a singular experience for me, since I'd never heard the language read out loud before. But a greater surprise was yet to come.

A few weeks later, I attended a cognitive science talk, out of curiosity - and Professor McIlwain was in the audience. In his introduction, the speaker gave a nod to him and mentioned the work the professor had done in the field years ago; my mind was racing. I did some digging around and very quickly discovered his page under the Psychology department's website - and under that of Medieval Studies. And he was also a Professor of Medical Science. Google threw up more results - books and papers he'd written. It all fell into place then, and I still marvel to this day: to be able to teach so many different subjects at this level would mean a substantial amount of proficiency in all of them - not an easy feat by any standard.

So I've made plans. I want to make the most of the resources around me, to further develop my skills and explore as much as I can before I leave college. I want to be able to recognize a fulfilling job (or two) when I see one, and to be able to pursue new goals without being bogged down by other things, to be able to spend my life doing things I enjoy for the benefit of others.

Sometimes I wonder at the impossibility of it all, because these goals are all very vague, all scribbled on the back of dining hall napkins and random Google Docs, all waiting to be realized. But all the better to begin - no time to lose.

Charis Loke is a rising sophomore at Brown, concentrating in Biochemistry. Her interests include art and illustration, Tolkien, and procrastination.


  1. Dear Charis, what degree Are you doing? Sounds funky, haha. Secondly, I like this piece. (where's the 'Like' button when you need it?

  2. Charis, I hate Biochem 'cause I have to remember lots and lots of structural formulas. No offense, though. :)

  3. No offense taken, since I have yet to sit in an actual biochem class.


    Don't tell that to my advisor, though.

  4. What are you studying actually? I mean, a medical student like me, we actually have to learn something related to medicine (like vitamins, hormones, etc.), in Biochem. So, how about you? :) And yeah, I won't tell your advisor since I don't know any. :D

  5. Well, my major is Biochemistry. I just haven't gotten to taking the intro biochem class - will do so next Spring, which is normal, since most people do it in their second year only. Right now I'm doing various chemistry and biology courses, as well as math, to satisfy the other requirements for the Biochem major and as prerequisites for more advanced classes.

    The Biochem major here doesn't require you to specialize in anything, though I'm pretty sure the upper level classes will narrow down their focus.