Dusting off Old Dreams: On Being Lucky to Be at Sloan

Heading to my college reunion this weekend and bombarded with Facebook posts about graduations, I was inspired to dive into the Zendell archives and dig up my college application essays, in which I discovered the following rhetorical gems, among others:

“When the phrase ‘self-discovery’ comes to mind, I can’t help but think of nose rings and chunky-heeled boots emblazoned with the British flag”

“I get up and hypnotically follow my mom, equipped with her Barbie-pink fanny pack, as if my pursuit for Italian ices were a quest for the Holy Grail.”

Whether you’re only just seeing the above or you’ve been following my posts over the course of this year, you can tell that I love to write, and it probably doesn’t surprise you that I was a humanities major.

What you probably didn’t know is that I had intended to study electrical engineering for my four years of undergrad. I applied to college with big dreams of changing the world through technology and wrote my personal statement animatedly describing my experience building a metal detector (which at the time I found positively thrilling and which, of course, I submitted to MIT. Apparently I was destined to spend a part of my life “Under the Dome,” but for two years instead of four.) In many ways, I was a poster child for prospective women in engineering. I loved all things STEM, finishing the rigorous math requirements for the engineering program at my college by the end of freshman fall. But I knew I owed it to myself to see what else I could love aside, and by my sophomore fall, I’d traded in physics for Foucault and differential equations for Dostoevsky.

I will never regret my college major: I rank writing my senior thesis among my three proudest accomplishments, starting my own business and getting into Sloan being the other two. But you can imagine that unless you want your Ph.D. in the field, a degree in comparative literature can be a challenge to sell to potential employers, especially when you want a business role and not just a writing gig for businesspeople. Needless to say those big dreams of changing the world through technology were put on the highest shelf, well out of my reach.

In the continued spirit of reflection on college and commencement, I dug around for Michael Lewis’ Baccalaureate speech from my graduation on following your passion and acknowledging the role of luck in success: “Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”

When asked by friends, family, and prospective MBAs, “Why Sloan?” the half-joking response I often offer is, “I never wanted anyone to question my ability to do math ever again.” Because despite the past life of chemistry and calculus that preceded the Chinese, no one seemed to believe my analytical skills could go beyond distilling big books into short blurbs. There was only so much I could do to rebrand myself out of a career that was clipping my wings. After doing my research, I decided it was “MBA or bust.”

If the MBA didn’t work out, I didn’t have a clue what I would do, but I’m lucky that I never had to find out.

I’m lucky that Sloan believed in me enough to let me in through these doors. I’m lucky that MIT put the dreams of changing the world through technology not just within reach, but in the palm of my hand. I’m lucky that I get one more year to make the most of what the MIT community has to offer and put it toward realizing those dreams. And if I continue to be lucky, I’ll get the chance to run into Michael Lewis while working in the Bay Area this summer.

Signing off for the semester and sending love to the graduating Class of 2015: Keep dreaming. Stay lucky. I’ll miss you!

Erica

Originally published at mitsloan.mit.edu on May 28, 2015.