Coming to terms with the mortality of success remains the harshest reality to strike me in the past two years.
The summer before I started college I won two national championships in the high jump and competed at the 2014 World Junior Championship. Since my junior year of high school I believed I was going nowhere but up, and my successes only reinforced the naïve belief.
I started jumping my freshman year of high school. I came from a family of volleyball players, but I never wanted to associate myself with my sisters’ interests. Essentially coached by a school priest and YouTube videos, I took to the event quickly and became passionate about every aspect of jumping. Freshman year was a season of constant improvement. I hit a slump in my sophomore year, which led me to make a series of influential changes, the greatest being the decision to devote myself to my faith.
I began devotional sessions every evening, reading the Bible and writing about how the message spoke to me. I attended church every Sunday with my parents, and rarely took a Sunday off, even when I was traveling. My junior season began with a personal record, and ended with a state championship after finishing first in every meet of the season. Through the entire season I made it a point to recognize my trusting relationship with God as the reason for all success. I continued this mentality into my senior season, and I continued to get better.
On the morning of the New Balance Outdoor National Championship, I attended church with my parents. I found a small Catholic church in Greensboro, NC, which is now one of the most memorable churches I have ever visited.
Not one part of me was nervous. I knew that I had prepared as much as I could, and it was now in God’s hands. Throughout the competition I remained in constant conversation with God. I never asked for a victory. I simply just asked for His presence. I went on to win the competition without a single miss and achieved a new personal record. I used my faith in the next championship two weeks later and the success continued. The great change came after the world championship.
I slowly began to believe my success was a result of my own work. My focus shifted from God to myself. I transitioned into an arrogant and ungrateful athlete. I can remember throwing fits at my parents when I did not get what I want, at one point exclaiming, “I did this all on my own. You had nothing to do with it.” I had truly let the success consume me. I broke promises I made to myself and to God. Going into college, I believed there was no way I could fall down. I convinced myself I would continue to progress the way I had been the past two years.
Boy, did I get slapped with humility! I never stopped working hard. I never missed a day of practice. I never gave up on my dreams. However, I did give up on the one thing that got me to where I am, my faith and humility. College has absolutely not gone as planned. I jump significantly lower than I did as a senior in high school. Some days it even feels as though I am continuing to fall down into a hole and there’s no way out. In all of this pain and struggle, I have matured and learned more about myself than I ever would have had everything gone as planned. You don’t truly realize what you are blessed with until you are knocked down scrambling to get back up.
Now, I make it my goal to find my faith again and remain humble, so when I get back up and find success again, I won’t allow the same arrogance to creep in. I no longer believe my success is inevitable. I understand nothing is a guarantee.
I have been taught more by failure than success could ever teach me. None of this means that I have accepted failure or that I am content with where I am, and I shouldn’t be! You are allowed to be upset by your failures.
To pull a quote from Meredith Grey, “Progress looks like a bunch of failures. And you can have feelings about that because it’s sad, but you can’t fall apart.” It isn’t always about how you feel about failure; it’s about what you do to keep yourself together so you can move forward. I choose to use my faith to hold me together.
Find what keeps you grounded, let that pull you to the top, and know that some things are greater than success. As I begin to focus more on humility, I try to keep a verse from Proverbs in mind: “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but before honor comes humility” (Proverbs 18:12).
I never thought that skills I learned when I was 12 would play such an important role in my adult life. It’s funny. We go through life knowing that the things we learn in school build on top of each other to teach us things we will need to know to go to college, but the skills we learn outside of the classroom teach us the most important lessons of all: honor, courage, integrity, and, most importantly, perseverance.
Junior year of high school is when it all began. Everyone starts looking at colleges and begins to take the dreaded SATs. All of my friends seemed to know what colleges they wanted to go to and had been getting great results on their SATs. In the midst of the secure attitudes surrounding me, I felt lost, as if there was something wrong with me because I didn’t know where I wanted to go.
I could barely answer the simplest questions my counselor asked me about what I wanted out of a college.
My scores were good but not great and certainly far from spectacular. I thought that after working with my parents to compile a list of colleges to apply to, I would feel more secure and that I could measure up to my classmates. To my surprise, that only made me feel more anxious than ever because I began to think that I wasn’t good enough for any college that I applied to and asked myself why would they want me?
Needless to say, self-doubt is a wrecking ball that doesn’t hesitate to attack its victims and demolish any shred of mental toughness they had keeping them together. This is what happened to me. Even after I started to get acceptance letters, I felt like a fraud.
I didn’t understand why these colleges were choosing me when there must have been thousands of applicants that were more deserving.
The one college that I really wanted to get accepted to was Georgia Tech. I would joke with my friends and family about the impossible odds of me being accepted, but I was always secretly hoping that there was a welcome packet with my name on it somewhere in an office on campus. Then the day came. March 14th brought with it my entire future in the click of one button.
I remember standing at work and getting the email from Georgia Tech that my admissions decision was available online. I asked my boss if I could step in the back and check it. I got to the office and pulled up Buzzport. Before I looked, I sat there pondering things to say to my co-workers when I didn’t get accepted.
After I thought of a few that were acceptable to me, I clicked the button. My manager came into the office when he heard me crying. He came up to me and gave me a hug to encourage me that everything was going to be ok.
I turned around and proudly exclaimed that I was officially a Yellow Jacket and part of the class of 2019!
My self-doubt was shattered not by my acceptance into Georgia Tech (although that definitely didn’t hurt it either). When I was sitting at the computer waiting to click the button to see my admissions decision, I remembered the advice my Girl Talk counselor gave me when I was 12. She told me, “You are an inspiring person who has so much to offer to the world. Don’t let the words of those who don’t know you dictate your life. Let your light shine through.”
This is the motto I choose to live by every day. We are all unique and have something special to offer the world. Sometimes we hit rough patches that try to diminish the light we all have in us, but through our own strength, that light can radiate out to the world.
By: Someone who believes in you and your strength.
Jane first showed symptoms with sloppy handwriting, but soon she could barely stand on her own feet as her calves felt like solid lead weights. Ms. Jane Smith* would soon be diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
In the office, her vibrant personality served her colleagues with laughter and smiles. Yet, her work in the scholarship office was only the tip of the iceberg to the monumental impact she had on the Atlanta landscape—through her selfless endeavors over five decades, Ms. Smith had become one of the hardest working humanitarians for our city serving every indigent population possible. Inspired to aspire to such selfless standards, I helped put together an awareness day called Moving Day 5K Walk through the National Parkinson’s Foundation (NPF) in Atlanta alongside the Neuroscience Club (GTNeuro).
The Moving Day project was a valuable learning experience that affirmed my passion for people. This passion and fascination that I developed from working in the community with National Parkinson’s Disease and Ms. Smith turned into a desire to create change and commit to working for people. Taking ideas to the next level, thinking outside the box, and making simple ideas into tangible experiences, I found it motivating to ignite an idea to build something that can help others, putting others in front of myself.
The journey and adventure of this event was especially important to me because I realized that my passion, just like Ms. Smith, was serving people. The idea began as nothing more than a pow-wow between the GTNeuro executive team and public relations managers from NPF. We set lofty goals to raise $100,000 and to have at least 500 people come attend the event. No one in the room believed these goals would be possible–what we wanted to do was lay a small framework for a much larger event in the upcoming years.
Parkinson’s Disease wasn’t something that happened to just one person; it affected an entire community. The purpose of Moving Day would be to showcase that there is hope for the patients and the family members, and that people like Ms. Smith have our support and people rooting for them.
Teams from both GTNeuro as well as National Parkinson’s Foundation were set to execute small tasks. However, getting Moving Day off the ground from ideas on a whiteboard was a monumental hurdle–we still had to reach out to those afflicted with Parkinson’s, local businesses, and put together promotional material to gather a good crowd.
We had to recruit volunteers from Georgia Tech, contact event suppliers, and coordinate everything we did with the Georgia Tech Police Department. Even with less than four weeks before the event, we were nowhere near our goal of 500 people attending the event, 100 volunteers, or raising $100,000. Incentivizing students and adults to come out on a cold and early Saturday morning was a simple fix. Jane Smith became the rallying cause of our entire event. Her impact on Georgia Tech and Atlanta over the decades drew hundreds to our event!
My experience partnering with National Parkinson’s Foundation and helping organize this event strengthened not just my ability to communicate, think critically, and solve problems as a leader, but more importantly appreciate leadership as an art. A piece of art has been planned with great detail and complexity; each picture telling a different story, each one unique and beautiful.
So what is the different between creating a breathtaking art piece and practicing leadership? I’ve learned that no two pictures can be the same; no two leadership experiences will be similar, no two conversations with people you work with will be alike. My leadership skills gained from this fundraising event was not defined by the numerous hours of planning or meticulous meetings we had, but it was defined through the different human experiences – each unique and beautiful just like a piece of art. I have learned that in order to be an impactful leader, I cannot just strive for success, I must strive for significance – just like each picture or photo has significance.
When November 9th had come, and though some of us were worried, everyone and everything was in place: volunteers showed up an hour before the event started to set up the booths. The walkers had started lining up at the start line and the 5K walk had started. On the side, we had booths where people were doing Zumba, tango and Pilates showcasing that there are different ways to help people with Parkinson’s Disease. All tents had motor skills tables demonstrating how Parkinson’s Disease affected people.
Our event went well with over 700 people attend, 200 volunteers, and raising over $140,000 before the end. We had made a significant impact in unifying a community as well as giving people hope. We did not just lay the framework for events that could be successful in the future, we paved the way for a revolution in the Parkinson’s community.
And in Ms. Jane Smith’s words, “we strove for significance and not success because success was finite, and significance had a ripple effect that never ended.”
*The real name has been removed to protect the identity of the person due to HIPAA.