Be Crazy Enough to Believe in Yourself

On Saturday, I was slated to help high school seniors with their college essays. That program fell through and my friend asked if I would be willing to speak with her 6th and 7th graders as they wind down their college prep program at Fordham University. I would be the keynote speaker (!!!). I clearly said yes, because life isn’t awesome without a challenge. Below is my speech in all it’s glory: 
How many of those in this room know exactly what they want to be when they grow up? (about 7 kids raised their hands) How many adults knew that they would end up in the career or job that they are currently in? (::crickets:crickets:: Not one of the adults raised their hands). How many had no freaking idea where their lives would lead…
I have a confession to make – I am still figuring it all out. Most people at 30 years old have a clear path- they do high school, go on to college and then move on to grad school. I am taking the scenic route. I have never liked the easy way out so this fits me quite nicely.
I think what I want to do today is 1. Dispel the myth that education or being worthy of going to college is for someone else – I am here to tell you that this is possible for you. This is POSSIBLE.

2. I want to dispel the rumor that you somehow have to take a predetermined or that there is a neat path to a career– you can make things up as you go along but what is critical is that you MUST lay a solid foundation (get that education or become an expert or innovator in your field).
Let’s start this bad boy off with a little story about my childhood:
I initially lived in Spanish Harlem the first few years of my life (135th Street). My mom moved out and we eventually moved into a two bedroom apartment in Inwood aka Dyckman aka 200th street in Manhattan. That area was not what it is now – now we have a Starbucks on Dyckman & Broadway. Back in the day, I remember seeing drug dealers on the corner – that was normal for me. My mom was a babysitter and so she made about $100 a week caring for a child and was also on welfare. Back in the day, we had booklets of what looked like fake monopoly money. She would make us go to the Chinese food store to buy food with the coupons.
One of the few things I had going for me was that I liked to read and I liked school. To me, school was an escape and one of the few places where I felt safe. I was always one of the top students of my class. I guess you could call me a nerd.
But being good at school does not save you from doing chores at home. Growing up my mom’s entire bedroom set, the TV stand, coffee table, China cabinet that held no china but instead had little kitsch  figurines from quinceaneras, weddings and all that good stuff – basically any furniture item you could think of – except for the sofa covered in plastic – had mirrors and glass.

I remember being not much older than most of you sitting here. It was my job, to clean all these freaking mirrors with soap and water in a bucket and a little rag (apparently my mom did not know about Windex). Week after week – I cleaned these mirrors. Soap and water in a bucket and little rag. At this point, I felt like Cinderella and the worst part was my mom kept buying more things with mirrors and glass!
I remember this one time, I was in the middle of watching this program with my brother and I remember being interrupted because I had to do my chores- You don’t understand how angry I was. In the middle of cleaning mirrors, I turn to my mother and say – you know what, I will not be cleaning these freaking mirrors for long. I will not be here when I am 18- I am going away to college.
What was that for – My mom did not know what going away to college was – she thought I was shaving my head and joining a gang- she saw this statement as an act of rebellion.
My mom did not imagine me leaving her side because none of her children had ever gone off to college and here was the baby of the family saying at 12 years old that she’s leaving.
I made it through cleaning mirrors and got to high school – I went to a Catholic all girls high school on a scholarship. I joined EVERY SINGLE CLUB THAT EXISTED. I joined first Friday, Prayer Leaders, Ambassadors, Math League, Amnesty International, Pro Life, Shakespeare Competition – I don’t know – Name it and I was probably a part of it. I volunteered my butt off – I volunteered with the elderly, I was a tutor, I volunteered cooking food for the elderly nuns and at the Children’s Hospital for Special Surgery. Whatever was offered to me or if ever I was needed, I said yes. I showed up. I did well in school. I said yes.

I am a person of my word – my goal was going away to college. I went away to Cornell University which is in upstate NY.
I am you. I AM YOU. What I have had – you can have. I am no different than you. You have to work hard- learn the basics – math, science, reading, writing. Once you master the basics you create options and then you get to mold your life to what you want. Cornell offered me a larger array of options. So that’s really what education does – it opens doors.
You have to constantly explore because education is important and there is something for every single one of you. Right now you might think – “oh, I am going to be a lawyer or a doctor,” and once you get to college you might change your mind. That’s ok. There’s more than one way to do things. Hey, and if your plan A doesn’t work – remember that you still have 25 other letters in the alphabet (stolen – I don’t recall from where). Just keep working hard.
Do the extra work on those subjects that may not come as easily to you. If science is not your favorite subject – make it your business to ask for help, go to tutoring, read even more books on it, throw yourself into science and little by little you will realize it wasn’t so bad after all and you can say – I gave it my all and I tried my best. I did all that I could.
So what I want you to take away is the following:
1. #DreamBIG Forget about what everyone said was possible. “Possibilities” – as defined as norms and what society says is “possible” are just restrictions and barriers posing as advice. Sometimes there are dreams so BIG/Awe-some/incredible/inspiring that they do not even exist yet. You have to create them. You need to MAKE* your dreams come true*[as in roll up your sleeves, get dirty kind of hard work].

2. When people tell you no or that you’re crazy – Keep going. Push those limits. Sometimes crazy is good.
3.Try different things. Think beyond PreMed/PreLaw/Finance/Hollywood/Baseball-Football-Basketball Player. I often get asked – “Oh, what did you major in while in college?” I majored in Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies with a concentration in Inequality. “Say what? What do you do with that?” Well, it’s sort of like sociology but not…. There are many people, if not most people, whose college major does not translate or have anything to do with their current jobs. 

Let me repeat that: There are many people, if not most people, whose college major does not translate or have anything to do with their current jobs. No worries if you don’t get it right the first time. It’s ok to go back and get more education.
I mean look at me, I work in finance and my major was nothing related to math. And, if you ask me what I want to do when I grow up – I would say- I want to find a way to get paid to do what I LOVE.
Be happy. Become that awesome force in the world and you will be able to lift and help others. When you do what you love, are passionate and devoted – that energy is truly contagious and you are able to change the world.
4. Never fear not knowing – know that you will be supported once you lay the groundwork – you have the freedom to explore. You will make connections that last and support you in a way that you could never have imagined.

I had heard that you all had done an exercise on Career Collages – and sort of mapping out the things that you were interested in doing with your lives. It’s kind of funny because this year- I did a vision board – does anyone know what a vision board is?
I was telling a friend about my vision board and she tells me – Oh, I don’t believe in those- what are you just supposed to look at it?
I think one of the components of life is not just about having dreams and goals. It’s about remembering that your dreams and goals will never work unless you do. Let me repeat this – Your dreams and goals will never work UNLESS YOU PUT IN THE WORK. So it’s nice to have a pretty collage to hang on the wall – but the important part is to map out the steps to achieve the goals and dreams on your vision board.
Be crazy enough to believe in yourself no matter what. Be crazy enough to dream BIG. Make it your business to be the best. To put your name in the ring, to show up and compete.
You have the power to define who you are and who you want to be. And guess what? If after years, you decide that it doesn’t serve you, you have the power to change it. You can push yourself to your limits.

Go out there and be F*ING AWESOME! There’s potential in this room. You all just need to be crazy enough to believe in yourself!

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