The following piece contains advice from a fellow traveler through life and time at MIT, three months of which have passed as part of the Supply Chain Management program. Much of this advice has been the result of experiences — some outside MIT, some within. I decided to relay this advice in particular because it seems very relevant to the experience you are likely to undergo here during your stay at MIT, and is also means by which you can make this life more fulfilling and meaningful.
As most advice that is dispensed free-of-charge and without anybody asking, these words are not new and have probably been around for as long as can be imagined. What is new is the synthesis of these ideas through my experiences and how it can enrich the MIT experience. Therefore, feel free to stop reading at this point, or read on and decide for yourself, whether it will be the red pill or the blue.
The first piece of advice will be most relevant to you if you are a prospective or admitted student, eager to know what is waiting for you in the MIT SCM program:
Be prepared to be Mediocre.
MIT is known to bring together only the best, and this has been true from my experience. While some of you may have been the best at everything you set your mind to in the past, this year could be a very different experience. You will learn that being ordinary is tough, especially when you had a trail of ‘extra’ appended to it all the time. The biggest adjustment for many of us is about dealing with being ordinary among the extraordinary with humility and grace. Life teaches us to be good losers and there is no better time than to learn this early. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that one should give up, but rather that it’s about realizing there is opportunity to become even better than we think of ourselves. This advice, in some ways, is also applicable to us current students if we haven’t gotten around it. For those past students who are reading this, is that a smile or a smirk?
The second piece of advice is about competition. This is mostly relevant to prospective students, but also current and past students as well. Compete with thy self. This is the greatest competition there is and it is the hardest. As Einstein says: time is relative. Competition is also very similar: abstract, cannot be measured, and relative. You are only as good or bad as your peers when you look to the outside and compete with others. External competition can stop you from growing within. MIT is not a place where you can opt to do that, because this place lays on your shoulders the burden of expectation. When you compete with yourself, you look inside, evaluate, and recognize honestly the possibilities of turning those weaknesses into strengths. I urge you, do not waste time competing with others and feeling smug or terrible about it. In time, when you look back, it would have meant nothing. Strangely, time humbles competition. Take this opportunity to instead collaborate, learn new things from your peers, and enjoy the wonderful process of intellectuality. The game is about becoming better than what you were. It’s about reaching that point where nobody has to tell you that you are awesome at something because you already know it.
The third piece of advice is about excellence. It is relevant to one and all, all throughout and beyond life as we know of it. In his address to Stanford University, Steve Jobs talked about “staying hungry and staying foolish.” I believe he was hinting at striving towards excellence. Do not let the goal be success, because it often leads to a path frequently taken and quite terminable. Instead, let your goal be excellence, to do each thing with a purpose to learn, to try out something new, to not be afraid to question, to be hungry and foolish with a childlike desire to explore the world, learn, and create. If you pursue excellence, you will notice that success follows closely behind. However, if you follow success, you notice that failure can follow closely behind. Do everything you do, whether you have to or choose to, with excellence as your goal. The MIT experience will be rewarding and life even more enriching if this is your attitude.
(Steve Jobs also said some other things like, “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy.” Well, for now let’s stay away from that and I’ll maybe use this as advice in one of my later blogs.)