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Being Awesome

By Robert A.G. LeVine

By Robert LeVine

I travel the world giving presentations about all things related to admissions. Most of the time, I explain that to do your best in school and career, just be awesome.

But recently, I was asked what that meant. “Bob, I’m confused.”

I was aghast. How could it be any more clear? Just be awesome! Then I realized:

For a long time, I didn’t know how to be awesome, either.

Growing up as a competitive athlete and competitive academic, I was good at a lot of things, perhaps great at a few, too. But when I entered college, I became lost. My time management skills were non-existent, and my inspiration was not exactly well-directed. For the first time in my life, I had no absolutely idea what I was doing, which meant that I was not doing very well. Why?

It wasn’t easy to figure out. So, I kind of just gave up.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t quit. Once I realized that I was still operating on a high school grading scale, not a college grading scale, I decided to reject all external measurements. In place of their evaluations, I developed my own grading scale. How good could I be?

Pretty quickly, everything clicked. I started getting good grades. At least, I think I started getting good grades. Because my grades were no longer important, I really don’t remember them. School had never felt like this before.

Over the next decade, as I wanted to become better for my wife, my daughter and myself, I consistently rejected “good enough” in favor of “more.” My mind refused to accept end points. Instead, I just kept going in pursuit of the best. Along the way, something weird and wonderful happened: I lost all sense of fear.

When I was young, I worried about not being perfect. No matter how well I performed, I hyper-focused on what I had not done impeccably. Not anymore. Re-recognizing on some level that nobody is perfect, I stopped worrying about my imperfections. Instead, I embraced my shortcomings. Deficiencies? They became funny to me.

Once I ceased focusing on my failures, I began to focus only on success. For the first time, Edison’s famous quote became my ethos. “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Bingo, Tommy!

I no longer pursue getting things 100% right. In fact, if I do get things 100% right, I get angry because I wasted my time taking that test. I already knew the answers, so what’s the point? Give me a test that I cannot do perfectly. Then I will have the opportunity to learn something.

Kids, when they say that failing is just an opportunity to start over with experience, it’s not an empty meme. They’re absolutely right.

Changing your mindset from “I can be perfect on somebody else’s grading scale” does not happen in seconds, but it can happen. Just keep plugging away. Wonder about “what else can I do?” Always scramble for more. Start realizing that your limitations are merely your limitations, not reality. Believe that “the impossible” is not really impossible, it just hasn’t happened … yet.

You make think it strange, but being fearless is not the same as being courageous. There is no need for courage when you do not see fear. I always give this example:

If I’m on a rickety bridge that’s 4,000 feet in the air, it takes courage to cross. But if I’m on that same bridge at night, with a flashlight that only illuminates the planks, I have no idea that I’m 4,000 feet in the air. So, I just walk, fearlessly.

Because failure is not failure – only a valuable lesson – why should I fear something I really want to learn?

Always do more. When you’ve come up with a good idea, make it great, then make it brilliant. Never stop. Don’t let “impossible” limit your mind. Find a way to do the impossible. Keep going further.

When you pursue the kind of excellence that has no endpoint, perhaps take a brief moment to look behind you. Those people on the grading scale? They are so far back.

In life, you can focus on avoiding failure or on pursuing success, but you cannot do both. Focus on success. Just be awesome.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com

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