There’s a story that’s been circulating for thousands of years that’s worth considering as you react to whatever news you get from whatever colleges this evening.
So there’s a farmer, let’s call him Joe. Joe had a horse, let’s call the horse Big Red. One morning, Big Red ran away. Word spread and all his neighbors said something like: OMG that sux! to which Joe said: We’ll see, and went back to tending his crops, best he could.
The next day, who turns up in the farmer’s field but Big Red, and he’s brought with him with two more horses and all his neighbors said: Dude you’re so lucky! And Joe said: We’ll see, and went back to tending his crops, best he could.
The next day, Joe’s son, Joey, tried to ride one of the new horses and was thrown. He broke his leg and the neighbors said: Totally brutal, so sorry! And Joe said: We’ll see, and went back to tending his crops, best he could.
The next day, the army came through village, drafting young men for war. Joey was disqualified from serving — thanks to that brutal broken leg — and all the neighbors said: that’s amazing! And Farmer Joe said: We’ll see, and went back to tending his crops, best he could.
Point is, it is impossible to predict whether getting exactly what we want at any given moment will end up being a good thing, a bad thing or a sometimes good/sometimes bad thing, and the single biggest determinant is you.
Personally, I got 1090 on my SATs and was accepted to one college. I cried for days after I was shot down by my first choice. I let it change the way I thought of myself. I acted like the guy who signed the rejection letter knew me, like the whole grim process has spit out a fair judgment of me and my value and it wasn’t pretty.
Many months later, I settled in at the only school that would take me, jumped into every club, project and class, and became more me than I had ever been. In other words, what began as “brutal” became “amazing.”
There are so many kids I love in the class of 2021, my daughter chief among them. I have been rooting for you all for so long. What I’m rooting for is your daily well being, grounded in a sense of your goodness and capacity that is impervious to both recognition or rejection.
So whatever happens, remember this: You are your own good news. You can create a future for yourself, full of connection and purpose. Beneath the fear of inadequacy and the self-consciousness that suffuses public evaluation, you’re in there. You have gifts and power and will develop more of both. Tend your crops, best you can, and that will be enough. I promise.
Listen to Kelly Corrigan talk about the point of college with Tara Westover, who wrote Educated, Lande Ajose, who helps Gavin Newsom run the UC system, Jeremey Rossmann, an MIT drop out who started his own college and Kelly’s daughter Georgia, a sophomore at Georgetown.