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Try Hard Things

March 04, 2012

Earlier this year, my capstone team gathered together to choose which project we wanted to work on for the rest of the year. There was a broad spectrum of options and we soon realized that some projects would prove to be more difficult than others. There was one project in particular that we were interested in: Designing an alternative system for Air Force troops to climb a vertical surface without the need to grapple over the top edge of the structure. Essentially, we needed to recreate Batman's utility belt.

As we compared this project to others, we knew it would be more challenging. The project included a competition with other schools to see who could develop the best solution. With the potential of winning and taking home the prize comes the extra pressure to succeed. All that pressure would evaporate if we just picked a simpler project.

But we didn't. We went for the Air Force project and we got it.

Excitement slowly turned to determination which turned to frustration. Nothing we tried seemed to work. Physics, an engineer's ally, soon became our enemy as we realized that there was a reason that these devices only showed up in comic books. We always came up empty handed. Then... a short string of successes. Hope returned.

Today, I am still in the thick of the battle. My days are not as glamorous as I thought they would be last September when we celebrated after winning the bid for this coveted project. It's not fun to have the custodial crew tell you to turn out the lights when you leave the engineering computer lab because everyone else has gone home. It's not fun to come up against deadlines that you fear you can't deliver on. Are there times that I regret our initial choice? Yes.

But I wouldn't want to live my life in any other way. I don't want to look for the easy way out. I don't want to live a life of mediocrity. I want the unglamorous road, the one that forces me to struggle and shapes me into a stronger person. The one that causes me to trip and stumble. The one that tries my soul.

I hope, come April, that my team will succeed, take home the first place prize and be recipients of the glory that would come with such success. I also know that it may not happen. Failure hurts, but I would rather fail again and again when taking on incredible challenges than succeed at mediocre tasks.

I've made my mistakes. In high school, success was second nature. Our challenges were controlled and limited so success was always within reach. But since I've moved on the game has become more complicated. I remember as a freshman, choosing not to go through the honors program because I felt it would be too difficult and negatively impact my grades. I was afraid to fail, so I chose to retreat. I regret it.

My problems will never be controlled and limited to guarantee my success anymore. That's life. The world is full of problems and it is in desperate need of problem solvers who are smart and willing to take a swing at them. And that is what I aim to be.

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