As I write this, it’s hard to believe that I have only been away from my family’s home in NYC for six days. After 48 hours of flying and layover-ing, a small panic attack that I might have DVT brought on by my swollen ankles (which itself was brought on by sitting for 10+ hours at a time in a seat far too constricting for my 5’9 frame), walking through every corner of the Dubai airport during an overnight layover, breathing in the swollen, humid air that only exists in tropical regions for the first time since I left Pakistan as a child, converting prices in Indonesian Rupiah to USD using the 13,600=1USD spot rate over and over, watching my G-Lab teammates slowly acclimate to Indonesia, slowly acclimating to the constant company of my G-Lab teammates, celebrating New Year’s with 10 other Sloanies in an infinity pool overlooking the Lombok Strait, tasting fruits and cooked food native to Indonesia, trying to speak broken, basic beginner Bahasa (Indonesian), I feel that I’ve already learned and grown very quickly.
I’ve never been to Indonesia before, so just about everything that I am seeing is stimulating and has led to me learning something.
There are some photos at the bottom of this post that will give you a sense of what I have seen and done, but what I have seen and done make up a small share of what I’ve been thinking about. What i find myself thinking about, over and over again is: what the hell did I do to deserve this?
Since starting at MIT, I’ve felt an enormous amount of gratitude for the vocational, educational, and social opportunities that I can now access. But, the gratitude does not come unaccompanied- gratitude brings its buzzkill second cousin: guilt. Guilt and gratitude don’t always manifest together, but sometimes, they do, usually when my mind throws an unexpected endorphin-filled party. I’ll explain why.
I’ve been working since I was 16. I worked nearly full-time during college, while maintaining a nearly perfect GPA, founding and running a student club, and becoming financially independent. After my college graduation, I felt an overzealous sense of responsibility to improve the world around me and took my work and my interactions with the people around me very seriously. I worked hard…at work, got the early promotions I wanted and also met my personal goal of moving my family to a better neighborhood. Then, i got into MIT. My mind created a causal link between the sequence of events in my personal timeline. I saw that I earned my acceptance through my accomplishments and somewhere in our minds I think that we often use “earned” synonymous-ly with “deserved”. So, I started hearing from myself and others that I deserved my Sloan acceptance. Which then implied that I also deserved the opportunities I had access to. After a lot of reflecting, I have finally come up with words that fully capture why I need to break this earn = deserve equivalency.
“Deserve” implies a right, an entitlement, uniquely held by me for a thing (relationship, job, money, health, whatever) that I have. “Earning” simply says that through a series of actions that I took, I was able to render a desired outcome. For example: I worked hard and displayed the characteristics that the Sloan admissions committee looks for in its students, so I got into Sloan. I earned my Sloan acceptance. I do not deserve my Sloan acceptance. I am certain that there are millions of people around the world that, if placed in the same circumstances as me, could have rendered similar results and achievements. And, it is by the accident of geography that I was born and raised in NYC and then afforded the privileges that led to my being in the circumstances that I was in that led to my rendering the outcomes that earned me my Sloan acceptance. It was because of those privileges that i am now able to type this entry on a Dell that costs nearly a quarter of the average Indonesian’s annual household disposable income, while sitting next to an infinity pool overlooking a pristine bay while locals the same age, or older, than me, do not have access to the same vocational, educational, and social opportunities as me. (That’s not to say that the locals I’m surrounded by have a life or being that is any less than me, but they do have access to less opportunities.) This articulation is not just semantical play, it is a long sought after grip on the way that i see myself in relation to the world.
With the opportunities that I have earned access to, through both my own work and accidental privilege, I now have responsibility to enable others to also have increased access. In summary, I don’t think that I deserve what I have, but I do have these things, experiences, and opportunities, and the best that I can do is now create more of these opportunities for others.