Monday, April 28, 2014

Getting Into College: What Are the Odds?

“Success is not measured by what you accomplish but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.”                    
 --Orison Swett Marden

What are the odds? What are the chances? 

Of say…getting hit by lightning this year in the United States? One in 700,000.  But over the course of one human lifetime? One in 3,000.  How about the odds of winning a Powerball lottery jackpot?  Astronomical: one in 175,000,000.  Let’s try something more personal like the odds of me celebrating a 100th birthday. Better. One in 10, the same odds for being born left-handed.   

Odds are kind of, well, odd.  They are just numbers: statistics, possible outcomes, mathematical constructs which tell us what might happen but finally can’t predict with absolute certainty any given result for you or me or any one person. I might make it to 100 or I might succumb to that most clichéd of deaths today, step out into the street and get hit by a bus.  (Why is it always a bus?  I’d much rather get taken out by a shiny new Mini-Cooper or a sexy Lamborghini. )

The real truth? Odds are just that, odds.  Most, even much of the time in life, we determine the outcome of our lives, not statistics or numbers.  We captain the ship.  By the choices we make.  By the drive, passion, will and attitude we bring to living, or don’t bring.  By our resilience when life knocks us down or disappoints or says “No!” 

Which brings me to a sobering set of odds just reported by Stanford University in California, now the most selective college in the country. Odds of getting in? Slim to none. This year 42,167 high school seniors knocked on the front door of Stanford. Only 2,138 made it through the entrance, an acceptance rate of just 5.07 percent, the lowest in the U.S.  “GO CARDINALS!”, right?

Because it would seem that if you are one of those rare kids who got in, you have it made, the odds are in your favor. For lifelong success, financial wealth, uber achievements, maybe even the keys to that sexy Lamborghini.  Or maybe not.  Some of that Class of 2018 will stumble through or flunk out or get that first job because of the Stanford name and then just peak at 22 years of age. 

What are the odds? Who finally knows? No one.  

For to embrace the goodness of life, find success in life, be happy with the story of your one amazing life: those odds finally are up to you.  Those odds tilt either for or against us, not from some roll of the dice, but because of how well or not so well, we use our God-given gifts. 

I wish I could tell that to all the high school seniors in the U.S. this month who are making their final college choices.  Many of them are totally psyched or totally depressed about the application process. In the hothouse of youth, lots of these young people are absolutely convinced that because they were beaten by the odds and didn’t get in, they “lost”.  That this one outcome will determine everything going forward. 

It’s not just the young who hit this wall, wondering if the odds are stacked. Imagine being unemployed, one of thousands vying for a job.  Or being born in poverty, told by the world that odds are you won’t escape.  Try being an artist or writer, striving to share your talent with others.  All the numbers, all the stats, all the probabilities would seem to have the final word. 

But me? I don’t think so.  I believe instead that life is what we choose to make of it.  Life is great, not because we get into Stanford or beat the odds.  Life is beautiful because through strength and faith and tenacity we make the odds ourselves.  We take the risks and sometimes fail and then get right back up and try again.  We are always so much more than the mere the sum of probability or chance or fate.  We can trust that God put us on this earth for a purpose and then work to figure out just what that is and what it means.  

Oh, and that whole college thing? Try and not to worry too much. If you got a rejection letter, you are in very good company with many other folks.  I had to go to a public university (GO UMASS!) and was later rejected for grad school by a certain college on the banks of the Charles River.  But my one life, all these years later? I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

So what are the odds?  That’s up to you.

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