Singin’ in the Rain

This is the second letter in a two-part series looking back on life in my 20s. Today’s post is a response letter written from my current, 30-year-old self to my 23-year-old self. The first letter in the series can be found hereTo learn more about the series as a whole, click here


Dear Chris,

Greetings from the future! 2016 is an interesting time to be alive, to say the least. Apple is about to release the iPhone 7. Pluto is no longer a planet. NFL games are now being broadcast on Twitter. Brangelina is no more. I won’t even get into what is going on in the presidential race – you wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.

Before I go any further, I have to admit, I have no idea how to address you – you are me, I am you, right? Either way, I am treating you as a separate person for the purpose of this letter. As your older self, I am basically your older brother anyways.

Technicalities and jokes aside, you brought up some very serious concerns at the end of your letter that I want to discuss. You asked a lot of questions – deep, existential questions – yet you seemed hesitant as to whether or not you wanted to hear the answers to them. I initially considered going into great detail and telling you exactly what will happen, but I have decided not to do that. Frankly, there are some things that are better left unsaid, some experiences I don’t want you to have to come to grips with at this moment. It would be counterproductive, and it would get you too concerned about specific details that would detract from the overall message I want to convey.

The next seven years for you are going to be full of situations and events that, if I describe them now, are going to sound terrifying, but are easier to comprehend in the proper context. The best context is to experience these moments as they happen. There is no substitute for living through your circumstances. It would be unjust to try and condense them into the framework of this letter.

There is going to be rain ahead – there is no avoiding it. Parts of this letter will scare you, even if I don’t go into specific, day-by-day details. But let me reassure you when I say, for everything that will happen, you will have the support you need to get through it. Trust yourself, lean on your family and friends, and you will make it through the rain.

I know you were most anxious to know my current status, so I will save you some anxiety and let you know that yes, I can indeed still walk, although with great difficulty. The neurologist’s prognosis, I have to say, was spot on. You are going to experience increasing muscle weakness over the next seven years, leading up to the condition I am in today – still walking, but quite weak. To picture it, I walk around and have the balance of someone who has been up all night drinking. I’m sure you have NO idea what that’s like….look it up it if you have to.

The path ahead is going to be as bumpy as you imagine, and then some. This disease is going to test what you are made of each and every day – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. You are going to have to live through this process.

But each experience, every bit of adversity that you will face, will help to forge your character. My identity today is a testament to all that I have learned because of this disease. It will turn you into a more caring, empathetic individual. Your relationships will be deeper, and as you share your vulnerabilities with others, they will return the favor. Every person you meet is coming into your life for a reason. Trust me on that – I have the benefit of hindsight. You will have many more friends than you have now, people who sincerely care about your well-being. Cherish these relationships – they are everything.

I know you are probably still worried, no matter my reassurances. Worry has always been a big part of the equation. It will never go away – in fact, I still worry to this day. The key, however, is to control worry to the best of your ability. It’s a voice within that you can either choose to hear or ignore. Besides, no one ever quite vanquishes fear.

Mark Twain summed it up best: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Setbacks will happen, including falling, but you must pick yourself up, wipe the dirt off your shoulders, and move forward. How is this possible? Although I will not divulge specific events, I will give you some advice that will allow you to persevere. I will tell you what I’ve learned, so that you are more prepared when the time comes.

Consider this letter not everything you want, but rather, everything you’ll need.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to you. There are some things that you will not be able to change – this disease for example. There are some things that you will want to change, like trying to find a cure as quickly as possible – that ultimately is also out of your control. These external forces will weigh on you and beat you down, but the only way you will truly rise above your challenges is to separate what you can control from what you can’t, then work like hell to make the best life for yourself based on what you are able to change.

You alone can control the inner discourse in your mind. You have the power to be positive, just as you have the power to be negative. The next seven years will be a continual battle between the two, but being positive is a possible outcome. I would argue it is a necessary outcome. You can create for yourself misery or happiness, no matter your circumstances.

It will take practice. To this day, I still struggle to be positive, and even on my best days, I’m not Mr. Optimist. In fact, you will soon learn about, and be compared to, Grumpy Cat. That is correct – your future coworkers will compare you to a real-life cat with a permanent frown. But as long as you strive for optimism as an ideal, that is the greatest step you can take.

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Your spirit animal.

That is not to diminish the difficulty of the time ahead. The symptoms, as you are experiencing, are starting to manifest, and you soon will lose abilities you once took for granted. Emotionally, it will be difficult to grasp and comprehend. You will get discouraged, but I say let it happen. Grieve for the able body you used to have. During this time, focus on staying afloat, moving forward in your life where you can. Enjoy life to the best of your abilities. Absorb the traumatic experiences, because someday they are going to be the key to your success. But grieve, then let it go. You can cry all you want, but once you are done crying, the situation remains unchanged. The disease is still present. If you don’t resolve to move on, you’ll be stuck in sadness forever.

Part of the sadness will be due to the fact that your body will soon need assistive devices. This is a hard reality to accept, but it is vital that you don’t deprive yourself of anything that can improve your mobility. When you identify the need, embrace assistive technology sooner rather than later.

The fear of losing the ability to walk will consume you. The stigma associated with using crutches, a scooter or a wheelchair isn’t easily overcome. But you must understand that the positives far outweigh the negatives. For example, I just started using a scooter within the past couple of years. At first I was hesitant, but once I realized that I could venture down the street without worrying about falling, and that I could take random turns down side streets without regard for distance, it was liberating. Besides, assistive technology has improved significantly in the last seven years. There are robotic exoskeletons that allow the paralyzed to take steps. Even wheelchairs have improved – they now have models that allow a person to stand and have conversations with people at eye level.

I know at your current stage, thinking about assistive technology is frightening. After all, what will people think of you? The truth is, no one really cares! I mean, sure, some people will stare, but not as many as you think. People nowadays are so absorbed in their smartphones, and those not on their phones are so afraid to make eye contact with strangers that they stare at the ground. We have become an introverted generation. As for the people who do stare, or who make an off-hand comment about you or underestimate you based on your disability, they are not worth your mental energy.

You must not let every little perceived slight bother you. Some people will talk about how the world is ableist, and they will indict society for being unwelcome to the disabled. And yeah, ableism does exist, but if you get offended by everything you experience (a stair to enter a building, or a low toilet), and if you internalize each slight, it will eat you up on the inside and give you unnecessary stress. There is always a time to speak up, but I believe that if you can choose between partnering with others to find solutions or blaming them, seek solutions. I have found that many people are not intentionally ignorant, and once they have been educated, are more than willing to make accommodations and help you out.

Your story, once you have lived through the difficult times, will be tremendously powerful to others. That is part of the reason I want you to live through these experiences without forewarning. This painful wisdom will one day be the source of great strength. You don’t yet know this, but you are a natural storyteller. It may seem difficult to grasp now, but there will come a time when you will get on stage in front of 500 people without any fear. And to think, more people are afraid of public speaking than of dying! You will become masterful at sharing your patient experience. It will educate people about disability and help to inspire others to overcome adversity in their own lives. It will enable you to connect with people on a deeper level, a level that people rarely experience in their day-to-day interactions. Your faith in humanity will be restored.

Everything positive that will happen for you will come as a result of sharing your vulnerabilities. Your story will help others, and it will help you as well. Doors will open for you that never would have opened without this disease. These exciting opportunities will make what you are going through much easier to deal with. It will give you a purpose you’ve never had before, and a motivation to maximize your impact on the world. If you didn’t have this disability, would you have the same level of empathy and appreciation for others? Honestly, I don’t think so.

However, you can’t get to where I am at today without going through the dark times. Although a difficult period of your life is ahead, it will serve a noble purpose. It is the training, the wisdom you need to gain, to fulfill your mission in life.

There were times – times that you will soon experience – where I wanted to blame God for everything that has happened to me and turn away. Look, you have every right to be upset, but trust me when I say that it all makes sense now. The hurt you will feel, the fear of the future, the anger – they are a natural part of the grieving process. There will be many moments that will seem unbearable when they happen, but only later on will you truly know why they occurred. It may take a few years to fully understand, but you’ll figure it out eventually. God knows what he’s doing, so you just have to trust the journey.

In fact, the day you wrote your letter is a perfect case in point. That three mile walk you went on after coming home from the doctors? It is no coincidence that your path took you back to Boston College, the scene of your first major rejection. In a couple years you will begin thinking about getting an MBA. Let’s just say they will not be sending you a second rejection letter.

As I said before, doors will open for you, and they will make this life worth it. I have achieved many goals, although I haven’t achieved all of them yet. I am still looking for a significant other, and given that I am at peace with a lot of what has gone on in my life now, I like my chances! Other unfulfilled goals include winning a Pulitzer Prize and an Academy Award. You might think I’m crazy, but I say shoot for the moon. Even in a weakened state, it is important to take risks, and not be afraid to fail.

In closing, although I’ve covered a lot here, it is impossible to explain everything that will go on in the next seven years. You will deal with emotions and experiences that will seem overwhelming at the time. Countless band-aids will be opened to stop the bleeding, numerous painkillers taken to soothe the pain. Tears will be shed. But, no matter how many times you fall, no matter how dark the clouds are overhead, don’t give up.

The rain is unavoidable; you might as well splash around and enjoy it.

All the best,

Chris Anselmo

September 28, 2016

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Metaphorically sing, but please, for the sake of others, do not actually sing.

 

P.S. – I have spent a significant amount of time trying to see if I can share with you winning Powerball numbers, but I have to find a way to ensure I don’t create a ripple effect that will have disastrous consequences. Last thing I need is to become a millionaire, buy a spacecraft I don’t need and crash into an asteroid. Let me get back to you on this one.

The Whole Story

Over the past few months, several people have asked me if I am going to write a book about my patient experience. Although my natural, self-effacing reaction is to think that I am the most boring person in the world, when I take a step back and assess the last eight years of my life, I realize that I have been through a great deal physically and emotionally. There is a story in there worth telling, even if it only resonates with a niche audience.

The truth is, I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I never thought I’d write a memoir. I’ve always had fictional stories running through my mind, but it wasn’t until recently that I considered writing the most truthful story I know – my own. I have been hesitant to get started, because the task seems so, enormous. Writing a book is an endeavor not to be taken lightly. It will be time-consuming, and will require a healthy dose of patience mixed with frustration, as I try to properly convey complex feelings. It will take me back to times that I’d rather forget, and experiences that still send a shiver down my spine.

I have been hesitant to get started, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it, no question. Recently, however, I got the final nudge I needed to decide that yes, this is something that I am going to do, no matter what it takes.

The final straw was a memoir I read this past week, When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. It is the story of a 36-year old neurosurgeon coming to terms with a diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer, after spending a career at the intersection of life and death. The book made a tremendous impact on me, and judging by its success (25 weeks and counting on the New York Times Best Seller’s list), it has made an impact on many others as well.

The way he told his story – honest, raw, vulnerable – left an impression. That’s the power of storytelling. Although my disease is not life-threatening (thank God), When Breath Becomes Air forced me to think about my story – what I wanted to tell, and how I wanted to tell it.

So that’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to write a book. It’s an exciting thought but also one that I will need to repeat over and over again to keep myself on track.

That’s the caveat – I am not always the best at following through on things. It’s a sad truth that annoys me every day, but is part of my track record. For example, I remember when I started this blog I was adamant that I would post every few days. Didn’t happen. I told my entire business school class at orientation about the screenplay I was writing. Never finished it (or to put a more positive spin on it, I am waiting for it to write itself). Writing a book is a process; a long, arduous process. I can easily see myself getting discouraged and abandoning it halfway through. I hope that’s not the case, but it can’t be discounted.

If I finish, sorry, when I finish, will it be a Best Seller? Although many people are motivated to write a memoir for this reason, let’s face it, it’s highly doubtful. Success, though, should never be about books sold, especially when you are writing your own story. Instead, a true barometer of success should be in the number of lives positively impacted. I don’t pretend to have the most inspirational story in the world – that’s something I’ve always said – but judging by the reaction to my writing and my public speaking, I have at least figured out how to tell it in a compelling way. My experience is going to resonate deeply with some, and it might just be a good, casual read for others. Some will read a few pages and abandon. I’m ok with that.

But let’s not get too carried away daydreaming at the moment. I can’t start dreaming about who will read my book if I don’t write it. I have to break it down into manageable pieces, into intermediate steps. How will I finish the story? Should I self-publish or hire a literary agent? Those are questions for another day. My first goal, right now, is to get my story – the chronological bare bones of my story – onto the computer. Then I can expand on some events and cut out others. Before I know it, a story with a coherent theme and structure will begin to take shape.

Baby steps.

Troubled Waters

I don’t usually write after a disease-related traumatic event but today is different. I’m writing now because I need to distract myself, and quite honestly I don’t know what else to do.

I stumbled this morning when I looked out my window at construction taking place on my building’s exterior. It was early, I was exhausted, and I wanted to see if I should turn on my air conditioner to drown out the noise. As I was walking back to bed I bumped into a table, stumbled, and twisted my left foot.

I felt a shooting pain like I’ve never felt before. I don’t take proper steps, since my legs and calf muscles are so weak that my legs bow out. One little bump from a table and it is enough to cause my foot to roll over. The pain is concentrated below my pinky toe, on the foot itself. It feels like it is on a joint of some sort, or underneath, or on top, who knows. This is a new pain for me, and to try and isolate exactly where it hurts would only lead to more discomfort.

I can deal with the pain, but what scares me is what the underlying pain will mean to my future. Tomorrow morning I go for x-rays. Is it a sprain? A small fracture? I have no idea. My foot, six hours later, still hurts a lot, although the pain has been dulled by my trusty frozen bag of butternut squash.

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Ugh.

I hope and pray that it is just a sprain, and not a break. I cannot afford to be off my feet for any length of time, or even in a walking boot for that matter. I don’t have the strength or stability to walk in a boot. If I am stuck in a seated position, I will get weaker even faster, which is especially concerning since I have gotten noticeably weaker in just the last few months. To speed up the weakening process means that my walking days are numbered.

As I sit propped up in bed, surrounded by phones, remotes and pillows, I am thinking about what comes next. I try not to dwell on the future, partly because it is a scary place but also because there is so much unknown. As my friend Rhamy cheerfully likes to say when I worry about what lies ahead, “Hey, you could always get hit by a bus.” With that uplifting piece of advice in mind, I try to live in the present as much as possible. I accept my situation, but this is still a scary world I live in and that I will never get used to.

I’ve learned that it’s okay to be afraid – perfectly normal – but now, more than ever, I must put on the face of resilience. Every time I share my story with audiences I talk about what has helped me overcome adversity when times get tough, and I must take my own advice to heart right now. I don’t know if that gives me more credibility or less to talk on the subject, but that isn’t my concern at the moment. All I care about right now is trying to stay afloat on an angry sea of adversity, fearful that the anchor I threw over the edge of the boat won’t find the bottom in time.

I don’t know what tomorrow will reveal. I am hopeful that it is just a sprain. But if it is more than that – a fracture, no matter how small – this could be the beginning of the end of my time walking. It is a future that will come at some point, but I hope that time isn’t now.

My foot is starting to get wet. My butternut squash is beginning to leak so it looks like it is time to wrap up this post. I’ll keep you all updated. Thoughts, prayers, whatever you like to give to others, are welcome right now. I’ll take whatever help I can get.

Unlike my leaky bag of squash, I’m not ready to give up. Hopefully my body feels the same way.

A Week in North Carolina

Back when I was a member of the working world and had an actual income, I would try to visit my sister as often as possible at her home in North Carolina. It was only a two-hour flight from Boston to Charlotte, so it made for a convenient weekend trip. When my niece Sophia was born two years ago, there was added incentive to come down and visit. If it was possible to come down once a month, I would.

It is such a different world down here. The people are friendlier and the pace is slower. Sweet tea and biscuits are the norm. North Carolina, and the South in general, is different than Boston in almost every way, both good and bad. For my sanity I have found it important to get out of Boston every once in a while, to experience this more relaxed, deliberate way of living.

Now that I am back in school it has become more difficult to visit. The only reason I am down here now is because I have a scheduled doctor’s appointment tomorrow. The appointment is part of a clinical outcome study that monitors the progression of my muscle condition. Thankfully one of the testing sites is in Charlotte, and it gives me a convenient excuse to visit the area and combine the trip with seeing family.

Charlotte has quickly become a home away from home. My sister and her now-husband moved down here a few years ago from Washington D.C., right after I graduated from college and around when I started experiencing symptoms. I remember helping them move to their apartment overlooking Lake Norman. I carried heavy boxes up three flights of stairs without much of a problem. It seems like a lifetime ago. It has been a humbling decline, but through it all, my excitement for being down here has never wavered. It is just so relaxing.

Could I live down here full-time? Probably not. My future is too ingrained in the Northeast and I value having everything I need within a short radius. The rest of my family lives in Connecticut and I value being close to them as well. Down here, whether you are in Charlotte proper or in the countryside (especially if you are in the country), you have to drive everywhere. The gas station, the supermarket, the restaurants – they are all spread out. I like to be able to walk outside my apartment and have five different food options, two bars, a CVS and a grocery store all within a couple blocks, and know that there are several more in every direction.

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May weather is perfect – come August, not so much.

Then again, there are views like this one right outside the door. To the city-dweller, this is something called grass. And those tall things in the distance are trees. The only open space in Boston can be found in parks. Of course, with this open space comes mosquitoes, bees, stray cats, and somewhere in this county, a black bear (according to the news).

I admit the food down here is not the healthiest, but it sure is tasty. The skylines of most towns are dotted with tall signs for every chain restaurant you can think of: McDonald’s and Burger King for sure, but also Zaxby’s, Bob Evans, Hardee’s, Steak ‘n Shake, Cook-Out, and my favorite, Bojangles. You can’t beat their chicken strips, mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, along with their sweet tea and biscuits. I’m not a huge sweet tea fan. Every time I drink it I feel like my teeth are about to collectively fall out. Which actually brings up a quick point of caution: if you order tea down here, they give you sweet tea by default. That’s almost as bad as Dunkin’ Donuts putting cream and sugar into a “regular” coffee.

This post isn’t meant to be a comparison of whether North Carolina or Boston is better; instead I like to think of them as perfect complements. North Carolina could not be more different from Boston, and that is quite ok.

Once I am back in the working world, and once this clinical outcome study is over with for good (I have one more year), it will be nice to come down here and visit for the sake of visiting. It will be nice to spend time with my sister’s family without thinking in the back of my mind about an impending appointment, which, although it serves an important purpose in collecting data necessary for future clinical trials, reminds me of how far I’ve declined.

As I get ready to leave now and head into Charlotte, I can’t help but think about how next time I visit,  my sister’s home will be a family of four, not of three. In October I will have a new nephew to play with. I will find a way to make it down here, escaping the obligations of my life up north, if only for a weekend.

As his Boston-based uncle, I have to ensure that he grows up a Red Sox fan.

Marathon

My school year ended late last Wednesday in the atrium of Fulton Hall, when the finalists were announced for the Diane Weiss Consulting Competition. Only three out of twenty teams were selected for the finals, and my team was not one of them. Although it would have been nice to take part in this prestigious event, I was relieved that my first year was officially over. No more exams. No more presentations. No more late nights editing PowerPoint slides and writing reports. Just like that, I was free to do anything I wanted.

I could sleep in.

I could nap.

I could have a midday, mid-week beer and not think twice.

It was a great feeling to be finished. When I returned to campus to watch the finals on Thursday, I saw the collective relief on the faces of my classmates. Many had come straight from the golf course; others from somewhere else outdoors.

We were done. We survived.

Looking back on these last eight months, my first thought was of how fast it all went by. I remember my first day of orientation like it was yesterday – I showed up on my scooter, knew no one, and worried what people might think to see someone using crutches. Would I be judged by my peers before they had a chance to know me as a person?

Fortunately, these worries proved hollow. I would not have gotten through these last eight months without building a solid group of friends. In a small program such as the MBA program at BC, you get to know everyone quickly, and are in the same classes with the same people all year long. Repetition builds familiarity, familiarity builds friendship, and friendship builds comfort. The first year of business school is a nonstop mental grind, so any comfort is cherished.

The year flew by like a sprint, but in many ways it was also a marathon. Unlike undergrad where classes took place over the course of a semester, this year I had new classes every seven weeks. A semester’s worth of material is crammed into each quarter, which can make it tough to keep your head above water. If you miss a class, you fall behind; there’s no way around it. The amount of homework and reading was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I signed up for this, but it was still tough.

I was in a constant state of stress. My sleep schedule was completely thrown off. My eating habits reverted back to my time at Northeastern. I was warned by those who have gone to business school that it would be a difficult transition, even for the able-bodied. They were absolutely right. For someone like myself who is already low-energy, it meant that physically I was out of whack the entire year. I can already feel a difference and I haven’t been done a week. The stress has melted off. I am sleeping better, eating better, and overall, feeling better. Although I wouldn’t change the decision I made, during the heat of the struggle I did find myself asking whyWhy put myself through this physical and mental stress? Every time I arrived at the same answer: the reward will be worth the pain.

It’s interesting how we as humans willingly put ourselves through prolonged periods of stress for the hope of some better payoff in the long run. We deny ourselves enjoyment in the short-term, investing hours and hours of hard work and stress in order to say that we achieved a major goal. We hate every minute of the torture, the pain, and the sacrifice. We always complain to ourselves (and to others) that the ends can’t possibly justify the means. But they always do.

There is no better example of this than a marathon. My marathon happened to be business school, but for others it is the actual 26.2 mile journey. Just a few short weeks back was the Boston Marathon, which took place on a rainy, windy day. Although the conditions were less than ideal for watching, it was perfect for runners. Thousands of runners run the marathon every year, cheered on by over half a million spectators. No matter the weather conditions, it is always an amazing day. Some runners run competitively, while many others running for causes near and dear to their hearts. Four of my classmates ran the Boston Marathon, representing causes from the American Liver Foundation to the Dana-Farber Cancer Center.

This year, I happened to be someone’s running cause. Through a friend, I was lucky enough to have gotten involved with Genzyme’s Running for Rare Diseases program, which matches an employee at Genzyme with a patient with a rare disease. My runner was Sara Cole, about as nice of a person as you can find. She ran the Providence Half Marathon on my behalf on May 3rd. It’s never ideal to have a condition that someone is running to help cure, but on the bright side, it proves that there are many wonderful people out there in the world.

I often think about what it would be like to run a marathon. Maybe someday I’ll regain all my muscle strength and will be able to withstand the endurance training to find out. That would be funny because growing up, I hated running. Hated it. It would always make me nauseous and I was never good at it. We’d have to run all around the Hall High School field, and every time I would walk to the finish line. It was miserable. My back would always end up hurting because, well, things were going on in my body I wasn’t aware of at the time.

I would do anything to have the chance to run again. I wish I could be the one doing the running vs. being the person that someone is running for, but I am still extremely grateful.

In the meantime, I must focus on the mental marathons. It feels good to sleep in, but like any good marathoner, after the rest comes preparation for another. One year is down, but I still have an internship, a second year of school, and the rest of my life ahead of me. There is still much to accomplish.

 

Undefeated and Unbroken

My first year of business school will be over in three weeks.

That statement makes me feel a whole range of emotions. I’m relieved that the nonstop grind of the last ten months is almost over. I’m sad that I won’t see most of my classmates for three months, and that it will be the last time that we all take classes simultaneously. I’m thankful for the many friends I have made, and for their generosity and help in making my first year manageable. I’m excited for the opportunity to live in New York City for the summer, to intern at Pfizer, and for the many wonderful opportunities that lie ahead in the second year.

I look back on my hopes and dreams when I started orientation last August and feel like I am living the best-case scenario. Back then I worried about whether I would make any friends (a dumb concern in retrospect, but any time you are with a new group of people, you never know), whether I still had the brain cells to navigate an MBA curriculum, and whether I would have an experience that would justify both the tuition and the opportunity cost of leaving my job.

Although I am living the best-case scenario, it has not been a walk in the park. Like the rest of my classmates, I have had to fight for every success and have encountered many failures along the way. It is humbling (and also quite frustrating) to be rejected by so many employers, but one of my greatest areas of growth in the last year has been in handling rejection. Rejection is part of life. It always feels unfair because we know what we are worth and what we are capable of. Unfortunately, others have little information to go on besides a resume or a snap judgment.

As I reflect on the numerous ups and handful of downs from the past year, I wanted to write about two examples I saw recently on TV that got me thinking about the subject of adversity.

A couple weeks back I was watching the NCAA tournament. Kentucky was undefeated and in the Final Four, looking to fulfill their destiny of winning a national championship. No team has ever gone 40-0 in a season, let alone 38-0, which was their record at the time. The last undefeated team going into the Final Four was UNLV in 1991, with the last team to go undefeated being Indiana way back in 1976. These dominant teams come around once in a generation, and it could be argued that this Kentucky team was the best of the best.

As fate would have it, they ran into a Wisconsin team that was hungry for revenge from last year’s Final Four matchup, which Kentucky won in the final seconds. This time, the Badgers shocked the world and knocked out Kentucky 71-64, ending Kentucky’s chance at a perfect season. The Wildcats didn’t play their best game, and their dreams were shattered as a result.

I understand the disappointment of the players. There was only one goal in mind all season – to win a national championship. Many of them could have been stars at other schools, but came to Kentucky for the chance to win a title before heading to the NBA. With this one loss, all their accomplishments were for naught, and their season is now considered a failure, as cruel as it is to say.

After the game ended, many of the players walked off the court without shaking hands with their opponent. In the press conference, one of the players cursed a Wisconsin player under his breath, except that he made the mistake of leaning into a live mic, enabling the world to hear his true thoughts.

I am not going to sit here and write about how well I handled things when I was 18 or 19 years old. I made many stupid, cringe-worthy mistakes at that age. Kentucky had everything break their way during the season, so to have it all come crashing down from one bad game is unfortunate. However, we are often tested with situations like this in life, where everything is going well and then the worst happens. The better we deal with it at the source of the pain, the easier it is to overcome. There is no doubt that someday they will look back on how poorly they handled themselves after the loss and cringe. It is a part of growing up, and is unfortunately one of those situations we only learn from through firsthand experience. Handling it poorly makes the disappointment worse, but its hard to know that at the time.

The next night, tired after a day of homework, I decided to rent Unbroken. I read the book over winter break, about the amazing life of Louie Zamperini, and felt that I needed inspiration on that night. I was getting bogged down by schoolwork and was losing perspective on why I was enduring so much stress. I knew going in that the movie didn’t live up to the book, and it certainly didn’t. To be fair, it was impossible to jam everything that happened in the book into a 2+ hour movie, but it still felt like the CliffsNotes version of his life, even leaving out his troubles after the war.

Watching it still produced the desired effect – to inspire me to keep grinding. After all, my school stresses were insignificant compared to his struggles. I didn’t have to survive 47 days on a raft or spend three years in Japanese POW camps. It is always inspiring to know that someone can experience the worst that life has to offer and ultimately fight through it.

These two examples are proof that it is impossible to navigate life without having to deal with obstacles we’d rather not face. Yes they are extreme examples, but even in smaller doses we are going to face situations in life that we cannot control, that force us to remain level-headed under pressure. It is cliché but it is true – we learn more about someone by how they handle adversity than by how they handle success. Anyone can handle success well (although many still don’t), but it is when things go south that we see what people are made of.

The best part of this year has been learning that I can hold my own through these ups and downs. I’ve never experienced a year like this – stepping firmly out of my comfort zone, constantly meeting new people, navigating an aggressive curriculum. Every week has been a packed schedule with classes, projects, group meetings and other responsibilities that a business school student has to face. There were numerous situations that I could have handled better, but I learned from them and moved on. My GPA is respectable, my reputation is intact, and I can still amble around from class to class. If the spectrum of handling adversity is the Kentucky basketball team on one end and Louie Zamperini on the other, I like to think that I am a tad closer to Louie.

It still boggles my mind how fast life moves sometimes. I am almost at the end of year one. One year down, one to go. I can take it. I can do this. And that confidence is the greatest feeling of all.

New York City

I can’t say that I expected to write a blog post so soon about New York City, simply because I had no reason to go. However, things can change quickly. When you are a business school student and you don’t have an internship locked up by this time, and a company offers you an interview, you take it no matter where it may be located. For most people, a quick trip down to New York City would be a no-brainer.

For me? I had to use my brain on this one.

I love New York, and in a different life might already be living there. But I’ve chosen to stay in Boston, mainly because I am familiar with the city and am surrounded by a support system that enables me to maintain a high quality of life. That said, I always think about what it would be like to live in New York.

If things break my way, I may soon find out. Last week I was offered a chance to interview at a company down there that I’m interested in (a company that I’ll leave nameless for now since I am superstitious and haven’t gotten an offer yet). Surprisingly, it wasn’t an immediate yes for me to agree to the interview, as the thought of traveling to and from New York, given my lack of mobility, was a bit frightening on the surface.

In fact, part of me wanted to turn it down right off the bat, which in retrospect would have been a terrible idea. Had I done that, I knew deep down I would have regretted it. After careful thought and weighing the pros and cons, I decided to take the challenge head on. It was an opportunity too good to pass up.

I was in New York City for less than 24 hours, but it felt like a week. I took the trip down after a full day of class, right on the heels of an enormous winter storm (I refuse to call it Juno) that rocked New England. Fortunately, the streets were well-plowed, and I was being reimbursed for my Uber trip, so I didn’t have to dwell on the surge pricing. My trip was also made easier by the fact that I wasn’t going alone – two other classmates were interviewing as well. They helped me with my bags and my suit, so that I never had to carry anything the entire time. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to go!

We took a 5:20 train down to New York. I had never taken the Acela before, and let me say, it is SO much better than the Northeast Regional. It helps when someone else is paying for it, sure, but the convenience, the quiet and the lack of stops is worth the cost. Food? Adult beverages? Yes please.

Once we got to Penn Station, we took a cab to the hotel we were staying at, the UN Millennium located right next to the United Nations. The cabs in the city come fast and furious, and it was easier to hail one than to request an Uber (which is not the case in Boston).

The hotel itself was nice, and the employees were extremely helpful and courteous. I have to say though, from an accessibility standpoint, I was disappointed. There are two towers in the building, the East Tower and West Tower. My classmates were in the West Tower, and I was in the East Tower (or was it the other way around?). In order to get to the tower they were staying in, I had to go up three stairs. That may not seem like much, but when you are in my situation, that might as well be an entire flight of stairs. The other option was to go outside, walk to the other building, and enter there, but I thought that was ridiculous, so I didn’t go over. I didn’t think too much of it. After all, the view outside my room was breathtaking.

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My hotel room view.

The next morning I headed downstairs to meet my classmate for breakfast before our interview. I got to the lobby, walked over to the restaurant, only to see that it was down a staircase. I was astonished.

This building was built in the 1970s, which, although that predates the Americans with Disabilities Act, should mean that everyone can easily access the hotel restaurant. Instead, I had to flag down the concierge and have him lead me the way, which if I recall the steps correctly, was to go up to the 2nd floor, walk through the restaurant kitchen, go down two levels in the service elevator, and exit the kitchen. I felt like I was trespassing. For someone in a wheelchair, it would have been difficult, maybe impossible, to navigate the kitchen.

So yeah, that was a little frustrating. Fortunately, the day more than made up for it. I had a great interview, and a positive experience at the company’s headquarters. People were extremely friendly, and I was given all the assistance I needed to navigate the offices. Fingers crossed I’ll hear some good news this week!

After the interview, I went back to the hotel, changed in my friend’s hotel room (I had to bite the bullet and go up the stairs), then camped out and took a nap on one of the chairs in the hotel lobby. Meanwhile, my classmates decided to be Lewis & Clark and walk up and down the city. When they eventually made it back from their three-hour voyage, we took an Uber to Penn Station (shout out to Sherwyn our driver who was secretly a Pats fan!) and headed to the train. Well, first we had to fight off crowds of crazed travelers. New York walkers have three speeds: fast, faster, and I’m going to run you over. It was 5:15 on a Friday, so it wasn’t surprising that everyone was hustling and bustling. It was an obstacle course not to get trampled on or bumped into, as I would most definitely have gone down. I learned long ago to stay out of the way when in crowds. Somehow, I survived unscathed and on my feet.

We arrived back in Boston around 10:15, and I was home by 11. I was exhausted after a long day. I slept until noon on Saturday (and could have slept all day if I didn’t have midterms to study for next week).

All in all, the trip was worthwhile. I got to leave my Boston shell for a day, and build confidence for the future that I can go somewhere big and relatively unknown and stay standing. If all goes well, maybe I will be back here in the summer.

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The view from my classmate’s hotel room.

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