Main menu:

most popular posts






Google Reader or Homepage
Add to My Yahoo!
Add to My AOL
Add to Technorati Favorites!

let’s stop asking all the wrong questions

let’s stop asking our kids what they want to be when they grow up and start asking ourselves how they should grow up.

let’s stop asking high school graduates where they’re going to college and start asking where they’re going in life.

let’s stop asking college graduates if they’ve found a job and start asking if they’ve made their purpose.

let’s stop asking workers if they’re climbing up the ladder and start asking if they see that the ladder is endless.

let’s stop asking our grandchildren if they know how the world used to be and start asking them if they know how the world still needs to be.

let’s stop asking all the wrong questions and start asking all the right ones.

– by Nathan Chow
Boston University Class of 2009

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I hate that question.

I’m very goal-driven with the things that I think need direction. And I have a strong sense of my personal and career-related values.

But I still hate that question.

So years ago when the teacher in charge of my high school yearbook asked it to me and everyone else in the Top 10, our conversation was quite interesting:

Nathan: I don’t know.
Yearbook Advisor: You have to know.
Nathan: No, I don’t. I don’t know.
Yearbook Advisor: Everyone else has something listed.
Nathan: And that means I have to follow the crowd?
Yearbook Advisor: Yes. The Top 10 should be setting an example for everyone else.
Nathan: Well, I’m sorry, but I really don’t know and I think this is as much of a good example as everyone else’s answer. If you’re that desperate, you can pick something for me and include it in the yearbook.

Well, months passed and the yearbook was finally published. I flipped to the career plans page for the Top 10, and apparently the advisor wrote “Engineer or pro wrestler” under my photo.  (Yes, this is a true story.) I’m Asian and had a reputation of being good at math, but an engineer was possibly the only thing I knew I didn’t want to be.

I found this story funny, but I think there was an important takeaway for myself and for others:

Okay, back to that ugly question and all its flaws. What do you want to be when you grow up? If you’re aspiring to be something like a writer, musician, anthropologist, chef, teacher, mechanic, or social worker, you better own up to it and correct your interviewer. You already are that writer, musician, anthropologist, chef, teacher, mechanic, or social worker. It’s not something you want to be when you grow up. It’s something you live and breathe already.

If you want anyone to consider your seriousness for a career, you need to give a role to yourself. You could say you’re a “teacher” if teaching others is what you often informally do, even if you don’t stand in front of a chalkboard every day. I suppose you can’t really say you’re a doctor or politician to people yet, but you could still say you’re a healer or a liar…

Instead of asking yourself what you want to be, ask yourself who you are and what you value. Take an inventory of your strengths and personality traits. Then reflect on what kind of effect and difference you’d like to make in the world. While the answers to these questions are open to change throughout your life, they will stay a lot more consistent than “what you want to be.” In addition, they’ll invite you to explore a lot more opportunities that will help you act on your values.

Years after my high school graduation, I finally figured out part of my life. Some of my main values are educating people, inspiring people, and empowering people. When I leave this world, I want it to be a more loving, compassionate, understanding, forgiving, and connected place. I act on these values by mixing some careers together: teacher, counselor, consultant, writer, filmmaker, juggler, entertainer. These titles may change—and I may encounter new ones I like—but my values will always stay the same. My values are soaked into all of these fields. In all my art, I’m always teaching about love and compassion. Even as a juggler, I strive to dazzle my audience and make them laugh together. In a sense, I hope they are connected during my act and can forget about their differences or worries for the day.

I think it’s perfectly fine, and probably even normal, to not know what you want to be. You have plenty of choices in the future, and you wouldn’t want to trap yourself into just one. But you need to always think about what gift you can give to the world.

Life is about acting on values, not chasing titles.

– by Nathan Chow
Boston University Class of 2009

7 Ways to Get Your Roommate to Leave You

Haha.. this is a funny article I found on my friend’s college blog:

Enjoy the laughs! =)

Best Wishes,
Nathan Chow
Boston University Class of 2009

Bringing out the best from your past

Dear High School Seniors,

College application season is here. You’ve worked more than three years in planning, shaping, and doing all the amazing things you’ll be putting in your college applications.

Whether you’re proud of what you’ve done or you think you could’ve done better, you have to admit that for the most part, there’s little you can do now to change any of the main application factors or start fresh for any of them (other than writing your personal essays).

Having AP and Honors classes, having a high GPA, having high standardized test scores, having glowing teacher recommendations, and having experience in demanding extracurricular activities—you can’t go back in time and study a bit harder for your tests, get a better teacher recommendation by participating more often, or suddenly join a few more clubs.

But here are some ways to bring out the best in what you can no longer change:

Classes and GPA

– If you didn’t have Honors classes or good grades your freshman year but did in later years, it’s okay. Admissions officers will love how you’re progressing academically and how you’re challenging yourself. Most likely they’ll notice this trend on their own when looking at your transcript, but if you’d like, you can mention your progression in one of your personal short responses or in the optional additional info section (NOT your personal open-ended and creative essay, which should be a specific and focused story).

– If you took an “easy” elective class instead of a traditionally difficult liberal arts class and you honestly had a reason for doing so, mention it in a personal short response or in the optional additional info section. In my senior year, I wasn’t able to take AP English because I wanted to take the Intro to Video Production class. I was applying to colleges as a film major and had every reason to do this.

Standardized tests

– It actually may not be too late to retake a test and send in a new and better score. This can even be done after you finish your application and press that “submit” button! You may want to let the admissions office know that they can expect a newer test score later.

Teacher recommendations

– When you ask for a recommendation, be sure to list your specific accomplishments from the class. Don’t assume your teacher remembers everything you did.

– Even if she remembers a lot, what she remembers might not be parallel to the “theme” you want to show in your application. For example, if you’re applying as an art major, you don’t want your English teacher spending so much time saying how great you were at grammar. You want him to talk about the time everyone handed in self-made novellas and yours was so exceptionally and professionally made with full-color drawings on every page and even homemade book binding.

– What was your final grade? Did you regularly outperform your classmates on tests? Was one of your projects or papers exceptional? Were you a leader in discussions and good at drawing out responses from classmates? A good debater? Did you participate when no one else had the courage to? Did you have the commitment and maturity to stay afterschool whenever you had trouble understanding something?

Extracurricular activities

– Turn your “extracurricular resume” from description-based to accomplishment- and number-based. If you were the secretary of a club, don’t say you “organized notes” and “emailed members with meeting times”—everyone knows that’s what secretaries do. Be specific with things YOU did that other secretaries before you or across the country probably didn’t do. Two examples: “increased number of members from 12 to 27 with active Facebook page and Twitter for the organization”, “facilitated smooth communication by electronically archiving notes from meetings to Google Documents for all members to easily access.”

I hope these ideas prompt some of your own creativity in filling out your college applications. Remember that seeing the past with a new set of lens and selecting what to focus on is still being honest. Tweaking the truth or exaggerating is not.

You’ve worked ridiculously hard the past few years. Be proud of everything you’ve done in high school so far and know that it’s normal to wish you did more of this or better at that. But the past is over. Focus on the present. Make the best of what you’ve done. You can and will do even better in college!

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; and Wisdom to know the difference.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr

Best Wishes,
Nathan Chow
Boston University Class of 2009

Like us on Facebook!

How To Spell College is now officially on Facebook!

To keep up with our advice on academic and social success in college, “Like” our page at

We recently reached our 15,000th visitor! Thank you to all our supporters worldwide!

Want to reach out to current freshmen because you learned something now that you wish you knew back then? Join our team and share it for thousands of students and parents to see.

Need a free individualized answer to your question or concern? Ask us to let us help you. Thank you for trusting us.