This I Believe

Jin - Claremont, California
Entered on December 2, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
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“You always have a choice.” This is French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and other existentialists’ central idea. I believe in this idea. I believe in free choice. I think that no matter what the circumstances are, I always have the ability to make a choice; blaming mishaps on external sources is only an excuse. Free choice forces people to be responsible for their own actions, and often when people take responsibility, they find success.

Too often people blame their failures on lack of social resources, education and environment. Successful, determined individuals will make their choices, and if they stick to these decisions, they will reach their goals despite the external circumstances. I firmly believe that free choice is the engine to everyone’s success. A person cannot choose his beginning, but he can choose how he ends up. My father was raised in southern rural China at the height of the Cultural Revolution. He was exempt from being forced to work in farm fields because, ironically, he was already working there in the first place. However, he saw opportunities right after the end of the Revolution to get educated while many other young people were still disillusioned. He said goodbye to the hand-planting of rice and bought a one way ticket to Beijing. My father never looked back. With patience and an incredible work ethic, he went on to become the first person in his entire family ancestry to have a master’s degree and moved to America. His brother, my uncle, followed him and became the first one in the family history with a Ph.D. My father and uncle had an excuse ready if they stayed in the farms and poor: “Well, the Cultural Revolution took away my opportunities and I grew up in a poor farm.” However, they never used that excuse.

When I received a subpar score for my Economics midterm, I initially blamed my Chinese teacher for scheduling her mid-term right before the Economics midterm. However, I realized that I was using excuses. I recognized that I had a choice to study long before the Chinese midterm, but I chose to go to a Harvey Mudd College party instead. This situation is similar to those of my father’s contemporaries, who are now mired in bitter joblessness and accuse the government for their failures. My father’s implausible journey constantly reminds me not to take the easy route of finding excuses and playing the blame game. He has taught me this idea: “Compare this to the American Dream. If a Chinese boy from rural China, ten times poorer than that of the average American, can own his own business and live close to Bill Gates, then there is no such thing as impossibility. Take that, Adidas.” Opportunities come with free choice; if one does not take responsibility for his choices and find excuses for failure, he would never be able to see the important opportunities in life.

It is commonplace for an individual to look at Bill Gates, or some other extraordinarily rich mogul, and say something such as: “They were privileged by birth. If I had this or that, I would be in the same position.” It is natural for human beings to blame their misfortunes on external circumstances. Sometimes, it is correct. It is impossible that the environment has no impact on a person’s life. A young boy born in the poor projects in Queens obviously has dramatically less chances of being successful than a boy born in a beachside mansion in Santa Monica. However, a wise individual should understand the value of free choice. Free choice is about focus, taking action, and not letting the past and external circumstances dictate one’s future. Free choice makes everything possible. I believe in free choice because it encourages people to be responsible and it is a powerful tool for those who want to achieve in life.