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Tiffany Matthé

Reaching

Mindset2 min read

During my first year of university, there were posters everywhere on campus promoting a physics research experience. I would immediately dismiss it every time I saw it because I wasn't a physics extraordinaire. I did not build rockets or read thick physics theory books during my spare time. And there were a lot more qualified candidates at UBC for this award. So I didn't really consider applying for it until a week before the deadline.

I had casually1 mentioned this award while talking with my parents over dinner, and they were confused that I hadn't applied. I came up with the usual excuses. There wasn't enough time. I wasn't a mastermind in physics. But they convinced me that I could do it and so I found myself scrambling and stressed during that one week before the deadline. I had to find reference letters from professors I had rarely talked to, and write paragraphs about a subject that I was greatly interested in but had little concrete evidence to show this interest.

A few weeks later, I got the award! And I was so close to not trying. The fear of asking for reference letters on such a tight deadline alone was almost enough to deter me. All of this was definitely out of my 80% confidence zone2, and that's probably why I felt more excited than usual when I received the email telling me the good news.

However, not every reach out of my 80% confidence zone is a success. In high school, I applied for multiple universities in the States and did not get in a single one. I knew I was reaching a bit high, especially being an international student. It was disappointing not getting in, but I am glad that I tried.

Many times, after failures like these, I hesitate to try anything that's out of my 80% confidence zone because there is a higher risk of failing. It seems like a waste of time and energy. But if I shift my mindset, and look towards the possible reward and my own skills, it's not all that bad. Yes, I might fail3. But I might also succeed. I think it's better than not trying and missing out on some great opportunities.

And a note on "oh, I'm not..." a funny person, an artist, a programmer, a swimmer, and <insert some of your own>. In the past, I often told myself these absolutes. Although they might have been true in the moment, by saying these phrases, I was limiting myself and making sure I would keep these absolutes true forever. But once I changed from "oh, I'm not..." to "I could become", it gave me freedom to try things out and have a chance at success. "Could", which denotes a possibility, also allows me to accept failure.

I like to remind myself that no one is born a charismatic friend, a great writer, a professional basketball player, a famous Youtuber, an awesome doctor. They become those people because they allow themselves to reach for uncertain success.

So that's why I reach4.


  1. How did I casually recall an award that I had "automatically dismissed"? Well, I consciously dismissed it, but it was probably nagging my subconscious (who must have believed in me) so it had to come out at some point.
  2. I will always attempt anything that I have more than 80% confidence in succeeding. Anything lower than 80% requires more effort.
  3. Check out this resume of failures. It can be helpful to be reminded that we all fail a lot.
  4. I'm not saying I try everything I come across. That would kill my energy and time. I usually reach if I have at least 50% confidence.

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