I told my children that they would not exist if it weren't for an earthquake.
It was May 1990, just weeks before my high school graduation. I was bound for UC Berkeley - school ID and dorm assignment in hand - when I unexpectedly received a letter from Stanford. The Loma Prieta 6.9 earthquake, which had rocked the Bay Area the previous fall and caused extensive damage in Palo Alto, had apparently spooked prospective students. So, Stanford plucked me and countless others off its waitlist, belatedly offering us spots in its upcoming class.
I often wonder what my life would be like if the earth hadn't shaken and I had remained a Golden Bear. I had been enrolled as a civil engineering major, so I might have pursued that path earnestly and built and structured the world today. In reality, I zigzagged. I matriculated at Stanford undeclared, dabbled, and ultimately graduated with a degree in urban studies and a job as a book editor. I then made a 180 and pursued a finance career after earning an MBA.
More significantly, my wife, Margaret, and I would not have met. We found each other in freshman orientation, dated for seven years, and married in Stanford Memorial Church. Without the earthquake, we would lead parallel lives across the bay from each other, our paths never crossing. We would never experience our greatest joy: raising our sons, Sam and Charlie.
So much of what I cherish - and, more broadly, the person I am today - simply would not exist. With these profound realizations, what if I, at times feeling like a pinball ricocheting between the pegs on a path shaped by random events. Life, it seems, is itself a game of chance. With a single bounce forever altering my trajectory, I wonder, how much control do I really have over my future?
Being waitlisted and nearly shut out of Stanford was a wake-up call. After mostly coasting through life up to that point, I began to grasp that challenging myself would only take me further. To underscore this point, I need only look at two of my friends, who got into Stanford outright; They not only possessed impressive admission credentials but also were