My father was always a self-made man, and throughout my life I have been able to witness the extent of his focus and willpower. When I was little we lived rather frugally and my father spent nights doing volunteer hours at the local hospital to pay off his debt from student loans. I remember being jealous of the other kids because all the work they brought in was on clean white paper: all of mine had to be done on the backs of used paper. My father proceeded to quickly pay off his debt and then moved to Georgia to establish a private practice. He now runs a very successful practice and now also invests in property. Needless to say I now have a stock of a wide assortment of papers at my disposal.
I also grew up hearing stories of the hardships my father overcame with pure willpower to reach his goals. Possibly his first major accomplishment was his ability to overcome the odds, gain entrance to and graduate from MIT.
My father grew up in a household so short on money that his childhood toys consisted of anything he carved himself out of any wood lying about. He slowly took it upon himself to grow up to become successful enough to ensure no one in his family would have monetary issues again, and began to look towards a future in America, where greatness could be self-made. He had always been particularly excellent in science and math, and when he heard about the legendary MIT, he told himself that attending MIT would be his goal, and proceeded to take his wooden ruler and draw out a short reminder in blue marker:
BRICE B CHOI ———-> MIT
Setting these words in permanent ink meant to my father that his silent declaration was set in stone; once he had written those words he had dedicated himself to a straight path towards this goal. My father always propped this ruler on his desk, the single reminder always constantly facing him. As soon as my father entered his room and sat at his desk, there it was, him, an arrow, pointing straight towards his goal, and my father would gain the motivation he needed to study or go out and earn money, even on the most difficult days. My father was able to quickly become proficient in English, and in the end he was able to graduate top of his class from the local high school.
Later he moved to America and enlisted in the air force, to study at the local community college while he raised more money. There, in addition to wages earned through the air force, he bussed tables for extra money and refrained from buying anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. On the hottest days he stayed away from the vending machine: it wasn’t until four years after he entered America that he had his first taste of Coke. His diet consisted primarily of cheap, processed foods. Here too my father kept the ruler from his childhood propped upon his desk: the distance between him and his goal was both metaphorically and literally shorter. After a year or two my father was finally able to transfer to MIT, where he obtained his degree in physics. Although the ruler no longer served any current function, my father kept it as a keepsake of the many trials he faced and passed in his determination to reach the goal he swore to obtain in his youth.
My father still has the ruler to this day: the blue ink has faded to a greenish-teal and the edges have become rounded, but the words are still legible. When I see a wooden ruler, I am reminded of how a simple set of compulsively scrawled letters had the power to drive my father towards his goal. I’ll flip the ruler over to see the inviting cleanness of its back, and I ponder about my own goals in life and what I am capable of doing to accomplish them.