Maria Teresa Chávez, 16 November 2012
Hey! My name is María Teresa Chávez and I am really happy to be a guest blogger at AliveNDead! I just had an amazing weekend at the Under20Summit, an event in which I was able to meet a lot of other amazing young people who are changing the world. I’ll tell you more about this experience but first let me tell you a bit about myself.
I am 14 years old, born and currently living in Guatemala. Right now I am working on a project at a community here in Guatemala in which 65% of kids suffers of chronic malnutrition which means their brain is already damaged, maybe without repair. I am working with a small group of people (most of them are 20 years old but some of them are still on their teens) and I am using computers to help them learn using the resources available on the internet. This sounds good but we have many problems like for example: the kids don’t know English (and there are really few resources in Spanish) and the biggest problem (apart from nutrition): the people in the town worked to build the school and bought the computers but they need to get a degree to have a job so they decided to hire a government teacher but the teacher won’t let them use the computers. Some of them are already using them but as a consequence they won’t get a degree. This is what I am working on right now but my ultimate goals are: finding the most efficient way the human brain is capable of learning (as well as working on brain uploads/downloads), helping to find a cure to brain disorders and removing regulation.
Now lets go back to the Under20Summit (if you don’t want to read the full details you can go to the bottom part that says greatest takeaways). Getting there wasn’t easy because it wasn’t just about having a good idea but also about convincing my family to let me go. My mom wasn’t fully convinced this would be a good idea but at the end she agreed to let me go… with her.
The Summit started on Saturday but since I got there earlier I decided to go to dinner with Alex Peake the day before. Alex is a mentor of the Thiel Foundation and he also made CodeHero, a game that teaches you how to code. Being with Alex was really cool, he gave me advice and tips for my project and he is helping me with one part of my project which includes making an online platform. One of the things that mostly stood out from my conversation with him is that he said “the first rule about rules is that all rules can be broken” something I definitely can relate to.
On Saturday I was extremely nervous when I got there and everyone noticed it (which was really awkward and just made me feel even more nervous) so I decided just to stay by the door waiting for someone to arrive. A couple of minutes before the event started that someone arrived (you’ll see who if you keep reading) but we didn’t get a chance to talk much. The first things that day were the keynote presentations. First we had Jonathan Cain and Danielle Strachman and afterwards we had Brian Wong, Julien Smith, Paul DeJoe, Eden Full and a question and answers section. My favorite presentation was probably Julien’s or Paul’s because I could connect to both although they were all really good. Here are some things that stood out from their presentations:
“Being an entrepreneur is like jumping off a cliff and building an airplane on your way down”
“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”
“Find people who give you constructive criticism [...] be authentic even if it is hard.”
“Remove unlucky from your vocabulary [...] it is just a lucky opportunity to learn”
“If you feel like you made it then you are doing something wrong”
“You need to be inspired by stories, not get crushed by them”
“If you aren’t number 1 or number 2 in a category, create a new category”
“Everything you need in life is something you obtain by struggle”
“Choose the hard path because then people won’t follow”
“If we don’t cannibalize ourselves someone else will”
“Seek out people that make you feel like shit”
“Real heroes are real people not the avengers… Believe”
“Not just believe but believe the impossible”
“Keep looking for the next challenge”
“As soon as the person is dead you can trust the biography”
“Who cares if other people don’t believe in your idea?”
After that there were some breakthrough sessions. The sessions all seemed amazing so it was really hard to choose which ones to attend. At the end I ended up going to “Why Silicon Valley works and creating it where you are” with Dhaval Shah; “Making education exceptional” with Elizabeth Starck and Max Song; afterwards I went to office hours (a one-on-one session with one of the mentors) with Elizabeth Starck and then I went to “Visionary women: a discussion” with Danielle Strachman. My favorite was probably Danielle’s because I really liked the topic and it was also interesting to have many points of view: people who were in fields with mostly girls, people in fields with mostly boys and even some boys! For this part of the event I don’t have quotes because I was really thinking deep about the topics being discussed and I forgot to take notes.
At the end we had a Q/A session about the fellowship with the fellows and people from the foundation and the closing remarks. This part was really valuable for me because I could really see many fellow’s opinions and understand some things I hadn’t understood before. Something a fellow said that I really liked was ”people who believe ideas are worthless are people who have worthless ideas”. The closing remarks were mostly information about dinner.
Dinner was at NYU school of law and I went there with Laura Deming (the someone I was waiting for) and a couple of other people. It was a great experience, on our way there I mostly talked to a guy named Romain about heroes and about his project. He told me something really important: having courage to tell your heroes that you admire them is really important and that “if someone told me I was his/her hero that would definitely make my day.” Valuable piece of advice but I didn’t had the courage… I wish I had followed his advice. When we got there I continued talking to him and to more people. We got a bit late so we missed the conference but I was able to meet James Koppel in person (another fellow I had contacted before the event) and other people, like Pulkit (the author of this blog), Kettner Griswold (who called me “the girl who contacted Laura Deming out of the blue”), Alex Wolfram and many other people (sorry if I didn’t mentioned your name here!)
On Sunday there was a brunch at Greenspaces. There I got to meet even more people than I met the day before and to talk to the people I had already met. I mostly talked to Danielle and to Tyné but I also talked to Jacob Barnett and other people. About half an hour before the brunch was over I finally had a chance to talk to Laura just the two of us for the first time.
After the brunch there were unconference sessions. I didn’t attend any session on the first block because I decided to continue talking to Laura before she left; then I went to “handling worried adults: a discussion” with Chris Olah which was really interesting because there were many points of view from people from different backgrounds but listening to the stories it looks as adults worry for the same reasons all the time; then I talked to Alex Peake for the next 2 blocks and he continued to give me feedback and advice about my project; I gave my own talk about “what is enlightenment?” which was actually not a talk but a socratic dialogue; then I attended “Synthetic biology” with Kettner Griswold. I got late to that one but I still could listen to most of it. I really liked this session because I love biology but I haven’t been exposed to most of it and this gave me more insight of what can be done with bio. At the end I attended the closing remarks by Alex Peake and Jim O’Neill. I really enjoyed the unconference format because a lot of interesting ideas were shared and many different dialogues took place. Here are some things that were mentioned during the unconferences although I wasn’t taking notes at the time so this aren’t exact quotes (if you are quoted wrongly bellow please let me know)
“You don’t need a degree to start a business and you don’t need a degree to change the world.”
“Biology is still a mystery because we don’t know the platform or language it is written on.”
“I think thinking by myself is putting many ideas together, evaluating them and making my own opinion about them.”
“Let’s make it the 2,000 under 20 changing the world instead of the 20 under 20 changing the world.”
This weekend has been probably one of the most amazing weekends of my life. I got a lot from it and I met a lot of amazing people! I can’t believe I had an opportunity like this one and I am looking forward to meet everyone again and keep in touch with all the friends I met there. Some of my greatest takeaways were:
a) There are 3 kinds of people: people who just say things, people who just do things and people who solve problems and create value from things. The third kind of people are the real heroes, just normal people but extremely passionate and there are more of them than I thought…
Before I came here I had heroes and people I looked up to but I didn’t fully understand the concept, it was still something abstract. Being here and meeting all the people I met and seeing the passion they have for what their are doing made me see what being a hero means.
b) It is possible to meet your heroes.
I think this was something really important for me. Being able to meet my hero in person was amazing and it also made me realize the power of courage and the networked world we live on. Why courage? Less than a year ago I was one of the shyest persons in the world (no kidding) and I am still shy but I am starting to have more courage and confidence about myself. With all the resources we have right now it is possible to contact anyone in the world but I’ve met many people who are afraid of not getting an answer so they don’t try. I was one of those people so I don’t blame them, but I realized that I already had the ‘no’ so the worst thing that could happen was not getting an answer (in which case the situation would be the same as before) but if you do get an answer…
So I want to encourage you to contact all the people you want to contact, don’t be afraid. I have done it many times and I didn’t get answers sometimes but if I hadn’t tried it I wouldn’t be writing this blog post right now.
c) The importance of having mentors and the influence they have on you.
I’d had mentors before coming here and they were (well, still are) all really amazing! I owe them a lot. But I didn’t realize the importance a mentor can have in your life until now. I guess that’s because I hadn’t seen the results of my actions but seeing the result made me look back and realize how much they helped me. So my last piece of advice would be to seek mentors. This takeaway connects to the one before because even though having an online mentor isn’t the same as interacting with the person face to face, it can be extremely helpful and can lead you to have a face to face interaction.
If you have any comment or want to talk to me about anything, feel free to post your comment and/or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I would love to hear from you!