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My Quests for Knowledge and Skills

One day my friend and I went to a chess club. I had never played chess before and my friend had just learned. He showed me how to move the pieces, we started the game and I beat him. I really liked the game, could not stop thinking about it and immediately wanted to play another one. When I came home, I asked my mother to find me a chessboard. Our neighbour had one, never used and he just gave it to us. I taught my younger brother how to play. We played every day, in the morning before school, after school, in the evening before going to bed. We would invite friends, teach them how to play and then organize tournaments. We kept the score and it was very competitive. I was carrying the chessboard with me everywhere, always looking for new opponents, trying to beat everyone. Two years later, my brother and I were the best players in our county, winning many competitions.

I was always good at math, it came easy to me. I could just solve problems without studying too much. But I never really cared about it. Playing soccer with my friends was always more important and a lot more fun. When I was 17 I decided I wanted to study in the best university of Belarus but when I saw their requirements for math, I was shocked. I could not even understand the definitions of the problems they asked, let alone solve them. I realized how low my level of math really was and knew I would never be able to enter the university of my dreams unless I change something. I had one year. It was going to be hard but hey, it is only for one year. I went to the local bookstore and got all the math books I could. My schedule was very simple: come home from school, then study math until 9pm, every day. No more soccer, no more going outside, not even on the weekend or holidays. If I solved a problem, I’d put a circle next to it, if I couldn’t, I’d put a question mark. After a couple days, I would come back and try to solve the ones I could not solve before. It was very motivating when I solved them couple days later with no problems. I kept going. Every day, same routine.
3 months later, I won my county math competition; 6 months later, I scored 96% on my country’s math SAT; 9 months later, I was accepted into my dream university without any tests (I won their math competition). I could select any faculty/specialty I wanted (I chose math). 9 months 1 day later, I went to play soccer with my friends.

Summer 2005. I passed my university finals early because I was about to go to USA. For the first time. I was going to work in a restaurant as an international exchange student. My goal was very simple. I wanted to make enough money to buy a laptop. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could just write code anywhere? Even in my grandmother’s village! I worked 14 hours every day that summer, bought the best laptop on the market and came back home very happy (and very tired). I had a problem though. I could barely speak and understand english. I really wanted to come back next summer to see all my new friends but I would like to have a meaningful conversation with them. The plan was simple. I would watch my favourite movies in english with english subtitles. I would lookup the words in the dictionary and learn them. Then I’d watch it again and again until I could completely understand it. It was very motivating. Every time I watched it, I could understand a lot more. What sounded like gibberish yesterday was perfectly clear today. I could not stop. I came back the next summer in the same restaurant. I could communicate with my friends, no problem. I was even able to help my boss communicate with other international students. I made more friends, had more fun, made even more money and bought a better laptop (gave the old one to my younger brother).

Growing up, I had climbed all the trees in my grandmother’s village and I could easily do 20 pullups, so when my friend took me rock climbing I thought I’d climb the rocks with no problem. I was wrong. I could only do simple climbs and would get tired very quickly. It was true, I was strong, but I could not utilize my strength. It was impaired by lack of technique and experience. I knew I could do much better, I just needed to train. I bought a membership to the rock gym that same evening and went almost every day. I trained hard and climbed even harder. I’d watch climbing videos in my spare time, ask more experienced climbers for advise and then climb and train again. Four years later, I am one of the best and strongest climbers in my gym. I still climb almost every day.

I have used similar approaches and techniques to gain many other skills including playing button accordion, tennis, soccer, ping pong, volleyball, solving rubik’s cube (consistently under 1.5 minutes) and swimming.