December 26, 2019

Scholar Voices: How rejection fueled my path to success

Growing up, I always tried to keep a serious face. Not because I wasn’t a happy person but because I never liked my smile. No matter how many times I practiced smiling in front of a mirror, my smile always ended up uneven. When it’s time for a picture, I would try my best to avoid it.

My insecurities made me grow up extremely timid. However, whenever I was able to do anything science or math-related, I came out of my shell. I did not care where I was or what I looked like. I just wanted to learn because it was fun for me.

Fast forward to my first year of college, I was very excited; I had the chance to study computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Even though most of my engineering peers weren’t first-generation and had more experience than me, I knew I could still keep up with them. I had nearly perfect grades, and I genuinely loved what I was studying. I felt like I did when I was learning as a child.

Omar poses with pride during the annual Earl Woods Scholar Program Winter Workshop held at the flagship TGR Learning Lab in Anaheim, CA.

I was excited when I started to apply for internships with my dream companies. When I got my first response I quickly opened it, barely able to contain my excitement, only to see a generic automated response, that to me, came across like I was being told, “Sorry; you’re not good enough.”

I kept receiving similar responses like “Yeah, you’re kind of good, but there are so many others that are better” and “Better luck next time”.

Soon, my dreams and aspirations became burdens. It was frustrating not being enough and not knowing why. After every rejection, I pushed myself to become smarter. I constantly seemed to have surpassed my limit and would bring my self-confidence up, only to get another rejection. I was always taught to be the best me and to not compare myself with others, but how could I do this when others constantly decide the “best me” isn’t enough and put me below others?

I became just as reserved as I was when I was a young kid. In my head, I kept telling myself, “It’s okay, you did your best” but that was met with thoughts of, “But don’t forget, your best still isn’t enough.” I began to push any compliment I would get to the side because I didn’t want to accept any praise until I was where I wanted to be. Both of my parents came to the U.S. alone with minimal education, yet they were able to push through. I felt like a failure not being able to attain a simple internship. I kept trying to become as close to perfect as I could be. I didn’t realize how foolish and unhealthy this mentality was.

Eventually, Verizon Connect decided to give me a chance. Almost immediately after moving out of my UCLA dorm, I had to pack for my flight to Atlanta, GA for a software engineering internship. On my first day there, I found out there was a problem with my housing, and I didn’t have a place to live until it was sorted out. I was over 2,000 miles away from home, in a place I’d never been with no place to stay. To make things even more fun, a thunderstorm began when I was trying to decide what to do.

Omar gathers with other students participating in the Verizon Connect internship program in Atlanta, GA.

Throughout my internship, I met extremely kind and intelligent people. Despite our sometimes-difficult tasks, we accomplished everything that was expected of us and more. Additionally, we were even given the chance to speak with one of the fathers of the Internet, Vint Cerf. It was surreal to hear him speak directly to us and not to an interviewer. Most importantly, I was reminded why I chose Computer Science; I find it fun. I could not have asked for a better internship experience.

Omar and other Verizon Connect interns visited Coca-Cola headquarters during one of their breaks.

As most first-generation college students, I didn’t want to believe that I was having a hard time in school. I knew others have lives worse than mine, and I thought it was disrespectful of me to be having a difficult time. I wish I could say my internship journey taught me to be happy with myself, but it didn’t. I continue to get rejections from the same people and companies, and I continue to kick myself for it. I know it’s impossible to be a perfect student or a perfect anything, and I definitely know I’m nowhere near it. However, I’m not going to stop until I’m happy with myself, even if it means I have to go through so many uneven attempts. I’m never going to avoid my failures; I’m going to have fun with them and the small detours they send me on.


Redefining what it means to be a champion.