June 27, 2011


In his memoir, “Idea Man, Paul Allen, who collaborated with Bill Gates to create Microsoft, recalls their early years together in high school. Allen was a couple of grades ahead of Gates, but they shared an interest in writing programs for machines that were little more than desk top calculators. Both teenagers were bright and stood out academically; but when Allen enrolled at Washington State College, he faced serious academic competition. His studies in differential equations soon proved he was out of his depth.

          “It was one of those moments when you realize, I just can’t see it.  I felt a little sad, but I accepted my limitations.” (Excerpted from May 2011 “Vanity Fair” pg. 134)

At Harvard, two years later, Gates hit a similar road block and switched his major from theoretical to applied mathematics. The rest is history.


That two famous and successful men confronted obstacles early in their studies may come as a surprise. Yet no one escapes life’s setbacks. Working hard at a dream is important; but aptitude is a necessary ingredient, too. Both men had the grace to accept their limitations and move on. And why not? The world is full of possibilities.  Anyone frustrated by one goal is free to consider another. As my favorite author, Thomas Mann, wrote:

           “No one remains quite what he is when he recognizes himself.”