A ‘French’ lesson
By Jianjie Liu
A weeklong free trip to Paris might sound alluring and unforgettable, yet it’s funny how I can’t recall what had exactly during my time there. But there is one thing I do remember, perhaps, for my lifetime: a new problem-solving method.
I was in Paris for the ArtScience Prize, which is a yearlong program for high school students who have original inventions. The first place winner receives $10,000 for project funding as well as a trip to an international workshop held in Paris with innovators, high school students and college students.
The workshop held in Paris consisted of morning lectures from guest speakers, followed by student project work in the afternoon. The guest speakers included a well-known synthetic biologist, a founder of a corporate business in Africa and a top executive in Euro Disney.
One guest speaker was asked, “How do you solve so many problems to succeed?”
The speaker, who was a CEO, said, “You don’t have to ‘solve’ the problem. All you have to do is to change your perspective so that the problem will not become a problem anymore, and sometimes it becomes advice for you instead.”
It was wit offered, and I have never thought to solve problems by any other method besides solving them. The entire workshop lasted for five days. Each day started with a morning presentation and ended with a presentation not by a guest speaker but by us — the students.
My group and I were told to present the day we arrived at Paris, yet we only had the opportunity to start preparing the day before the presentation. As every second passed, the pressure escalated. We struggled to create and rehearse our three-minute presentation. Before our names were called, my nerves cracked as I looked at the 200 people in the audience, and I could not stop the paranoid thoughts. “It’s coming, we are next. And it’s short — three minutes — will I go overtime? Will I do well or I will forget my parts on stage?”
But it was this moment when I recalled what the guest speaker said about problems as a matter of perspective. “Hey, it’s true that it’s just three minutes. It might be just one-twentieth of an hour, and four-hundred-eightieth of a day, but, it is 45,000 times slower than a blink of an eye, and 300 times slower than normal heartbeat — slower than anything you know of that is fast. Plus, you thought the same thing last time you presented, but you did good, right?”
As I stood on the stage, the whirl in my head stopped, as if my nerves escaped through my voice as I spoke into the microphone.
Perhaps I will be nervous again standing on another stage. But this lesson in France taught me a strategy to overcome my nerves.
This post is also available in: Chinese