Here's a realization I had the other day. Nobody's job title is to "make cool stuff happen." When cool stuff happens, it's because someone just like you and me made it happen. And if you want to continue the cycle, you need to make stuff happen.

There's a scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban where Harry is being attacked by a group of Dementors. At the last moment, a powerful wizard hiding across the lake casts a Patronus (a challenging protection spell) to save him. Later in the book, Harry travels back in time to hide across the lake and figure out who the wizard is. Harry waits and waits for the powerful wizard to appear, but nobody comes. As the Harry from the past starts to die, Harry understands what's going on. He steps forward from his hiding place and casts his own Patronus. And so, in the end, the wizard across the lake was Harry himself.

To the Harry in the present, it seems like good stuff just happens: some mysterious wizard in the woods casts an extremely difficult spell and saves him. But the Harry from the future understands that a real person needs to cast that spell, and that person might as well be him.

MIT is the same way. When I was growing up, I heard all these stories: someone from MIT put a cruiser on the dome, invented information theory, walked on the moon. So when I got to MIT, I tried to figure out which of my peers had been chosen by fate to do stuff like that.

It turns out that there are no undergraduates so obviously above the rest that you can point and say, "this person's destiny is to become the Shannon of the 21st century." And yet, some will do just that. Like Harry, you're forced to look the contradiction in the eye. It must be normal undergrads, people like you and me, who step forward out of the woods and do these extraordinary things.

Logically, this is obvious, but intuitively, it feels foreign. Why? It's because it's not true when you're growing up. The people doing cool stuff are all 20, and you're 10. So you think, "it must be the job of the 20 year olds to change the world." You get used to having an excuse for not doing cool stuff. And that excuse clings to you as you get older.

Here's how I try to correct for this. I pay attention to which news makes me feel proud about the direction of humanity. Then, I imagine what it was like for a normal Joe Schmoe to start those things. A normal person started that spaceflight startup. A normal person wrote that language. A normal person ran for office. All of those people are real people, just like me. They were deciding whether to trade at Jane Street, or become a partner at their firm, or go to grad school, and they turned all of that down to pursue their stupidly ambitious idea.

This is the craziness that make me proud to be human. But it doesn't just happen. People like you and I need to step forward make it happen. And if we, the normal people, don't, then nobody will.