Paths from Palo Alto is a collection of anonymous life and career stories from Palo Alto alumni. We hope to shatter the myth that there is only one path to success.
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MOST POPULAR STORIES
Sometimes following the rules gets you into a mess
An "it girl" in high school who went on to UC Berkeley ended up in a bad marriage to an addict, laid off from her job with two kids to support, but eventually found resilience and peace.
The 60's, Vietnam, corporate law, and family. Learning to say yes.
A Stanford University graduate who joined the Army, attended law school, worked as a corporate lawyer and became a husband and father. Still, he, "...regret[s] not having the maturity, or enough experience as a young man to be more intentional about [his] life path."
Here's a toast for the dropouts
A disillusioned alum who dropped out to gain experience and develop their individuality. After working, they attended community college, a UC and now a PhD program. "...[T]here is no rubric for life, and that [young people] should always take their own ideas seriously".
Living Life, Having Fun, and Finding Balance
A USC graduate who has worked in Tech and Architecture & Engineering, unexpectedly cared for an ailing parent for 13 years, lived multiple places, found true love and traveled extensively.
Some stats from our respondents so far
of alums, have changed their definition of success over time.
of alums, reported an unexpected event that significantly changed their life.
of alums, recalled a big mistake or regret.
"I used to care more about external measures of success like career. I still do but it's less pointed. I give more credence to the inner experience while worrying less about others' opinions about career tracks. Nonetheless, I do notice that how people see your worth does depend on external measures.”
"Doing what you want to do and having a good balance between work, family and life. It used to be focused only on work success, now it is more holistic.”
"Sometimes I do think I could have been more financially successful if I had been more traditional in my career choices, but I know I would not have been as satisfied with my life.”
"I hadn't a clue how many times I would fall face down and get up again. Sometimes success meant money, sometimes little or big fame, sometimes it meant getting up after feeling near spiritual, mental, or physical exhaustion.”
"I was a collegiate athlete. I have an MBA. I have been a manager at a Fortune 10 company. But by far my greatest accomplishment has been the relationships I have cultivated with my husband, children, family and friends.”
"Being able to work at a job you love instead of one that just "pays the bills”…I used work in a career I hated for the money. Now I make slightly less, but I'm happy and enjoy what I do.”
"Not understanding my true academic potential in grammar, middle and high school. Comparing myself to the smartest people in the room and diminishing my strengths in the process. Eventually, I realized my own potential through hard work and exposure to a different environment (not Palo Alto)."
"Honestly, my biggest regret is that I spent so many years looking for outside approval or recognition. That I really defined myself by the values and goals of something outside of my own heart."
"My biggest mistake was thinking that grades in school were more important than social networking. The truth I learned as I got older was that knowing the right people at the right time is infinitely more important than having a good report card."
"I chose my college (UC Berkeley) based more on its reputation and less on what would be the right fit for me. In hindsight, I wish I had sacrificed some of that prestige for a smaller school (like UCSC) where it would have been easier to try different subjects and participate in a broader variety of activities."
"On a more general level, I regret not having the maturity, or enough experience as a young man to be more intentional about my life path. I think I was fearful and basically sought out something safe. "
"Staying in a relationship through college and after and almost marrying someone, then breaking it off while we were engaged. I lacked the confidence and the insight to be honest much earlier on in the relationship when I was not happy."
“After my first year at college, I was diagnosed with cancer...There were endless days and nights where I thought about what kind of person I was- and what kind of person I wanted to be. I learned about compassion, patience, perseverance, determination, acceptance and most importantly, being ok with not knowing the future...”
“I abandoned the career path set before me from where i started. I looked around me at what others were doing, and looked critically and objectively at what I was good at - balanced with what I enjoyed.”
“I suffered a career ending injury athletically. The tough thing with sports is when your body quits and your mind is still in it. I had to figure out what I wanted to do next and start over from ground zero to go after that goal.”
"I started in consulting and then joined a startup where I worked on the talent side. And realized, my true passion and interest is in helping companies think about their internal talent strategy and capabilities. My career has taken a turn that I never expected but I love what I do."
"I went from living in my car at age 19-20 to managing a cafe, working with computers, living in Italy, owning my own business, serving in local government, and only then getting the education that got me an eventual professional career."
"I was supposed to go to medical school, but my MCAT scores were dismal...After working 2 years in a research lab, I discovered that graduate work in biology was not for me. But I was drawn to the chatty sales people who technically knew a lot about their biotech products. I asked for an interview and got my job *during* my interview."
"Getting laid off from my first job out of college as a Marketing Coordinator at a small start up. I didn’t expect it but it was such a blessing in disguise. It drove me to go back to school to get my Masters in Teaching and allowed me to explore a career I really have enjoyed and I feel I am really good at."
"I was preparing for a career in museum work, when I started volunteering at a school. Up until then, I had never thought about teaching or working with kids. When you discover your true passion, it can sometimes hit you like a giant wave. My whole life and career changed over a period of months."
"Moving to another state and hating it, but now I realize it was for the best for my family and myself... What looked like the end of the world then, Losing my home and leaving was just a new beginning. We are stronger and happier now."
"It was a HUGE adjustment to be unwillingly unemployed. And to have to move to find work, away from friends and a city I loved. But, in the end it opened up a lot of doors - I ended up taking a chance on a relationship that has turned into a lifetime commitment, and I ended up in a job I loved (in a place I didn't really)."
"Depression and an eating disorder my 2 year of college, and 2 more depressive episodes in my 20's and 30's. It taught me the most important thing was to feed my soul, take care of myself first, love and accept myself so that I can share my love with others and care for them as well."
"Got drafted into Army. Saw how truly poor people lived in other countries, but they were very happy with what they had."
“It was fun and exciting, but I would never go back to that time. It was just too emotionally intense. People say high school is the best time of your life. It was the most stressful time of my life. Being an adult is way easier.”
“I managed to crawl through high school mostly un-noticed being very awkward, shy and socially inept. I got good good grades and made my academic goals...but that was about it.”
“I struggled with self esteem, thought I was incredibly stupid because I didn't have a 4.5 GPA and felt like I didn't fit in with a lot of groups, but I did find an absolutely wonderful group of friends, many of whom I am still in touch with, and found my niche."
“I was a nerd and was far from popular, I was not that into academics and the combination of the two made me an outsider...By a number of measures people would consider me successful but if you took a snapshot in high school I'm guessing you would never think I would be where I am today. ”
" I felt like I wasn't as smart as others, which was bs. I wish I'd taken myself more seriously.”
“I was tall and skinny, a target for the jock/bullies. Was also adhd (one of the first generation of Ritalin kids), when puberty hit and the drugs didn't work anymore, I had a difficult time in class. I was considered bright, but couldn't concentrate for very long.”