Last year’s essay prompt posed a scenario in which respondents were in their third year of running a tech company. They were short on funding, and an angel investor approached them with enough money to scale their business up quickly. A consequence of this investment was that they would have to relinquish their vision and control of the company. We challenged respondents to decide whether to accept the angel investor’s offer.
Many applicants responded with well-thought-out essays discussing what risks were worth taking in this scenario--loss of control or the possibility that their company could not grow. Overwhelmingly, respondents said no to the investor. Only about 10% of respondents said they would accept the investor’s offer.
We received plenty of creative responses — everything from detailed budget plans to a love letter from one applicant to her fictional company. However, the winning response came from Mason Phillips, a Business Administration student at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and self-proclaimed sports fanatic. Mason impressed us with his impassioned essay about staying true to his vision by not taking the investment. We spoke with Mason about what that vision is and how he has stayed the course.
The following interview is edited for clarity and length.
You opened your essay with an unforgettable quote by your father, “Remember what it took to get to where you’re at,” which you said you wrote down and stuck in your wallet. Now that you’re older, do you know why your dad gave you that advice? Why did that stick in your mind?
My dad originally gave me this advice when I was in elementary school, and I was tempted to fight back with some kids. He saw that I had the potential to be one of the best wrestlers to ever come out of my hometown, and he wanted me to realize the importance and consequences of my actions. It was a reminder to think about how much I have worked, struggled, and overcome to get to the point I was at in my life and that one mistake could ruin it.
I wrote it down because it resonated with me. I like to pull it out and reflect on situations I am in and the course of action I should take moving forward. There will always be people who want to interfere with or diminish what you’re trying to do. How you react to them is your choice.
You highlight the importance of staying true to a vision. What does staying true to your vision mean to you, personally?
Staying true to a vision is simple to talk about but very hard to act out. It means that no matter what gets in your way, what hardships arise, or who says you cannot do it, you stay committed to your strategy, training, and yourself until you reach the end. Whether it works out the way you visualize is sometimes out of your control, but the way you feel about the result depends on how satisfied you are with your effort along the way.
That ideal has led me to my greatest accomplishments, such as winning a state championship in wrestling. That process started when I was five years old, and I visualized winning the high school state tournament when I was a seventh-grader. I stuck to my training, and I made it happen!
You also emphasize how important it is to surround yourself with those who want to see you succeed. What role do other people play when it comes to executing your vision
The people surrounding you often are the difference between succeeding and failing. I’ve heard my whole life that you are a product of your environment. You can’t decide every environment that you are in, but when you have the opportunity to change it for the better, you must. If I want to execute my vision, I must surround myself with people that support my vision. When I’m not as enthusiastic, they can support me and help me through. I must surround myself with people that want a similar goal. Then, I’m working with people that are knowledgeable and working daily to get closer to that goal. Lastly, I must surround myself with people who genuinely care about me so I can trust their judgment and receive authentic feedback and advice. That way, I can improve. When these puzzle pieces fall into place, the mystery of success becomes a lot more achievable and realistic. Who wants to do all the work on their own, anyway?
You referenced a Cornell University article about failure and regret. What in that article resonated with you?
What resonates most for me from the article was the reinforcement of what a lot of people have heard since they were a little kid, “follow your dreams,” except it was voiced with statistics and studies on grownups that ended up not achieving or chasing their dreams in the long run. What it showed was that the adults regretted not going after their dreams and aspirations while they could.
I am the type of person who does go after their dreams, but I have been tempted to take “the safe route” and not go for it. It was a nice reminder that I would be happier, in the long run, to have at least tried and failed than to have never tried at all.
You only get one life to live. If your efforts towards your dreams were to pay off, that would mean you lived your life to the fullest, in my book, and that is all you can really ask for.
Ultimately, you did not choose to accept the angel investment, saying that you “believe in the process.” What does “believing in the process” mean to you?
Believing in the process means that you stick to your plan and stay committed from start to end. No matter what hardships come, you push through them, grit your teeth, and find a way to improve a little bit at a time. You must channel as much energy and focus as you can at the tasks that will pave the way to your goal. Some of these tasks will be hard or will not be completed very fast. That is okay; that is all a part of the struggle, and it will make you better in the process. When you fight and don’t let anything get in the way of your goals, then the result is inevitable.
The best example I have of trusting my process and fighting through anything that tried to stop me would be winning the state championship when I was a senior in high school. Since I was five years old, I have wrestled, and I am the only high school state champion from my hometown. The process of wrestling year-round for over thirteen years through injury, tough losses, and constant, grueling training finally paid off. I even lost my mother while attending a wrestling camp out of state the same year I won the state championship. Though terribly sad and unexpected, I knew she would want me to push through the pain and accomplish the ultimate goal. I am very proud that nothing is going to stop me from chasing down what I work for and interfere with the expectations and goals I have laid out for myself.