How do I turn my life around as a teenager?

Answer by A Quora admin:

I will tell you a story.

There was a young girl who was raised in circumstances where three meals a day was a luxury. Her family was so poor that she couldn't afford footwear or books. She would wear overly long dresses to school so her class mates wouldn't notice her bare feet.

Her father had old fashioned ideas about how sons vs. daughters should be raised. Education did not figure in his priorities for his daughters. However, a sympathetic colleague of his at work would sneak his daughter paper that was used only on one side. The girl would then sew them into a notebook and use those at school. Since she couldn't afford textbooks either, she would borrow them from her classmates in return for helping them with their homework, and would copy by hand every word and every diagram from each textbook into her homemade single sided notebooks.

She could have bemoaned her fate and quit school. Instead, she chose to look at it as extra practice and never complained.

Invariably, she would graduate at the top of her class and eventually made it all the way to high school, fighting tooth and nail against her circumstances all the way, every single day.

It was the night before finals. She was putting the finishing touches on her biology lab work journal, updating the diagrams, dotting the i's, crossing the t's – that kind of thing. It represented an entire year's worth of her work. She was so engrossed in her school work she forgot to look at the clock. It was her father's dinner time and she had not warmed his food yet. That was enough to drive him to such rage that he grabbed her journal and stuck the entire thing in the wood stove. Through blurry eyes, she watched her entire year's labor go up in flames. In order to make that journal which had to be submitted to external examiners for grading, she had specially gathered sheets of paper with pencil writing on one side, and erased every pencil mark using erasers so small they were discarded by their previous owners as unusable. She then measured and hand cut each sheet so they were all the exact same size before starting work on the journal of 100+ pages.

She could have crumbled and spirit crushed beyond hope at this point. Instead, when life handed her lemons, she decided she's going to make the best damn lemonade anyone's ever tasted.

She served her father dinner, and after he went to bed, she set about re-creating an entire year's worth of work overnight by the light of an oil lamp, because her father would have her hide if she wasted electricity studying. This time, she was racing against the clock and didn't have the time to identify and erase sheets with pencil marks and trim them all to precisely the same size. This cost her when her work was graded. She still ended up topping her class anyway.

She graduated high school with perfect scores and the highest honors in Math, Physics and Biology and with one point less than the perfect score in Chemistry. She was under immense pressure to accept the job offer from a local bank to work as a teller, the family really needed the money. But she dreamed of going to college. She was convinced education was her one way ticket out of poverty. She had her heart set on medical school. When her father heard that, he refused to give her money to buy a stamp till the last day the application was due, and on the last day, refused her bus fare so she could drop off the application in person.

She could have resigned herself to her fate and become bitter. Instead, she decided to use what resources she did have.

She used her legs as her mode of transport, and walked three hours each way to the University offices to drop off her college application defying her father.

She was accepted of course, and was given a cut-off date to pay the fees in order to register. Her father wasn't going to spend a penny on his daughter's education. Instead, he agreed to let her go to college on the condition that she somehow bring home the same money she would have earned had she accepted the job as a bank teller.

Registration date came and went. The girl had no way to pay the fees and therefore could not register.

She could have given up at this point and consoled herself that her dreams were beyond her means. Instead, she told herself that winners never quit and quitters never win, and pursued her dreams anyway.

She would walk three hours every day to the Dean's office on the University campus, and wait for him outside his office from 8 AM to 5 PM every day hoping he would agree to see her and give her a chance to plead her case. On Day 5, the Dean relented and asked her to come in and tell him why she was camped outside his office all day for the past week.

She accepted the invitation and told him her story. The Dean heard her out and asked her to come on Monday and begin classes. She assumed she had been awarded some sort of student loan and went home counting down hours to first day of class. The Dean had been so moved by her story that he not only wrote a personal check to the University each year to cover her tuition, he also gave her a monthly stipend equal to the pay she would have made as a teller, that she could take home to her father every month. (She only found out about this incredible act of kindness after she graduated, and went to the University office to find out what she owed and was told she owed them nothing.)

Fast forward to year 2 into medical school. The girl's vision began to deteriorate. She had been planning to specialize in neurosurgery and all of a sudden, she could hardly read anything except for the largest fonts no matter how close she held the book! An eye exam revealed a rare degenerative condition that causes loss of vision. It could not be reversed, but it could be halted. At the point at which they found out and managed to stop the loss, her vision was 20/200, considered legally blind in most places. And that was the good news.

This was the first ever eye test she had had in her life. Only at this point did they discover that she was practically blind in the other eye, and had been using her one good eye all along to compensate.

She could have finally thrown in the towel at this point and concluded that this was just not meant to be, and blamed her luck for her misfortunes. Instead, she decided to roll with the punches.

She could not possibly become a neurosurgeon with a 20/200 vision. Bummer. But who said she can't be a radiologist? Many did, but she chose to tune them out.

She went on to graduate from Medical school with a specialization in Radiology. 31 years after starting her professional career, she retired at the age of 62, a world class doctor, Head of the Department of Radiology at an acclaimed hospital, internationally recognized for her contributions and pioneering work in the field. Her vision is a little worse now than when she started out, and she has since been officially diagnosed with a vicious form of Scleroderma (an auto-immune disorder), but she consults for free when family or former colleagues seek out her expertise, or on especially tricky cases where indigent patients are involved.

This woman is my mother.

Every single time I want to give up or quit or take the easy way out, I remember her story. I regain a sense of perspective and acknowledge how fortunate I am to have the resources I do, and the incredible story of how those resources were provided for me. I draw tremendous inspiration from her life story.

She was able to turn her life around from the appalling circumstances of her childhood through having the right attitude, resilience, sheer dint of hard work and perseverance. So can you, regardless of your present circumstances. The human spirit is something incredible. Harness it to your benefit.


I have received several requests to share this story outside of Quora.

First, thank you for asking!

I request that you please do not share/post this on the internet. People can be thoughtless with their comments, especially when veiled by the anonymity the internet grants. If they make disrespectful comments about my grandfather in those comments, my mom's (and her siblings') feelings will be very hurt. Unlike Quora where comments can be downvoted and hidden, stuff on the internet lingers forever.

You can use the Quora link to directly share with whoever you want. They don't need to create a login to read if this is the only post they read. Quora allows you one free read I believe.


My mom says I got some facts wrong in my narrative. I reproduce her words below:

"To begin with, we were not in abject poverty in that we had enough to eat always. It's just that there was little left over after all of us were fed. The bigger problem was we were six daughters, and my father was opposed to educating girls.

At the college level, the first problem was I failed the medical test because of very poor vision in my left eye and had no binocular vision at all, so there was no chance of treatment. I therefore used to sit outside the Office of the Director of Ophthalmology every day for getting a fitness certificate. The fitness certificate was a must to attend classes.

I sat outside his office every day for 45 days and my persistence eventually wore him down. He declared me fit at last, though he told me very clearly that I was depriving a deserving candidate because I would never be able to graduate with my eyesight. By then I had missed 45 days of classes.

I was already a National Talent Scholarship holder at that point. I had won the scholarship in a competition while a 12th grader. This was supposed to enable me pursue higher education. But this was only a certificate and I had no cash in hand. I had to enroll in college first, and then send proof of enrollment for reimbursement of fees.

I went to meet the Dean to ask for fee exemption based on the talent scholarship. After 4 days he asked me to attend classes. By then I was late by sixty days to classes. However,  I could not receive that scholarship because I could not prove that I had paid the fees! That's how the Dean ended up paying my fees. When I met the great man after I graduated and asked how I could possibly repay his kindness, he asked me to pay it forward to a deserving student."

How do I turn my life around as a teenager?


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