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Behavior Designs, Chasing After Dreams: Inspiration, Pursuit of Happiness

First in 6 years at Stanford: How to Get Your Proposal Approved Part 1

The After Story:


6 years.  I was the first student in 6 years to get my individually designed major approved in the H&S department at Stanford.

This made me the first and only Behavior Design major at Stanford. My actual submitted proposal can be found here.  This is the after story.  Like all successes, the hard work isn’t fully seen–people only see the end product.

Below is how I got it approved.  In part 1, I’ll be sharing one of the fundamental keys to my success, which I think is applicable for other goals as well.

Be it proposing a project you think has potential to your boss, getting an important person to be your mentor, or aiming to do something with your life.  This first principle can help you achieve success.

The Before Story:

Key Success Principle: Burn All Your Ships Behind You

All of big successes are achieved by some degree of this principle.  Successful doctors, bloggers, lawyers, and especially entrepreneurs burn their ships behind them.

First a little of how I used this principle to get my proposal approved:

I came into Stanford having Economics and Psychology as my potential majors because  I knew I wanted to do “business” and I loved psychology.  I knew I didn’t want to touch engineering (ironic because CS is such a large part of Behavior Design), especially mathematics, chemistry, and physics.

My relationship with Economics died after Econ1B (2nd intro class) in winter quarter freshman year.  How did this apply to my life today? It didn’t.  I couldn’t see the immediate practical value, so ECON was crossed off.

Over the summer of freshman-sophomore year, I spent at LEAST 35 hours researching my academic major.  I didn’t care about fulfilling GERs or academic requirements.  I cared about making the most of my LIFE here at Stanford, a freaking privilege and opportunity.  Although there is no doubt all our classes are taught by the best, I wanted each class to have value for me, my life, and the road I’m pursuing.

Entering sophomore year, I decided on Symbolic Systems, Human-Computer Interaction concentration.  It had the perfect blend (I thought at that time) between Computer Science and Psychology, with the negative cost of Philosophy and Linguistic classes, which I did not see value in helping me build the life I want to live in the future.  *Clarification: again, I am not hating on any departments and their merit.  They were personally just not right for me*

Towards the end of my first quarter, sophomore year, I knew I had to design my own major:

“There are no more options.  This is the only way.  I’m not settling.  I have to get it approved.”  These are the exact statements I repeated to myself over and over again.  This was my mindset.   

I burned all my ships that would take me back to where I didn’t want to be.  The only way was forward.

Once I embraced this mindset, game over.  I did whatever it took.  I put in 14 hours creating my proposal, having it 95% complete before I had the intro. meeting with the higher-ups. 

Ask yourself this:  how bad do you want it?

More on getting your proposal approved in part 2 Staircase Your Successes.


About David Ngo

Rising entrepreneur and behavior designer at Stanford University. Life is short--just trying to live the most fulfilling life, and get those around me to do so as well. Stanford's 1st & only Behavior Design Major: slidesha.re/behaviordesignmajor More about.me/dngo


2 thoughts on “First in 6 years at Stanford: How to Get Your Proposal Approved Part 1

  1. Good job. Now I need to follow in your footsteps and see how I can design a program for me.

    Posted by Mark Harmel | November 4, 2011, 12:13 AM
    • great job. I’ve always connected with the phrase “burn your ships,” but you explain very clearly how to identify the ones that are useless to us.

      The only way is forward: this reminds me of Ender’s “the enemy gate is down.” Sometimes, reframing your perspective is the push you need.

      Posted by Sheppard | November 4, 2011, 12:11 PM

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