Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Ah, the end of the semester. That painful time of year when I invariably feel terrifyingly unprepared and in possession of mental faculties that are woefully inadequate for the task of a career in academia. And those feelings come on the good days, when I am not kicking myself for not starting to study and write papers much earlier in the semester, and convince myself I am going to fail everything and lose my scholarships.


About this time of year, I also usually have a recurrent fantasy of running away to Wyoming. I have never been there and don't know anyone who lives there; I think it's the "cowboys and open spaces" thing that gets me. But I have to say that though I definitely wish it was Sunday already, by which time everything will be done one way or another, I have not been as tempted to flee to the airport. Something has shifted for me in these last few months. Though I still feel inadequate, no longer is that something from which I want to run away. I have quit before, in life. I have run into hard times that caused me to hide in bed, use drugs, or just plain ignore the problems in the hopes that they would just go away. Sometimes it worked, to be honest. Given enough time, most problems will eventually fade away. But they will not be resolved or surmounted.

In my end-of-year terror, I could pack up my things and go home to California. Then I would not have to deal with these papers; but that would not solve my problem. It would not enable me to push through the problems, learn from them, and gain resources to cope with them the next time they occur. I have a life now that is worth fighting for, and a potential future that will never be transformed into act unless I fight.

I have a bad habit of being a quitter. I used to smoke more than a pack of cigarettes each day, and grew disenchanted with the habit long before I ever seriously thought about quitting. I just thought smoking was part of who I was. The thing that kept me from trying to quit for all those years is that I didn't think I would succeed. I thought it would be too hard, and I didn't want to try because I was convinced I would fail. And I didn't want to admit to myself or others that I failed at something, or that I wasn't capable of doing something, so I just didn't try -- and I convinced myself that it didn't matter.

I frequently find myself tempted to do the same with academics. I don't think I'm smart enough, and I don't want to admit to anyone that I am not smart enough, so I change my goals to something I know I can achieve. I am afraid to test the limits of my abilities; afraid of failure, afraid of looking stupid, afraid of realizing that I'm not all that and a bag of chips. (To clarify, I don't really think I am all that and a bag of chips.)

Last week at my Olympic weight lifting class, a girl was trying to find her maxes for the snatch and for the clean and jerk. When she hit a snatch weight that she could not successfully lift, she became very upset -- to the point where she stormed out of the gym and did not return that night. I remember thinking, 'How silly! The point was to find her max, and you can't find your max without failing! Now she has something to work from, so she will be able to improve.' The thing is, while it is so easy for me to think that way when it comes to weight training, for some reason it is not so easy for me to think that way when it comes to intellectual pursuits. Analogizing to the weights situation, of course I need to try things at which I might not succeed; how else will I know my limits, then surpass them?

One of the big components of this, though, is that I also tend to be very undisciplined when it comes to academics. I will spend hours emailing, on Facebook, looking things up online, cleaning my room, organizing my desk, making lunch, taking a shower, stocking up on groceries, etc...without sitting down and studying for any sustained period of time. I think intellectual pursuits and sustained intellectual efforts will help me be a better person, and I think they are higher goods than wasting time on other things; but my actions do not reflect this. I am not sure how to justify this to myself or anyone else. I feel as though if I put in the work, I will learn and I will "get it"; but I don't put in the work.

Hence my stress at this time of year.

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