Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Back to School

I sat in class last week using all the energy I could muster to keep from turning around and stabbing the guys behind me with my gel pen. With one hand cupped behind one ear and the other on said pen, I strained to follow the lecture which was being largely drowned out by the musings of the aforementioned gentlemen, musings that included their most recent foray into alcohol consumption and how they were determined to "try not to cheat" this semester. Noble endeavor. Apparently, some very basic things about college have not changed. Except, of course, my inability to focus on one type of noise (the professor) while another type of noise (alcoholic boasting) is going on in my vicinity. I'm pretty sure I was experiencing age rage due to hearing loss. I'm not sure. Thankfully, my good sense won out and I have not been arrested for a felony.

Other things unrelated to my aging have changed a lot. Just yesterday, I frantically made notes on a mitosis lecture while the people who surrounded me spent time on or texting their friends. One totally unashamed guy slept through the whole thing and another young woman kept asking me "what did she just say?" after completing her most recent text message. This is all at a very reputable university. Folks, I came of age when laptops and cell phones were still in rare use. My roommate in college had a big "car phone" that she kept locked away except for long trips or if she wanted to avoid using long distance when she called her family. When I walked across campus, people either smiled at you and said hello or awkwardly looked at the flowers on the side of the path, but they did not have earphones plugged in (unless they were carrying around their big ol' cd walkmans) and they certainly weren't chatting with some apparently nonexistent human at their side. People who didn't pay attention in class had to resort to daydreaming or writing notes on actual paper to other humans present in the room. Unless, of course, they slept like the guy next to me. We did that, too, although at a much smaller university it was a lot harder to get away with it.

The thing about school is that I absolutely love it. I loved being a student all the way through college and I love it again. It's amazing getting to learn new things and after being gone for so long to feel those synapses firing in that specific way they do only when being challenged in an academic way is exhilarating. And like pretty much every other class I've ever taken, I'm working hard and taking this seriously. Which seems to put me in the minority. When no one around me seems to be as excited about lecture, I go through a range of emotions. First, aggravation: Don't they know they are distracting those who actually want to learn and, thereby, risking impalement by gel pen? Second, sadness: Don't they know that they are missing out on an incredible opportunity to learn really interesting stuff? Third, confusion: How can they just waste their money (or, more likely their parents' money) and not care? Fourth, dawning realization of curve benefits: Don't they know if they don't do well, my score will only get better since they will boost the curve? General feeling of ashamed thankfulness toward these punks accompanies this thought. Fifth, astonishment: Are there really people out there who don't want to do their best at this? Why I continue to ask this last question over and over again in my life I do not know, but the answer is one around which I cannot wrap my mind. How can you not want to do your best at a task set before you?

So here I am, 12 years after graduating from a small, private, liberal arts university in the south, trekking the halls of an enormous, public research institution in the midwest. And just before my first test, the only test I've taken (besides the Myers-Briggs assessment) since 2001, I was nervous. I had my flash cards and had rewritten my notes. I had done all the readings and taken all the quizzes. I'd gone to the Q & A and discussion groups and emailed the TA with extra questions. And still I was sick-to-my-stomach, hands-shaking nervous when I showed up. Once upon a time, I was a great test-taker. Matching and definitions? No problem. Essays? Even better. But Scantron and I were no longer well-acquainted and that test, my friends, was 100% multiple choice.

Why was I so nervous? Well, despite my delusions that I am a recovering perfectionist at this point in my life, it seems that when it comes down to it, I still really want a 100% on a test, possibly even more than I did in college because now I feel like the old lady in the room has something to prove. I still wrestle, deep down, with needing to get the highest score possible and feeling really, really good when I do. I love being a student, which is good, but I still struggle with letting the fact that I'm good at it define who I am. Not so good.

Apparently I have not recovered as completely as I thought. I did really well on that first test, I'm not ashamed to say. And I basked in the glow of that grade for a good week. And it's ok to rejoice that I worked hard and it paid off. But it seems I still need  a daily reminder that my worth and my identity don't lie in what I can accomplish, but in Whose I am. Does God rejoice that I work hard and love what I'm doing? Sure. But he rejoices all the more when I am content in who I am in Him. Loved, forgiven, precious, even if I don't get an A+. That was a lesson I did not believe in high school.

Tonight is my second test of the semester. I am decidedly calmer. I haven't studied as long or as hard but I suspect I've still studied longer than most of my classmates. I am not going to panic if I only get a 90 (or, gasp, lower!), but I'm still going to work my hardest and go for that 100% because I believe it will reflect the fact that I know this information, have worked my hardest and have enjoyed learning it. And have spent a lot of time this last month just enjoying God and letting Him remind me that in the grand scheme of things, of life, perfectionism is an illusion and I will not always be the best at something. And at the end of the day, no matter what happens, that test score will be something (I hope) to rejoice in, but not something to define me.

1 comment:

  1. I always said in college that I would have loved to have taken fewer classes so that I could have actually digested the information rather than always feeling like I was just cramming for the next test or assignment. I'd love to go back to school and re-take some of the electives that really interested me but was never able to really devote the time to b/c of other demands on my schedule (such as my social life in many cases - ha!). Sounds like you're having a great time, but also have your mind guarded against slipping into finding your identity in your performance! Good luck in your next test, although I'm sure you don't need it!! You're gonna KILL it! :-)