We’re so, so close to the end of the semester, I can feel it in my bones. It’s that sense of almost-relief. (Tuesday is truly going to be my favorite day of the year.) It’s also that sense of hindsight-is-20/20, and I can see all of the things I really fucked up on. I’m going to share them with you here, so that if I start back down this road next semester, someone will be around to point back to this post and say, “KaLeena, for pete’s sake, STOP.” Now, this is a reflection-type post, so it’s going to be long (think “novelist”), and probably really boring, so I don’t blame you if you choose to skip this post in favor of doing more entertaining things.
- I am easily distracted
Whether it be a new book, a new website, a new story–if something comes into my life that doesn’t immediately stress me out, I will drop all of the things that stress me out an focus on the new toy. It’s only when the new toy breaks (or ends or whatever) that I will go back to focusing on the things I should have had in my line of sight to begin with.
- I shut down, deflect, and pretend everything is okay when I’m overwhelmed
TAs from three classes have emailed me and I haven’t responded. Passerby ask how school is going and I give one of three answers depending on the person: “awesome,” “meh,” or “it sucks, but oh well.” My incredibly wise mentor-type-lady has tried and tried and tried to get me to face up the things that overwhelm me, to say “no” to taking on extra projects, and to make time for sleep. I always nod and pretend to give in, which isn’t fair to her or me, because we both know it won’t happen.
- I don’t have the life-work-school balance down
I thought by 23, I would have the time management skills of the personal assistant to the President. I would get laundry done and hit the gym before work (yay, going to the gym at 1am!), work my 40, 50, or 60 hours, go to class, settle in with some iced tea and finish my rewrites on the novel, bust out a term paper or two, and still have time to meet up with my friends for a wildly irresponsible Tuesday night (“irresponsible” here means “playing Cards Against Humanity sober until 11pm”). Somewhere in the mix, I would clean my room, find a way of earning auxiliary income, see all the local music, read a book a week, sew myself a new wardrobe, and develop a Starbucks addiction like all the classy people.Needless to say, Real Life KaLeena was like, “Oh, right . . . I’ll do that stuff tomorrow.” Real Life KaLeena is still waiting for tomorrow to get here while Ideal KaLeena is taking kickboxing lessons so she can beat up Real Life KaLeena.
- Always buy the goddamn textbook
This was probably my biggest mistake this semester, and it comes from a place of pure stupidity bred by unrealistic expectations of college. I started my college career at a junior college, which I loved, but which was also easy. Buying the textbook was a waste of my hard-earned money, so I only did it 1) if there was literally no way around it or 2) if the class was fascinating and I wanted to keep the information around (sidenote: at last count, I have 10 math textbooks, two books on mathematical theory, and two pocket-sized workbooks for math on the go). This is not an effective mindset for university. I passed on buying/acknowledging the textbook for two of my classes, so the professors passed on passing me. I can see now how that was totally my fault.
- It’s okay not to live up to other people’s expectations
I’m a people pleaser. I always have been. I was the compliant child that rarely got in trouble (except when Grandma made hamburgers for dinner; hamburgers are nasty). Knowing how to make people happy, going above and beyond to ensure people are taken care of, is what made me a good waitress and a great customer service agent. However, other people’s expectations can also weigh me down and become just as stressful as any project.
Here’s the thing about other people’s expectations: they put you in a little box, and half of the time, they’re perceived. This means the expectations aren’t even real.
I’m going to spend a little more time on this one because it’s one I need to drill into my own head. I have spent so much time stressing myself out over being the perfect student, the perfect employee, the perfect girlfriend or friend or sister or daughter, when most of the time, the people I was trying to please didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I ran into this a lot this semester, because I set very high expectations for myself (see item #3). This is one of those areas where it’s really, really okay to fail. And so what if you do?
In my case, failing people’s (real) expectations means I don’t have a 4.0 and I’m not going to be the next Steve Jobs. This is okay. In fact, I’m probably happier than I would be if those were my aspirations. I just want to write a book, not revolutionize all of technology. Another item of interest: nothing I want to do with my life (unless I decide to go back to Architecture, which is a possibility) requires I complete a college degree–and 95% of my heroes never completed college. You know who did complete a college degree? Ashton Kutcher. Ryan Newman. That one really annoying professor who hates everything about academia, but has 4 degrees, a research study, and dishes out D minuses like candy. Sir Richard Branson, on the other hand, who is legitimately changing the world one day at a time, didn’t even graduate high school.
Why live up to other people’s expectations when you can do better?
I think I’ll go ahead and end this post here, since I started to get a bit ranty at the end. I’ve been in college 5 straight semesters, which is the longest stretch I’ve done so far, and it’s wearing on me. I tend to do much better if I do 2 or 3 semesters at a time, and then take a semester break.
All of that said (and, good God, that was a lot–do you see why I’m a novelist and not a short story writer?), I would not trade these lessons in for anything. I needed to learn them, and they will make me a better, more resilient person down the line if I can keep them in mind.
What did you learn this semester? What are your shortcomings? What’s your Goliath? I’m starting to feel that the best lessons I’m learning in college have nothing to do with the academics. Tell me, do you feel the same way?