Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What One Hard College Class Taught Me About Life

I had a post all written up and posted for yesterday. But it was long. And that was after I condensed it and took out material I really did want to talk about. That's when I realized it needed more than one post to cover it. So I'm working on branching it out into a mini-series. Some of you got to see the mega-post before I took it down to revamp it and expand you got a sneak peek. For the rest of you, next week I'll share our philosophy on how to live a life you love.

Today instead I want to share something I learned in college. Something they never planned on teaching me. Something they probably don't know I even learned.

While working on my BA in English I wrote a paper about the instability of perfection. When I turned it in I was sure this paper was fabulous and as near perfection as any of my papers had ever been (a little ironic there, I know). I typed up the cover page, turned it in, and eagerly awaited the praises of the T.A. (because it was one of those mega classes where you never actually get feedback from the real teacher) and my A+. Just a week or two later I turned in my final exam, picked up my amazing paper, the culmination of my work in that class for the semester, and flipped excitedly to the back to find a big ol' B- written on it, next to the scribbled out B+. Up to that point I'd been a straight-A student and a B was the worst thing I could fathom happening in life. Bahaha, oh I wish that was my biggest worry now.

My heart was crushed. This class had taken everything of me. It was awful! I've never hated a class more through the whole semester (and this comes from the girl who has loved nearly every college class because she's a proud nerd). I'd put my whole heart into the paper, but it wasn't right.

Reading it now I can see things I could have done to improve it, but that's with more years under my belt. At that point, it truly was my best work. And it wasn't enough. And that lead me to believe I wasn't enough.

I cried. Hard. I'm still a little miffed about that class (I know...I seriously need to just let it go. But it was the worst class I've ever taken).

But I learned from that experience and that class. You can't find what I learned in the course description, or the syllabus. But it was significant nonetheless.

1. Life goes on. 
I didn't get the grade I wanted or felt I deserved, but that didn't mean my life was over. Nor did it mean my degree was over. Trials happen in life, but they aren't the end of life. "This too shall pass." or as a sign said in another teacher's room, "This too shall pass, even if you don't." It was one paper. One class. It was not worth all the anger and tears and self doubt I attached to it. 

2. Hard Things can bring about Good Things. 
That class was a turning point in my degree. I was taking all literature classes at that point. And they were okay. I didn't like them for the most part, but I liked writing, so that's what I had to do to write (or so I thought). I was talking about that class and my feelings about writing about literature and my dislike for what I was doing in my degree to my advisor and they suggested a different game plan for the rest of my degree. Business and technical writing. 

I figured it was worth a shot. I LOVED my next semester. I still had a few required lit classes to finish, but the rest were related to not-literature related writing. And it was fabulous! I found a renewed love for writing. I found classes where I could write about things I loved and was interested in and it was exhilarating. If I hadn't taken that awful class I may have never ended up seeking for something different. Sometimes we just need a little push, even if it's not pleasant, to find a direction in life that fits us better. 

3. I was still enough. 
Having your "prize work" shot down and unappreciated is utterly deflating. It's easy to take it personally. I doubted my ability to write all summer. I doubted my decision to follow that degree pursuit. I doubted that I had what it would take to meet my goals. I let that one class and that one paper fix my view of myself. I'd done well in my other classes and on the papers for those classes. But I began to tell myself that maybe they were just being nice. Maybe I didn't really earn those grades. Maybe I was fooling myself. 

It took some time, but I began to realize that one supposed set back, one bad review, one less than stellar performance didn't have to determine the rest of my academic career. It could if I let it. But it didn't have to. I knew I wanted better than that. I knew I wanted to finish strong. I knew I wanted to finish. It really made me look at what I wanted out of school and my degree instead of just "I want to be a straight-A student." 

Those lessons have carried over into my life again and again. They surface in this blog. They surface in my family life. I have days when I am a less than stellar Mom, a sub-par housekeeper, a lazy blogger, etc. But those days, those slumps,don't have to define me. I can learn from them. I can improve because of them. I can keep going.

Life isn't perfect, but we can't let that cripple us. We have to keep moving on. We are not perfect. There are days that kick us hard when we've offered up our best. Days that make us doubt our abilities, goals, and direction in life. Weeks that test every fiber of who we are. When those times hit remember this: 
(image source)
"Don't you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead." (quote by Jeffrey R. Holland).

You are enough. You can do this. You can push through. Don't you quit!


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I have been struggling through a very difficult season, full of self-doubt, and directionless. Your words are so true, and so very encouraging.

    1. Oh Jenn, I'm sorry you're in a rough season!! I could give you all the normal "Hang in there!" and "You can do it!" but I know those are so overused that they often don't really carry any weight at all anymore. But, I am thinking about you and rooting for you! I hope you pull through soon!

  2. Brilliant. It is a true blessing to be so self-aware.

    1. I wish I could say I always felt this way and after that experience I never doubted myself again. But that's so far from the truth. This is something I have to constantly remind myself of. It's something I'll probably always have to remind myself of. But, if I can just keep remembering this, maybe I'll pull through okay!

  3. How do you overcome the deep desire to be perfect and learn to live with the inevitable failure?
    Beautiful post, wonderfully written. It makes me love your pinstrosity blog's purposed all the more.

    1. Kasia, I love your question and can't figure out anything profound to answer it with. I don't know the exact answer. Right now in my life I know what helps me personally, but it's something I've really had to come to grips with. I've been a perfectionist my whole life, but lately I've been able to let go of that some. Rather than wanting something perfect and beating myself up when it isn't, I'm really trying to evaluate and see if what I am doing is the best I can do at the moment. That is as "perfect" as I can get. Nothing is going to reach true perfection, and if that's my goal then I will always always always be beating myself up over it. I want my best to get better and better, but I'm starting to be okay with producing my best and not perfection. There are still frustrating moments when my best isn't as good as I want it to be. That's when I really have to push hard to not quit and to keep forging ahead.

  4. Thank you for this post.
    One thing to remember with grades is that each teacher has their own grading systems. We had teachers who were generous with their grades when they wanted to support initiative even when the result was lacking, and we had teachers who were all "God knows for an A, the teacher for a B, so no student can get more than a C in my class".

    1. I was usually pretty good at playing each teacher's game and figuring it out...but not with this class. This was definitely one of those classes where we had to read the teacher's/TA's mind in order to do well, and those of us who chose to not write about the innuendos found in each piece of literature we read didn't do so hot on our papers. It was dumb. But, I survived, I passed, I graduated, and I'm a functioning (I think) adult anyway. :)

  5. Thanks so much Kette! You are totally in my head! I NEEDED this today.

  6. I love this and I so needed it today! I am going to send this post to several of my friends that are struggling through school right now. I have one friend that had a hard time because even though she was going to pass the class she was going to barely get a passing grade. I asked her what my GPA was when I got my degree. She said she had no idea. I told her, "That's right! You don't know if I passed with straight A's or just barely by the skin of my teeth, all you know is that I have a degree and that it's in Business. Someday when you have your degree that is all that will matter, that you have that degree. Did you learn what you were supposed to? Yes! Did you test badly or struggle through this one class? Yes! But in the end you have that degree and no one will ever make you disclose your GPA or what grade you got in Statistics. So just do your best and learn the subject and let perfection float out the door!" She loved that advice and thanks me for it constantly! You basically said the same thing!


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