Saturday, April 14, 2012

That one morning when I got up at the buttcrack of dawn to study chemistry

It’s a scenario familiar to most, if not all, university and college students: that one exam that you’re concerned isn’t going to go so well. There’s at least one every semester, and you find yourself studying for it a little more than the others, even despite the fact that you know, deep in the pit of your stomach, with every fiber of your soul, that you need to study for EVERYTHING in university unless you want it to eat you alive. Clearly, as the good university or college student you are, you limit your partying or whatever else you like to do during exams week, and you study for the God forsaken things – but sometimes you study too much for the exams you think you’re going to get shitty grades in, end up passing those with flying colors, and bomb the easy insert-best-subject-here exam you thought you were guaranteed an A+ in.

Well... this is not at all what happened to me in my second semester of second year (this time last year). In fact, the exact opposite happened. What on Earth does this have to do with writing, you ask? You’ll see, in due time.

This time last year I had six classes and a lab on my plate, including two very difficult courses: methods and stats in psychology II (which is objectively a difficult course because it contains two exams, ten pieces of homework and a 30-50 page term project including statistical analyses) and solutions chemistry (which is difficult to me because my feelings toward general chemistry can be compared perpetually to the average person’s reaction to a 100-year-old mop dipped in a puddle of mud, with flies buzzing around it, and containing approximately seven dead mice). As you may have guessed, at the end of the semester, the chemistry exam was the one I was most worried about. But did I study adequately for this exam considering I was already failing the course at that point? Of course not. Instead, I spent all my time concentrating on my stats exam and my term project. I ended up making an A in that course, a grade of which I was very proud considering I am not naturally good with stats or anything math-related. But that’s nowhere near the point.

All this to say that a couple days after my stats exam sat the chemistry exam, looming nefariously in the near distance. I therefore began studying for my chemistry final the day before. This was clearly not a smart decision, so that night, I decided I would stay up for as long as possible to study, go to bed, wake up at five o’clock and resume (my exam was at 8:30 in the morning).

So that’s exactly what I did. And guess what? It wasn’t enough. I failed that course. And looking back... it really freaking doesn’t surprise me. At all.

That stats course I took last year taught me a lot of things about university, and so did the chemistry course, despite the fact that I failed one and passed the other with a 4.0. The primary lesson they taught me was that you don’t have to be good at something going into it to come out with an A+. I’ve learned that natural talent and intelligence have very, very little to do with your grades in university. Hard work, perseverance, and motivation are everything. As someone who’s always been intelligent and who never had to study for anything to get As in high school, this was a lesson I guess I just had to learn the hard way. I’m not good at stats, and I got excellent grades in chemistry in high school... but look what happened here. I was highly motivated for one and didn’t give a shit about the other – and what do you know? That was all it took to make the tables turn.

They taught me another difficult lesson, too – this one perhaps even more difficult. If I’m going to succeed in university – if I’m going to get the grades I want, and need to get into medical school – I need to stop prioritizing my writing over everything.

It’s tough, but I’m finishing up my third year now and I really do need to start thinking about my future first. Not working on my story for a few days makes me cranky, so I still try to sneak it in for a moment or two during a not-so-busy day... but if I don’t get to work on it for a while, you know what? It’s not going to kill me. At this point I need discipline and perspective, and I need to realize that my writing isn’t going away – it’ll still be there at the end of the semester and I can concentrate on it all I want then.

This semester, I finally was able to detach myself enough from my own work to concentrate primarily on my education. The results are fantastic. I’m looking at a 3.8-3.9 session GPA if everything goes according to plan, and that chemistry course? I’m making a B right now, hopefully bringing it up to a B+ or an A- with the final. I’ve already started studying and my exam is only in two weeks. And the best part is, so far it’s looking like that morning where I woke up at the buttcrack of dawn to study chemistry isn’t going to have to happen this year. Of course, it doesn’t mean I’m any less of a serious writer... all it means is that I’m learning to prioritize. And what I’ve realized is that having your priorities in order is far less stressful.

Lesson learned.

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