I wrote the following months ago. Recently stumbled upon it in my drafts folder. Just a little encouragement for the students in our world and for those eeking it out in the professional world. Chin up, my sweets!
This post might seem like it's coming out of left field, and probably a lot of what I write and/or talk about falls in that category.
It also might stem from the fact that I just edited a paper for a friend of mine who is currently getting her college on, in other words who is currently in college.
This got me thinking about school, and how I've been in school, you've been in school, some of us go to school longer than others, some of us hate it more than others, some of us would like to kiss school on the cheeks and thus seek after Ph.D.'s and such.
And I got the urge to be encouraging to the whole lot of us, in our schooling adventures and our other life endeavors.
I guess there are some main things I want to say, and they apply to school and whatever else you're working on right now that occasionally - or always - makes you feel like a cranky camper who wants to turn on bad television and call your friends to whine and cry more often than it makes you feel like, "Yes! I am accomplishing something! The fruits of my labor are clearly presented before me and I must eat bon-bons to celebrate! Also, today is a good day to buy a Lamborghini, I think."
Don't buy a Lamborghini. Unless you can afford one and you really, really want one.
In that same vein, do reward yourself. Sometimes you will feel insanely pathetic with how much you have to carrot yourself along to do the tiniest, babiest of steps in your school/career/etc. journey, but by all means do it. Dangle the most ridiculous carrot in front of you, 100 times a day (I'm not entirely exaggerating here, regarding some days of this life) if you have to, if it helps you to get something done. Example: "If I read to the bottom of this page in this text book, I can watch one video on Ellen's YouTube page."
More pathetic example: "I can clip my fingernails once I write this paragraph." (Personally I get very distracted by my nails while doing anything that takes effort, so this one applies to me quite a bit. Also I like to keep my nails super short, so when I see any white at the tips my brain goes into "Clip clip clip those nails" mode and doesn't quickly exit this mode.)
It really is
Really. I started telling myself this at least as early as my freshman year of college, and I still have to tell myself this. I don't always listen, but I still repeat it to myself. No doubt I will be doing this for the rest of my life. And that's OK. It's OK to repeat the same things to yourself (if they are helpful and true and build you up). It's not a sign of failure if you have to tell yourself yet again to take things one step at a time. It doesn't mean, since you told yourself the same thing in 1993, that because you are telling yourself that same thing again in 2014 that you are somehow dense, or an idiot who can't learn things. No. Let 1993 mind its own 1993 business. This is 2014. February 9th in 2014 and we are dealing with 4:37 p.m. on Feb. 9, 2014 right now, thank you very much. Feb. 10th? We will see you tomorrow. Until then, please leave us alone.
The reason I have to continue to tell myself that I need to take things one step at a time is because, while I know the whole one-step practice to be effective and realistic, my brain will almost always jump to let's-think-about-everything-all-at-once-far-far-into-the-future-all-encompassing mode no matter what the circumstances. Wisdom gained is no matter when it comes to (some of) our brain's hard wiring.
I could wake up every day and think, "Hmm, I bet I'd look interesting as a brunette," but I'm still blonde. I can dye my hair brown.
It will grow back blonde.
I can think, "Wow, I wish I was more mellow, and didn't think of everything all at once" (and one of my BIGGEST jealousies is of people who are neither crazy happy nor depressed, but just mild mannered, calm and content, moving at a steady, productive, peaceful pace). I can think this every day.
My mind still races.
This sucks. Some days I deal with this better than others. But it's my hard wiring; I can't mechanically change it.*
*Note since writing the above months ago: a particular new medication helps with this a lot.
In the example of school, Friends, how many moments have I had where I thought, "This is too much, I am so tired, the rest of these people are smarter and more energetic than me [etc.]"?
Here's the thing: there's a reason a college degree is set up to be completed in four years, a graduate degree in two. A Ph.D. program? Indefinite. Well, sort of. They give you a lot of time to finish those suckers, because they take a lot of work.
All of it takes a lot of work, and a lot of time, which is why it's spread out.
There was one day in graduate school where I left class and went to Target to buy Spaghettios and cried and called my friend, feeling defeated and having received advice that I thought was obvious and made me feel misunderstood.
I remember vividly - even which cafeteria table I was sitting at - getting nervous about a presentation I would have to give on Native Americans. I was in 7th grade. I think it was the first day of school, and the presentation had only just been mentioned. It's not like it was due the next day, yet it was getting in the way of my lunchtime enjoyment, and no one's lunchtime enjoyment should be interrupted at the tender age of 12.
I remember thinking at that middle school lunch table: "Think about what you did in 6th grade. You did presentations then. You can do this, too."
OK I'm rambling.
I meant to give you advice on taking things one step at a time.
So you have that moment where you're in the Target parking lot, crying with your Spaghettios. You with me? If you're not exactly there, put yourself in a similar moment in your mind - perhaps with Twizzlers on your back porch. You're somewhere and you're freaked out about moving forward and ever finishing this damn degree.
Here's what you're gonna do: You're gonna eat the Twizzlers, the Spaghettios, what have you, you're gonna cry, you're gonna call that friend.
Then you're going to either:
a) nap, or go to sleep for the evening, or
b) sit down and start that next assignment. The very next thing, what is most pressing. Can't figure out what's most pressing? Start with one of the most pressing things.
You have sociology class in the morning? You're going to get out your sociology syllabus. It might make you feel actually depressed just looking at it. Keep moving. Turn the pages, find the correct date. It looks here our reading assignment is Chapter 2.
Get out your book. Read Chapter 2.
You might actually cry while reading, because you're not done feeling defeated and sorry for yourself and terrified at the thought that is very real to you in that moment: the thought that you may not finish your degree.
If you take it one step at a time, you probably will finish your degree.
Finish reading Chapter 2, finish anything else that needs to be done by 8 a.m. the next day, and then go to bed. Binge on YouTube videos for an hour first if you need to wind down, then go to bed.
Don't forget to set your alarm clock.
Next day? I've got news for you, you might be a little cranky. Here's what you're going to do:
Get coffee, get some mini-donuts (these were my personal favorite during Research Methods class circa 2011).
Now get to class.
Sit down, wait about 5 seconds. Someone near you will either roll their eyes to express their non-excitement at being in class. Or, even better, someone will crack a joke. You and others around you will laugh. Your professor will come in, you will take notes, and before you know it you will be outside on the quad, talking about something easy with a friend and not feeling that horrible about life and school.
And guess what?
You've moved one step forward. You did the assignment. You went to class. That's more like two steps, actually. Or ten, if we're counting in taking a shower, getting coffee, eating mini donuts, etc.
I'm taking three years to get my point across here, but I can hardly express to you how serious I am when I tell you that sometimes all that is required to get you to move forward in a moment are those mini-donuts and the tiny little smile or joke from your pal sitting next to you in class.
This world is big, and our goals are big, and our thoughts put huge pressure on ourselves, but it is small steps and small moments and small laughs that keep us sane amidst the big thoughts and the big goals in the big world.
Americans are workaholics, and in my opinion that is not all that great. In fact, it's pretty terrible.
I could really get into this, but I won't right now. But I will say that the standards our society sets for us, and the pressure we put on ourselves, are unnatural, exhausting, and detrimental - by and large.
Keep that in mind as you do your work/school work/dream-chasing.
Yes, hard work is necessary, and worth it, but not worth the cost of losing a realistic understanding of your self worth, your value, and your limitations.
Regarding the limitations: it's OK to have them. I am convinced there are people in this world who can get a ton done during one lifetime because of talent, smarts, sometimes money, and also this: they don't need that much sleep.
I need sleep. I prefer not to think of this as a limitation but rather as a built-in human setting. But in terms of me being President of the US of A? Then yes, my need for average amounts of sleep is going to act as a limitation for me becoming the President. I would quit far too early in the journey toward the White House because there are not enough Starbucks stores in the world. For some, maybe there are enough Starbucks. Let them be President. You be whoever you are. Some days this is going to be the hardest thing you have to swallow. Other days you will swim along in happiness, feeling you are on the right track, getting compliments from your peers.
Other days you will be clinging to mini-donuts and your amusing, sarcastic peer like they're all you have.
Because we are taking one day at a time.
School will end. You will accomplish. You will be able to do things that you don't think you can do.
Whether school is the route for you, or working your arse off in a field that doesn't require a college degree is the route for you, you will move forward if you keep taking baby steps.
I'm telling you this as much as I'm telling myself. Almost weekly at work I have to tell myself to stop thinking about the project that starts in three months and take care of the meeting that is the next morning. This is a constant battle, but you need to keep in mind that certain battles will end, and when you look back on them,
1) They won't look as hard as they were before you started them.
2) They will teach you that you can fight another, different battle.
And as you look forward you must remind yourself:
I will fight the next battle one step at a time.