Finals week: what I learned in boating school is…

It’s finals week.

Finals week is a rollercoaster of fear of the past (why didn’t I study?) and fear of the future (what if I fail?)

“Why I didn’t study” could mean…

  1. I wasn’t interested in the material.
  2. I didn’t understand the material.
  3. I don’t see how the material applies to the “real world.”

The first reason means that I signed up for the wrong class, declared the wrong major, applied to the wrong college, have no idea who I am and what I want to do for a living.

The second reason means that I chose not to study because I didn’t want to feel (temporarily) stupid.

And the third reason assumes colleges still teach “real world” material.

“What if I fail?” is more complex. Failure could mean…

  1. I picked the wrong subject to study.
  2. I picked the right subject to study (and the wrong way of studying it).
  3. I’m stupid and there’s no hope for me.
  4. I’m bad at college (not the college’s fault that I failed).
  5. College is bad (not my fault that I failed).
  6. I’ll never fulfill my dreams of being a doctor/lawyer/dentist (who wishes they were a writer/chef/entrepreneur).

If you fail, you either need to be more disciplined, or you need better goals. Better goals means you know what goals match who you are. That implies you know who you are. You don’t. You don’t know who you are. If you don’t know who you are, you’ll keep setting goals that set you up for failure. You’ll keep trying to become a programmer even though you’re more suited to becoming a literary critic.

College can’t tell you who you are. College can only provide paths for those who have done the hard work of figuring themselves out.

If you’re terrified of finals week, if your hand is cramping up, if your existence is rendered meaningless by an impending F, maybe it’s time, in the transcendent words of Uncle Iroh, to ask yourself the big questions: who are you? and what do you want?

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