29 July 2013

Intensive Adventures

I like to call myself an "academic pragmatist", or a "cognitive miser" on special occasions.  I learn for tests, and I read for papers.  (Well, generally speaking.  Of course if something fascinates me that's a different case.  Let's not go thinking I get no enjoyment out of learning.)  Grades are what drive me to learn, and that generally works quite well.  I should say that it generally worked quite well.

Six weeks into the program's summer intensive, and everyone holds such high standards for themselves.  Our classmates are too friendly and relatable for any antipathetic tension in the air, but I know many of us are feeling like we're running to keep up with a train that's just started to leave a station.  I am, anyway.  I guess this is what grad school is: successful, talented graduates with the same goals and interests, brought together and taught to excel.  The problem is that I'm trying too hard to be at the front of the train.  I am competing against myself, against my highest standards, and it's exhausting.

Comparison is the root of a good amount of evil, I'd say.  It's sucking the joy out of the B+ I earned in my first graduate school course.  The class average was an A-.  Honestly, being below average is not a situation in which I like to find myself, and historically I have usually managed to avoid it.  It doesn't matter that others have more of a background in the class material.  It matters that wherever I started, I ended the race a few breaths behind 50% of my class.  I don't like these thoughts, but they nag, and I don't want to be thinking them at all!

The other day, I was standing outside of the campus hospital, waiting for a friend.  It was bright, so I went over to stand in the shade of some palm trees and soon realized that I was waiting on the released-patient curb.  Aides brought out two begowned elderly people in wheelchairs, and we all waited together under the palm trees.  Suddenly I realized something: I had been focusing on the wrong population.  My classmates, as charming and intelligent as they are, should not be the people I use to measure my success.  The reasons that I'm studying aren't in my classroom; they're on the sidewalk outside the hospital.

I feel that God showed me this very deliberately at the beginning of grad school, so that I can have the proper motivation going forward.  It made me think of, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me."  My motivation is Jesus in a wheelchair.