Dear struggling college student,
The world is not going to end. I know it looks like your friends succeed without trying, and you keep studying and don’t see results. I know you feel like you are the only one. I relate to the dislike you have towards educating yourself and how you think learning sucks.
When did I get my first reality check in school?
It was when I failed an exam in 6th-grade biology. I received a 63%, which is actually a D- and it felt like my world was ending. I had never gotten anything below an A. The task at hand to dissect a frog overwhelmed me. I dreaded the thought of studying the textbook pictures that Mr. Fultz was drawing on the chalkboard. I did not like the topic, but I assumed I was relatively ‘smart’ so I would still naturally do well. I didn’t.
What dod I learn from this? Biology is not what I like to learn about and that once I checked the box I would seek out other science requirements later on. This experience also cemented that I don’t want to follow in my father’s footsteps to become a doctor and take over the family business. However, I now appreciate all that doctors do and have to learn a foreign language of vocabulary terms to master.
You might love studying biology and light up like a Christmas tree talking about anatomy and the way the body works. I love seeing anyone in this state of pure serendipity. The passion I see you have even makes me more willing to learn more about this hated topic. On the other hand, I know this calculus requirement is burdensome. Try something different and believe in yourself. As Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Get to know yourself and if you are a social extroverted butterfly, make friends in the course. It’ll help to create a habit of attending a study group and cause social learning to be your secret weapon. I know forcing yourself to binge study in the library up late is dreadful. I respect the discipline you have for spending so much time there anyway. This technique has not resorted to retaining the information you have learned. (but you may succeed better by being yourself). Ask the professor or TA for alternative ways to make it more interesting. I know this all sucks and you don’t want to be a mathematician. Once you succeed, you will feel like you can achieve anything.
All my achievements like getting an A in calculus and receiving my diploma got enhanced. While my failures including rejection from business fraternities, job rejections with too low of a GPA and barely passing my final semester got glossed over and ignored. However, I learned the most from those failures. Because of this, I know it looks like school came easily for me. It did not.
Others who easily got A’s missed that valuable lesson of what success meant. I learned how to deal with the feeling of being a failure in school. What it’s like to not achieve the high metrics I set out to. Through falling short of expectations, how I viewed my self-worth began to shrink. It was really easy for me to ask myself, “What’s the point since this isn’t working?”
I came head-on with this question when I was confused about my purpose in college during the final week of my sophomore year. I vividly remember a day when I had never been more confused in my life. I sought out help. I went to talk to an academic general counselor, then my finance major counselor, and then professor Chappell. My academic counselor told me in order to graduate on time and study abroad, I couldn’t change my finance major. My finance major counselor said, “Drop the major because you don’t have the resilience or backbone for this degree after failing your first class.” She told me to cut my losses and choose something “easier like marketing”. Lastly, my finance professor, whose final I failed said, “A failing grade is considered good for my course since most people fail. Typically, students don’t even make it to the end of my course.” Professor Chappell was direct and told me to stick with it, even though I didn’t do well in his class. This drove me to tears. It was a relief to confront him, but he didn’t seem concerned. My negative viewpoint of him was because of our misaligned visions. He expected failure, while I expected success. This was my first finance class and I wasn’t supposed to just complete it. I was supposed to thrive at it.
I was internally screaming in search of help. My problems craved answers. I didn’t know who else to go to. Life seemed so straight-forward up till then. Do as others and the results will be comparable to everyone else. I was in the “smarty-pi” sorority so all of my friends seemed to put in less effort to get exceptional results. I set my bar much lower. I had to set a realistic standard for myself. My competitive nature made this extremely challenging.
Those hours at the end of my sophomore year left me more confused than ever. I clammed up and didn’t know who to talk to. I felt abnormal for not knowing how to be successful. Everyone else around put on a confident face about deciding their major.
I survived college by relying on myself and realizing that asking for help is to be expected. I made friends along the way to help get through it, and these could be who sat next to on the first day of class or my professor. I’ll be honest: my intent was not to become a master learner. I just hoped that I’d get passing grades and come out from the experience with more credentials and direction of what success looks like.
You can create your own definition of success. For me, it is putting forward maximum effort in the pursuit of improvement, mastery, and continual learning. I believe in you. You will succeed.