Okay, so you can’t tell by the weather outside right now — freezing rain in Kingston for the past 24 hours — but since Sunday, March 20, we have officially returned to spring. (March 20 was also World Story-telling Day!)
March 20 was the Spring Equinox, also known as the Vernal Equinox if you want to be fancy. We have two equinoxes per year, in March and September, and on each of those days our sun shines nearly directly on the Equator. This means that on the equinoxes, day and night are virtually equal in length.
Equinoxes are heavy with symbolism. The Spring Equinox heralds our days finally thawing and growing longer than our nights. This means sunshine! Warmth! Hope! Flowers! Mud! (I genuinely love mud — no sarcasm here. Really. I mean it. Gosh, everything on the Internet sounds sarcastic, doesn’t it?)
What does this have to do with academics and mature students, you ask?
Well, one thing the equinox always reminds me is that my life (and probably yours, too, unless you are supremely lucky, in which case what is your secret?!) follows a pattern of good/bad, fortune/misfortune, happiness/sadness. And only two days of the entire year are actually fully balanced like that! The rest of the time, we are either leaning more towards one than the other. That’s just the way things go.
Here, where I am Supreme Narrator and Blog Overlord, it’s easy for me to ignore or hide the shadowy parts of my life. Many people do the same on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media:
One reason we struggle w/ insecurity: we’re comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.
— Steven Furtick (@stevenfurtick) May 10, 2011
But the Spring Equinox (and its sister, the Fall Equinox) always brings me home to realize all the unpleasant stuff has a place in my life, too. I re-read my blogs and noticed that I haven’t shared any unpleasantness yet. How’s that for balance?
So, here is a little academic unpleasantness (and how I cope with it).
In my current course, we have two midterms and a final exam. On Tuesday this week, we just wrote the second midterm. I left the midterm feeling great! In fact, I left also feeling pretty baffled by how great I felt — the midterm was very short, seemed pretty straight-forward, and many of us left the exam much earlier than the time allotted.
You can almost here the Jaws theme in the background, right?
Turns out I flubbed one of the questions (there were only three questions to begin with), and it was a totally avoidable mistake, too.
Being a perfectionist, little things like this can take a big toll on me. Even after literally decades as a student, I still sometimes have a tough time separating my self-worth from my academic performance. Almost every day I chat with students at Queen’s who face the same challenge — and I empathize so much, because I’m the same way!
So what do I do when it’s time to bounce back from a setback?
Try not to think about it for 24 hours. I find a good night’s sleep almost always makes me feel better. Also going out with friends and not talking about school, or going for a run or rock-climbing. I’ve flunked enough times — academically, personally, name an area of life and I’ve probably screwed it up at some point — that experience has shown me time will heal (or at least dull) almost everything.
Put it in perspective. Most academic setbacks don’t matter too much in the long run. In my example, this is just one test, in one course, out of an entire degree. True, sometimes a mistake may close some doors — medical school, for example — but the nice thing about life is that there are so many more options than we realize. If med school doesn’t work out, that’s not your last chance for a meaningful life.
Make it meaningful. Once the initial sting has subsided, I like to think about what I can learn from the mistake (if anything). In this case, I didn’t actually study very much for the midterm, and I especially forgot to review this particular concept. If I could go back in time, would I study more? … Maybe. I do work full-time, after all!
Remember mistakes are inevitable. Sometimes, just reminding myself that absolute perfection is an impossible goal — everyone will screw up sometime, somehow — is enough to restore my equilibrium. No one manages to get through a lifetime without making a ton of mistakes along the way.
So happy springtime! May we all make tons of mistakes this season so we can appreciate when we get it right even more.