Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I absolutely deplore and despise the song of the same name by Bone Thugs and Harmony, but I can't help but feel like I'm edging ever closer to the crossroads of my life. Up until two years ago, college was, in so many ways, the extension of high school. When I first attended college, I felt like I had entered the after-party of high school. Many of my friends from high school continued onto college at the same university I did, or they went elsewhere and we kept in touch via the Internet. Regardless, college felt oddly familiar yet ambiguously distant, kind of like meeting up with an ex-girlfriend in a bar. College, I was told, was the start of everything that lay before me. I was also told that college would be full of good times, bad times, and growth.1 Indeed, college has been that and more...

[My second semester in college,] I joined the debate team. I had debated in high school, so I felt adequately prepared to take on the task at college. What I didn’t understand, however, was how different speech and debate were in college. Where a simple informative speech took no time to write and was easily memorized in high school, the same event in college required double the work. However, I didn’t realize that until after my second college tournament.

Our team traveled to Washington to attend a tournament. Being a novice to the team, I had to undergo the same process of adjustment and growth I had just gone through in the previous semester. I was new; therefore most people didn’t know me and didn’t warm up so easily. Additionally, I was awkward in the events that I competed. I still hadn’t grasped the concept of memorization, but I performed to the best of my ability. Even so, the judges were highly unforgiving. To them I was another competitor that had started at the beginning of the school year, therefore I should have been fully memorized and competition-ready.

After failing miserably at the tournament, I was feeling low. I had gone into the first tournament of the semester not knowing what to expect, but I had gone into this tournament with a desire to improve on my past mistakes. Apparently I hadn’t. When I didn’t place in anything, I felt like the whole team was looking down on me. While most of my teammates understood my frustration, some were not as sympathetic. To make matters worse, our coach held a team meeting at the end of the tournament in which he accused the three of us who didn’t place in an event of not trying or caring. Our coach even went so far as to say that the three of us didn’t belong on the team if we couldn’t improve quickly. I was completely taken aback by this. Unlike the other two people our coach had singled out, I had tried to improve from the last tournament. Moreover, it was only my second collegiate tournament.

When the meeting was over, I left the room hiding my true feelings regarding the accusation. Everyone at the meeting thought I had taken the words said on face value, but, for some reason, I internalized what our coach said. I took it way too personal, but, again, I was a freshman in the process of growing up.2 I returned to my shared hotel room and quietly began working on homework. Although I originally planned to go swimming with some of my teammates, I declined to attend for fear of being singled out as the “weak link” on the team.

As I sat in my room, sulking in my own self-pity, I heard a knock on the door. I initially hesitated to answer, wanting to avoid everyone on the team, but I opened the door to find Nate and Bree on the other side. They noticed that I hadn’t been myself since the meeting and inquired why. Again, I was hesitant to divulge my feelings, but they were perceptive and, eventually, got me to speak. I told them that I felt that I didn’t belong on the team and that I was probably going to quit. Both of them slightly chuckled and said, “Is that all it takes for you?” I was aware that they were trying to get me to stay, but I was resistant to their words. While I continued to push away, Nate continued to talk to me. He told me that debate, like everything else, took time to grasp in full. He described his own experiences that, in some ways, mirrored my own. Most importantly, he reiterated that I need not take our coach's words so serious nor as a challenge. Instead, Nate told me to take the accusation with a grain of salt and simply go beyond them. He said, “Don’t listen to what the coach says. Do debate because you want to and because you can do it well. If you keep focused on improving yourself, you will.” Bree confirmed Nate’s words and noted, “It’s only debate, not the end of your life!”3

I internalized their words and thanked them for their kindness. It was at that moment that I decided to actualize on everything they told me. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I would instead channel my frustrations into improving myself and constantly struggling to do better. As the semester progressed, I applied the lessons I had learned from Nate and Bree and saw increasing improvements in my attitude and performance at school. Over the summer, I dedicated myself to my speeches and focused on applying myself to my studies as much as possible. When I returned to school in the fall of sophomore year, renewed and refreshed, I was ready to show everyone how much I had improved. After the first tournament of the semester when I placed in informative speech, it was evident to everyone that I was a force to be reckoned with when committed and focused.

In many ways, I still apply the lessons I learned from that tournament to everything that I do today. Although it was a disheartening experience, I gained immensely from it. I learned a great deal about myself, about what I could take and about the beauty of struggle. In the end, thanks to Nate and Bree, it was the experience that defined and continues to inspire my sojourn through college. While it was initially negative, I’ve come to focus on the positive aspects of the failure. In doing so, I have been able to take the lessons that the event was designed to teach me and work with all the potential within me. As a result, I’ve progressed through my major in communication with pride and purpose. I never simply take a class to take it. I take a class to learn, to grow, and to improve. Sometimes the odds are against me, especially when I don’t know what to expect. Even so, every experience has been a lesson to be learned, and I know I’ve learned a lot in my four years at college. I’ve also learned that I want to continue with the struggle, I want to continue to learn and “go beyond.”4 I’m going to continue to graduate school and pursue my doctorate in communication.

As I look ahead, far from where I stand today, I anticipate a great deal of struggle. I’m not sure where I’ll be five years from now. Assuming that I follow my dream of becoming a professor, I’ll probably be graduating from a prestigious communication program with the hope of inculcating students in the realm of communication. I’m assuming that I’ll have my own place, probably a loft, where my floor will be my biggest shelf. I’ll have at least three bookcases by then, having saved every book since sophomore year. My furniture will probably originate from the local thrift store, Target, and/or Wal-Mart. I’ll be a graduate assistant, after all.

Personally, I don’t think too much will have changed, but since I’m constantly changing, I’m sure I’m overlooking something in the future that has yet to happen to me.5 I know that I’ll still be focused on improving myself, always looking for the light in the darkest time. I’ll have the positive enthusiasm invested in me since my undergraduate experience, but I’ll be on the verge of experiencing the daunting task of obtaining tenure and conducting research. A task, I’ve heard, not easily accomplished. Even so, I plan to continue pushing myself, striving to do better in all that I do because of everything that I’ll have learned up to that point in my life.

1: The late nights of studying, caffeine-induced insomnia, and drinking were, somehow, overlooked in the college brochure.
2: In other words, everything was to be taken literal.
3: Of course, on the team we reiterate a statement that contends otherwise: “How do we spell FUN? W-I-N.” We’re truly goal-oriented people.
4: I’m not a masochist, just an erudite student with ambition. I guess that could be the same thing, though.
5: Quite the conundrum, really.


carebear said...

i just had to smile while reading this new entry. my bestest buddy is growing up, how cute! we have learned so much throughout our 4 yrs in college, some which are mistakes that we have lived and learned, and the others are just learning on how to live. yes college is another form of high school in a way, but some point, like our 4th year, it becomes more than a second high school. even though i have come to that point i will still be in the second high school for awhile, but you know that we both have learned our own mistakes and lessons where that it doesn't matter how long we are in college/graduate school. we know enough where we will be able to swim at least for a while now. smile!

Post a Comment