When I strolled onto the college campus my freshman year, it’s safe to say that I was confident in my abilities. After an academic career of ups and downs, I was running at full tilt. I told myself that I was going to do well, maybe even surpass a 3.5 GPA. I was aiming high, but to me, that didn’t seem all that ambitious. After all, I wasn’t on a team, nor did I have any commitments that were occupying my time. With my attention focused squarely on my studies, if I couldn’t excel, then I didn’t deserve to be there. I was calling my shot, right then and there. Each semester, I was going to make a habit of being an excellent student.
As I’m sure you can tell, I walked into that semester and every subsequent semester with way too much confidence, and so it was fitting that I got my comeuppance almost every time. I’d take that first test, or pass in that first essay, and I’d receive a terrible grade. Okay, terrible might be strong, but the grade was always low enough that I’d be humbled. I’d be too embarrassed to show anyone else my failure, and I’d guard my assignment like it was a classified document. The grade mark would sting, but it served its purpose every time. After receiving that unsatisfactory mark, I’d snap out of my haze, and rededicate myself to my courses and the work they entailed. I’d get a feel for what my teachers were looking for, and I was reminded that I couldn’t just show up and expect to do well. Now that the semester was truly underway, I could begin. I guess I needed the wake up call.
Grades in college are not that important in the grand scheme of life, but the wake up calls we get, whether they’re big or small, are definitely important. When we walk into something with the wrong mindset, or we’re not giving something our full effort and attention, then we get reminders or wake up calls to correct our path or change our ways. The situation mentioned earlier is pretty harmless, but you don’t want to establish an early pattern of ignoring the signals in your life, the signals that you’re veering off course, or that you’re making a mistake.
I’ve had a few wake up calls since my freshman year. They’ve ranged from subtle reminders to hitting all-time lows, even rock bottom, and I found myself wondering what I was doing with my life, and if I’d ever do anything worthwhile. I know that I’m lucky. I’m lucky that I’ve never completely ruined my life. I’ve always been able to bounce back from the messes I’ve created for myself, and there’s a lot to be said for that. Maybe it is just dumb luck, but you alone choose how you respond, and I’m always at my best when situations are a little sideways.
I used to see these wake up calls as setbacks, if I thought about them at all, but each of these moments has served their purpose in my life and made me a better and more focused person as a result. From doing better in school, to cleaning up my life so that I could be a primary caregiver when my family needed it, each of these wake up calls has reminded that I’m doing something I shouldn’t, that I’m wasting time that could be put to better use. These wake up calls were telling me something, and when I’ve actually listened, I’ve been the better for it.
It’s important to recognize a wake up call for what it really is. You can shrug them off, or laugh at them, refusing to recognize their significance. You can laugh all you want, but there will be a point when you can no longer ignore the damage. As people, we like to think that we know what we need, that we know best. Rather than reflecting on our actions, we continue to go in the wrong direction, blowing past the signs that are telling us to turn around.
Wake up calls will just keep coming. If you’re lucky, you’ll recognize the first one for what it is, and you’ll make the necessary changes. Some people will press on. They’ll maintain their tunnel vision, oblivious to everything else, regardless of the consequences. Don’t wait until it’s too late. See the wake up call for what it is, and do what you need to do. You may not walk away from the next one so easily.
In grad school, we had to write a paper on a policy of our choosing. I wrote it about surveillance, or something of that ilk, and even discussed my paper with the TA in office hours. I didn’t absolutely love how my paper came out, but given the work I’d put in, I figured that an A was all but assured. Besides, it was only worth a small percentage of our final grade.
I don’t know why teachers do this, but many of them showed us the range of grades for an assignment before handing them back. I think there were four students who had all gotten the same low grade, a “D”, and in my mind, I told myself that I was clear of the danger zone. When I got my paper back, sure enough there was a 6/10 staring back at me. That familiar sense of embarrassment returned. I hide my paper from everyone else, wondering if I even belonged in the program. I spent a lot of that first year wondering if I belonged in the program.
I walked out of that classroom feeling like an idiot. The class I’d tried to pass out of now threatened to overwhelm me, and I wondered how I’d fare for the rest of the semester. I was nervous, but as is tradition, my grade on my next paper was much better. I wasn’t on the most familiar terms with my professor, but as she handed it back, she said, “You win most improved.” I wound up with a respectable grade in the class, one that I could feel proud of given how I’d started. Sometimes, all we need is something or someone to bring us back to reality. Maybe one day I’ll break the cycle, but maybe not. It seems to be my good luck charm. Thanks for reading.