I read a lot of emails from young people. Mostly those emails come from college students or high school students who are looking into the college I work for. Most of the time, these emails are well-enough written; they’re nothing spectacular but they get the point across and I don’t usually notice their semantics or grammar at all. Their writers can usually use some practice, some additional finesse or more concise wording. But they’re young and inexperienced and so I forgive them their sometimes poor semantic choices and slog through the rest of my inbox unperturbed. But every once in a while I read something that gets me. Usually it’s from those high school students. They write about “what can your program/school/university offer me.”
In some ways, it’s a pretty straightforward and harmless question. And the answer is important for that student to know. They should be aware of the resources and opportunities that are provided by any school they consider attending. University is expensive and they should be aware of the pros and cons of their investment. But what grinds my gears is the way they ask that question. It’s never, “what does the school offer?” It’s always, “what does the school offer me?” This changes the question for me. It shifts the burden from the student to the school in a pretty selfish way. My university offers a lot of really excellent things and I’m usually happy to talk about them. That’s pretty established. But by adding “me” to the end of the question, the student makes me feel like the University needs to be doing these things expressly and only for that one particular student. Not for the student body as a whole. Not for the community. Or the wider world or for the sake of scientific discovery or the general pursuit of “better”. But for that one student.
Universities exist to educate students. But they also do a lot more than that. I think that by asking “what do you offer me” you limit the university to one purpose and one pretty selfish goal. So drop the “me” and ask the bigger question: What can’t universities offer?
I am late. Often. Okay, all the time. And when I’m not late, it’s usually because I’d planned to arrive 15 minutes early and then just arrived right on time. So while it looks like I’m not late, I’m still later than I meant to be.
Sometimes I give excuses for why I’m late, “oh I’m stuck on the T.” This isn’t technically false, but it’s more of a white like than it is the truth. More often than not I knew I was already running late, missed the T I intended to be on, caught the next one, and blamed the MBTA for the whole ordeal. I’m stuck on the T but it’s cause I was late getting to the T stop, not because the T was taking any longer than usual. These are true excuses as distinct from explanations. They have no real merit.
Explanations, while still insufficient most of the time, are usually more rational, logical, and/or out of my control. For instance, if I got on the T that should have made it to the office on time but then there were signal problems or a car accident. In my eyes, these are explanations rather than excuses and they carry a little more weight, but not much. Rationally I know that one should account for unexpected delays.
Finally I come to the lies I tell myself. And there are a lot. Most frequently it’s related to an underestimation of the time it will take to get ready. My mother and assorted significant others have been telling me this for the better part of 25 years, but it hasn’t stuck yet. It takes longer to get from out of bed to out the door than I think it should. This may be related to the fact that I keep adding tasks in the morning. But that’s just another excuse. By way of explanation, I offer that my cat woke me up, so I needed more sleep in the morning, so I got out of bed later, so I caught the later T, etc. etc., and so on. I also do my best to convince myself that no one will notice or care if I’m 10 minutes late to work. The worst part is that when I do finally walk in the door, just out of breath enough to make it look like I was rushing, I always feel compelled to explain why I was late. I give the excuses and explanations and tell myself and my coworkers that it wasn’t my fault, when of course I know it was. The irony of it all, is the fact that if I didn’t say anything that I’m sure most people wouldn’t notice. Or maybe that’s another lie I tell myself.
Alright, that title isn’t entirely accurate… But I’m doing my best and I liked the alliteration, so I’ll call it a win. I spend a lot of time at my job messing with excel. Not because my job actually requires much excel knowledge–we mostly use it as a glorified table you can search and filter–but because I love the process of wrestling excel formulas. I know that there is incredible power in excel to satisfy both my curiosity and my laziness. And that combination is irresistible to me. I can create a formula that can check to see if I’ve already met with a student, one that automatically inserts their ID number if I’ve met them before, one that looks at another workbook to see if they’re on probation, and a whole crap-ton of conditional formatting to highlight various points of mild interest. It’s amazing. And while I love it, I’m not particularly good at it. I’m pretty sure at least one of the formulas I just mentioned is broken. And I cannot for the life of me figure out why or how to fix it. But the fact that I have something that works even part of the time is immeasurably cool to me. I love that this is something I’m happy to struggle with. The frustration of not having it quite right is enough to make me want it more without causing any lasting irritation after I move on to a different project. It’s just the right amount of challenge without any external pressure. It’s something I can tinker with without any negative consequences. That’s pretty cool.
PS I’ve just noticed that I start all of my sentences with “And.” I’ll work on that. Or I won’t. So there.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether or not I should allow myself to find a silver lining for Trump’s presidency. On the one hand, I think he’s an all around awful thing for our country. I don’t think he has any redeemable qualities or policies. He is a hateful human being and a sociopath who conned the American people into believing he would speak for them. On the other hand, Trump’s path to the presidency has motivated previously politically inactive people, including myself, to become involved in activism and the political process. But every time I think about that silver lining, I start to wonder if my ability to see it comes from a place of privilege. Are my LGBT friends, my colleagues of color, or my immigrant acquaintances able to see that silver lining? If I can find a positive in this situation does that make me an optimist or an enabler of the oppression that Trump represents? I want to believe that something positive can come out of this presidency because without that hope I struggle to keep moving. But I’ve been wrong before–I wanted to believe that there was no way that Americans could elect a man so obviously and objectively despicable. But here we are.
A week or two ago, I was searching for a TEDtalk to send out to my students relating to stress and stress management. I wanted to find a way to ease their minds and help these first year students to approach their second semester midterms with clear and calm minds. What popped up was the talk below. Watch it. I’ll wait.
Now I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking and experiencing related to stress in my life. I consider myself someone who had a good working knowledge of the physiological, psychological, and academic effects that stress has on people. But this talk showed me a new perspective and gave me a new motto–my stress is my strength, the title of this blog. And this is a good thing now. Or at least that’s what I’m trying to convince myself. As with much in my life, it’s a work in progress. As is this experiment into blogging.
Which brings me to why I’m here. I’ve had so many things whirling around my mind recently and no outlet for them. I went from writing a half-dozen 10 page papers a semester in grad school to writing nothing longer than an email or Facebook post. And I missed it–the process of recording my thoughts, pushing them around until they become ordered and, hopefully, somewhat logical. I missed that writing requires me to force myself to think beyond the surface level and to explore the deeper aspects of what I’m thinking. It’s a chance to really examine politics, society, psychology, and myself in a meaningful way. It’s a way to manage my stress and turn it into something positive.
So I’m going to start writing again and see what happens.