I failed my computer science exam last week. For a couple of hours after the exam, I was feeling hopeless. How am I going to major in computer science if I can’t even pass this exam? How am I going to get a job? I usually get A’s on my exams and I was kicking myself for not studying more.
The day before the exam, I didn’t study at all. Instead, I went to a Lindsey Stirling concert and then later went to celebrate Obama’s victory over Romney.
And you know what? After those few hours were over, I don’t regret it at all. I would still go to the concert and then go celebrate Obama’s victory. I don’t know if I’ll ever see Lindsey Stirling live again and she was amazing. I definitely won’t ever see Obama take office again.
Sometimes we get stuck in the mindset that doing well in school is the only path we can take. We want to do well so we try for great grades. Our focus shifts from assignment to assignment, exam to exam. Once we’re done with one project, it’s on to the next one. Our goal becomes to get an “A” and we work incredibly hard so we can get that “A”. We obsess over it. We have to do well.
But for what end? Why do we need that “A” so badly? Employers don’t care. Maybe you want to go to graduate school and then you need the grades. But why do you want to go to grad school? It’s not for everybody. Largely, the answer is we don’t. And we certainly don’t need to obsess over it.
In our effort to do well in school, we lose sight of what is truly important and perspective of the real world.
Today I heard a speech from Bernard Amedei, a professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Colorado, that reminded me how much more to life there is than just school. He spoke about the need for engineers to advance society. Not just by creating new technologies, but also by creating affordable and accessible technologies. By going out to developing countries — countries where clean water is not a given, and making technologies that will give them clean water. Countries where not going to school is the norm and advancing their societies so that going to school is the norm.
Professor Amedei talked about his time in a village in Belize. In that village, there was a 7 year old girl who couldn’t go to school because she had to carry water all day from the river to the village. The river was 120 feet from the village. While he was there, people in the village told him to build something that would bring the water to them so that the girl could go to school. This village didn’t have electricity. After a couple of months, he was able to install a pump that utilized a nearby waterfall to pump water to the village which finally allowed the girl to go to school.
It really gives you perspective on how good of a life you live when you hear about stories like this. Some people in the world are just trying to survive, just trying to scrap enough food and water to feed their family and you are worried about whether you get a 95 on an exam or an 85. Because one gives you an “A” and the other a “B”.
And here’s the point: you do what you do to change this world. It’s not about getting the grade. It’s not about making money. It’s about making the world a better place. And you don’t have to go to a developing nation to help them advance their society to do so. That’s just one option. You can advance your field. You can help out people who are less fortunate than you. You can smile more than you did the day before.
You owe it to other people to do the best you can to change the world. Even if the best you can do is just making someone else a tiny bit happier. And that’s what school is about. School is about learning the tools we need to make the most positive change we can. We easily lose sight of this as we’re working hard to learn what we need to learn.
The next time you’re stressing over your grade, just remember that what you’re doing is far more than the grade. You’re in school because you want to change the world someday. It’s alright if you mess up a couple of times; it doesn’t take away from your goal of changing the world. You can always learn the material later. Because why should people care that you didn’t know something at some point in the past?
So go out and experience everything you want to experience. Learn everything that you need to learn. Once you do that, go out and change the world. We need you to.