Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Deep Breaths During Exam Time

Over the past weeks and months, I have witnessed some distraught students.  Young adults who walked into the semester cool as a cucumber are hitting the finish line exasperated - not all of them, but many.  A few have asked me for advice, and all I can seem to muster is "Breath".

I thought that I would strive here for something deeper and perhaps more helpful than this.  At the same time, I'll toss in a science metaphor, cause that is sort of my thing.

We are all aware of the need to manage our stress level.  Everyone has their own coping mechanisms for this, so I won't say "Go to the gym" or "Get more sleep" - it's good advice, but I want to focus instead on the bigger picture.

One thing that has been important for me is setting reasonable expectations.  I was not always good at this.

The most important change I made in my life during my twenties was to stop striving for perfection.  I am not arguing that one should "aim low to not be disappointed," but rather, to "aim within reason."  Disappointment is healthy as long as it is not chronic.  If it is, then perhaps one's goals are set too high.

I know, teachers are supposed to urge their students to reach high.  I guess I simply urge them to reach.  You will probably arrive in the same place, yet be less frazzled when you get there.

But don't take my word for it; look around you.

The laws of the universe are perfect.  They are unflappable.  Big mass, small mass - Newton's Second Law does not care, it just works every time.  Big charge, small charge - no matter, Coulomb's Law will forecast the electrostatic force.

We must not model our expectations after the laws of nature; if we do, we are doomed to fail.  Instead, we should realize that we are matter, and look to the matter that exists all around us for appropriate cues.

An ocean's waves have a steady rhythm, while a river of white water is chaotic.  The Sun's rays reach Earth like a steady stream, but they emanate from a wild thermonuclear furnace.  Electrical charge may flow seamlessly through a circuit, but it can also leap violently as a bolt of lightning.

We are not like the laws of nature - we are like nature's phenomena.  We experience highs and lows.  There are times of serenity and others of stress.  We should not expect otherwise.   

From time to time, we may wish to channel the steadiness and perfection of the laws of nature in our lives.  I think it is healthy, however, to balance this with the realization that we are fallible.  Set reasonable goals and you'll arrive at the finish line a happier person.  Good luck on your exams!

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