I came out of the classroom and wanted to scream. I had spent hours studying for the Econ 101 test, but I felt like I had been lied to by the professor. His test included a number of questions on topics that had been barely covered in class or our textbook and other content that had been discussed ad nauseam was barely even mentioned. Of course, I struggled on the exam and feared the worse.
I started walking back to my dorm, but I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, cry, scream or throw a punch. Instead, I stopped and sat down on a bench under a small row of elm trees. The sun had set and it felt much later than the time. The black, starless night matched my mood.
I had a million things going on in my life. I was trying to study and take an 18-credit course load; work 20 hours a week to pay for college; write every other day for my college newspaper; be an active participant in a fraternity and have something resembling a social life. In between, I was also free-lancing for my hometown newspaper, writing the occasional feature story. On top of that, I wanted to succeed for myself and my family. I wanted to show everyone that I had what it takes to get a college degree. As you might expect, I was failing in my attempt. I was doing nothing well.
I sat for the longest time on the bench. I didn’t open my backpack or any of my books. I just sat there in the dark. I knew two of my fraternity brothers would be looking for me. We had made plans and I was to race back after the test and we were going to catch a bite to eat before I had to get to one of my part-time jobs working in the library.
Where to turn, where to go?
I looked down in the dark at my watch, but I felt no desire to get up off the bench. After a few more minutes, I finally started to think about my options. I could fret over the test some more and blame the professor for my problems; cancel on my friends and part-time job and get drunk; or runaway and quit. I didn’t like any of my options.
I was woken from my stupor by an old man, who I assumed was a professor or college administrator walking home for the night. He stopped in front of me. He had an umbrella in his hand and a messenger bag slung over his shoulder. He coughed and asked if everything was okay. I said I was fine and that I was just taking a moment to rest before heading back to my dorm.
He looked at me briefly and then up at the sky and said that it was a nice night to be out. He praised me for my “wisdom in stopping to take in the beauty.” He coughed once more, wished me a good night, and was gone.
Something to consider
I watched him leave until I couldn’t see him any longer. I tried to get back to my problem, but I couldn’t get the man out of my head. I wondered if he still worried about things like tests, even ones he took years earlier. I couldn’t imagine that he still fretted over such things.
In that moment though, it hit me: I needed a new approach. I needed to hand my bigger problems to God. I had to let the test go. No matter how I did on it, I wouldn’t care about it later. I wasn’t performing rocket science. I wasn’t on the operating table with another person’s life in my hands. I was a simple student trying to get through another day. Yes, I needed to perform my best, but I didn’t need to take on the weight of the world. I remember asking myself: “Ten years from now will it still matter.”
One step at a time
A few minutes later, I got back up and headed back to my dorm. I took one step forward then another and another. Nothing had changed in those 40 minutes on the bench. My grade hadn’t changed. My situation was still the same, I just had a different attitude. I decided from that point on I wouldn’t worry about what I couldn’t control. I wasn’t going to worry about spilt milk, I would worry about the next test, the next challenge.
Funny thing; I can’t recall now what I ever got on that test. I remember little about the class, except that I survived. I found an old notebook from that class recently and, before I threw it out, I paged through it to see if I could find a grade. I found nothing.
The only thing I remember now is what I did when I got back to my dorm. I apologized to my friends for being late and we did go out for pizza, but I didn’t stay out long before heading off to my job. I got up early the next morning and went back to the grind, striving to do better the next time.
Words to live by
I thought about that little bit of advice last week, sitting in my company cafeteria. I was getting ready to go to a meeting that I knew would be a tough one. I would be put on the spot and tested. I reminded myself once again that I had done all the necessary preparation and all that was left was for me to do my best.
I gave myself one last pep talk. I asked myself: “Ten years from now, will it matter how I performed in this particular meeting? Will I even remember this meeting? If not, then relax and do your best.”
I’ve been in a ton of stressful situations and given myself mini pep-talks of all shapes and sizes over the years, but I can’t imagine a better message. I was right on point then and now: Will it matter ten years from now?