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Cool Runnings

In 1993 one of the greatest sports movies was released and the title kicks off today’s post. But it shares more than just a nifty side note on the early 90’s and how much fun movies were (they were, trust me) or a chance for me to talk about a time when I was alive. It has a moment at the end of the film in which the team is going strong when things take a terrible turn within sight of the finish. Their gold medal hopes are dashed but one of the characters shrugs that off and says, “I’ve got to finish the race.” They carry the bobsled to growing applause and eventual cheers as they cross the finish line.

It’s also what the last few months has looked like for me. It’s been a rough semester but all of the blame rests on me. I chose to take four literature classes. I initially signed up for 18 credit hours thinking I could also work 20 hours Friday and into the weekend. That fell apart and I had to let a fun class go. The reading volume alone was overwhelming. I was reminded how critical it was to read the material when I floundered on a midterm. I missed an assignment in another class. I needed to finish strong but it was fast becoming apparent that I had underestimated the volume of work required to conquer both the course load and the material associated with the classes.

And so I entered the final weeks of classes much like the Jamaican bobsled team in the film as they flew down the course. Things looked good but the sled was old and unstable. It started to fall apart. I didn’t do great on a big research essay for a literature class. I started to wobble. I whiffed on a practice final for math. I struggled to come up with a good topic for one research paper and I had to dig deep to find research on another research essay – this one had the problem of being more tightly focused. I skipped a full day of classes to master one essay in eight hours – it worked, just barely. It was now Thursday. The sled was tipping over as it screamed down the track. I had a final that day as the teacher had scheduled a week early. I studied. I felt good. Then I took the test the next day. My confidence was shaken.

The next few days were filled with me catching up on my online course and readying myself for finals. I took a literature final on that Monday. I broke even. The essay I got back had hit a home run. The final exam had been a road full of potholes I was desperate to fill but I couldn’t remember all the details. I wrote as much as I could, hoping it was enough. Tuesday came and another literature final. My insomnia had been beating me up the last few days. I wrote answers but after I left the room I realized I may have mixed up several characters, plots and more. I was now in a bobsled, sideways and screeching down at speeds no human should experience. I had a math essay due the next day that required to explain something that kept me up to midnight that night – I couldn’t figure out how to explain the concept – and it tortured me for another two hours the next morning before class racking my brain over and over trying desperately to figure out how to use a subject I loved and knew plenty about (English, of course) to explain a subject I had struggled with over the semester (Yes, it was Math). The essay was lackluster and I still didn’t know how to explain the answer.

I was now slowing to a halt in my little sled, within sight of the finish line. I worried about the final. The practice final had been a disaster. I resolved to do better. I was able to answer most of the questions well but it was the few questions that covered the confounded topic from the cursed paper that were at the end. I wrote the best answer I had but I knew it was weak. I crossed the finish line. I turned it in and headed home.

The lesson here is clearly apparent. My lack of preparation and awareness was my downfall this semester. I didn’t take the time to write parts of my research papers incrementally over time, like I was told by each of my professors. I didn’t focus on the material and the concepts as much as I should have when I reviewed for some of the exams. I let stress and burgeoning levels of anxiety bleed away my focus, energy and time. These are hard lessons to learn, as a student. They are also hard lessons to learn at the age of 34, when you’re supposed to be a functional adult.

School is a challenge. You won’t be perfect in everything you do in class. You’re not going to get all A’s all the time. You’re going to get reminders that you have to work harder via those disappointing marks on assignments and tests. You will be reminded why college exists – to make you better. To strengthen your knowledge, your talents and your ability to do the work. To show you wanting – and for you to use that as impetus to pick yourself up and do better. To work harder. This was my lesson this semester. I realize the first half of this post will probably read as a depressive complaining miserable read – and that’s OK. I need to see those words to realize where I have to go, how I have to work in my future classes and eventually – my chosen career as a teacher.

And so, as they did in Cool Runnings, I finished the race. I stepped across the finish line. Now, just as they would do, I need to get ready for the next semester / winter games. I’m going to finish better. I need to repair my metaphorical sled, strengthen it and have it ready for the next run down the track. Because next time, I’m flying across the finish line and picking up a medal on the way out.

See you on the track.

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