Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Saturday, September 12, 2015


For reasons I find myself wanting to talk about the worse time in my life (this won't happen often so take up a chair). My second (or third depending on how I count) semester at The University of Michigan. The one where I failed out of engineering school. In recent years I've been thinking about whether or not when I recall the story of my life I still want to call it the worse time in my life. There have been worse things that happened. Friends and family have died.

All the same I don't know. Once something horrible happens you can sort of start to pick up the pieces and move on but this was a slow inevitable train wreck where I felt the ill advised need to fight fate. There was the moment between where you think if you work really hard you might make it and you realize there is just no way in hell to make the math work and you're just stuck in the nightmare until it ends.

For a really long time I thought the worse thing that could happen to me was to  fail in school. I suppose it was just how I was raised.  At the same time I didn't have the perspective to realize that I was an okay but not great student.  I had and arguably still have the ability to make people think I'm smarter than I really am and this was the time in my life where I got a little too drunk on that kool-aid. In the end I actually think failing out of college might have been good for me as it taught me a hard lesson of what can happen when I do that.

To be fair by my second semester (and arguably the end of the first) that had worn off but I'll freely admit the first was mostly just me hanging out in my dorm goofing off until something came up that meant I couldn't. But during the second I spent many a hard night looking at a Linix screen at the Dude and coming up short. Stupid mother fucking game of life. And while I'm at it stupid orbitals.

In the end it became hard for me to justify to myself the time and effort I was spending, hard to justify to my parents the amount of money they were spending but more importantly harder to justify to the counselors.

I was learning something. Hey I went from 10 percents to 50 percents. But I wasn't learning fast enough to justify not giving my spot to one of the tens of thousand of other guys who might get it faster.

Eventually I went to community college and then Michigan State to get a degree in journalism but I can't help but feel that my time at University of Michigan was good for me.

First off it was the first time in my life that I wasn't hanging around the same group of people I had since grade school. It made me realize how much of my perceptions of myself were reflections of what they thought of me.

Speaking of which it was the first time in my life where I started to seriously question my parents. And I don't mean in the rebellious teen kind of way. Failing out of engineering college made me ask the question of how did I get to that point. I couldn't remember waking up one day and thinking I want to be an engineer. I think that might have been part of the problem. I didn't really want it I was just there because it never occurred to me to do something else, largely due to my parents' pushing.

Ruminating on that realization is what normally gives me the guts to tell them "Shut up. It's my life"

Even when I should probably just shut up my own self and just nod my head.

And lastly look. As long as I don't feel as bad as I did in those moments of my life I figure I'll get over whatever is ailing me. That no matter how bad I feel it's only a moment in time and sooner or later another moment will come that's not to say that moment will be better than the last but the thing that I am spending so much of my brain on will not seem as important as at least one of the next things. A problem is never as big as it seems in that moment.

That said don't make the mistake of thinking it doesn't still piss me right the hell off. It was still the worse moment of my life after all.

But enough of the self-indulgent navel gazing.

Here are some pro-tips. What time and reflection has taught me about school.

  • Everybody tells you you're going to spend more time working outside of the class than in lecture but what they don't tell you is that time may be less than flexible unlike regular study time. Labs, group projects, office hours. I doublebooked once and while it affected my grade what hurt worse was that made me the odd man out in my group.
  • For the love of god realize when your professor expects you to collaborate. In high school it's cheating in college it's survival. 
  • It's the rare professor who is going to tell you to skip class (most of my better ones were honest about it and did) but if you feel your time could be better spent working on something else weigh it and make the choice. Do you need to study for another exam? Having trouble scheduling that group project?  Is that paper due?
  • Speaking of which know your class's attendance policy inside and out. 
  • The same goes with any other policies. You would be surprised at how many classes have an objective policy regarding grammar, or late papers, or any number of other things. 
  • Know when to fold them and just withdraw from a course. A W generally doesn't hurt your GPA. That said some colleges have policies on how many course you can withdraw from. 

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