By Ron Gomillion
High school physics was my favorite class, and I did well in it. Being able to do the math, see it work, and then be able to measure the results had an aspect of personal fulfillment to it. One of the first things you learn in an introductory physics class are Newton’s three laws of motion. The third law states that, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The application of this principle has stuck with me throughout my life because it eventually inspired a change in my perspective. It caused me to realize that if we wish to move forward in life, then we need to learn to leave some things in the past. If a person fails to do this, they will never grow, unlearn their bad habits and attitudes, and they will never end up where they want to be in life.
Unfortunately, this lesson was not learned until several years later. Physics was where my academic prowess ended. As soon as I walked out of those classroom doors, my attitude and several bad habits that I had developed got in my way of succeeding. The first attitude adjustment I had to make was concerning my predilection towards apathy. I found that doing as little as I could only set me up for future failure. The cause of this apathetic attitude primarily stemmed from my lack of goals. I had no real future career in mind and my plans for secondary education were shoddy at best. It had never occurred to me that I would want to actually accomplish things or be someone later on in life. Looking back, the solution to overcoming apathy is a rather simple one. In order to leave this poor attitude behind, I had to get serious about my future and set some goals. The goal that I eventually set was based upon physics. I remember watching videos online about the nature of the universe, and hearing math described as the language in which it operates. My love of science, and the desire that I had to understand it at its deepest levels is what lead me towards my current goal, and out of my apathetic state of mind.
While setting goals is important, it is only half of the picture. The next challenge is to find a goal that you can be enthusiastic about. None of your aspirations will help you overcome your apathy if you’re apathetic towards them in the first place. For me, the specific goal that I really cared for was understanding science. This meant that I needed to understand the math and logic behind the theories and laws. This caused to me return to college to major in mathematics. Caring about this endeavor has helped me in other ways also. Along with no longer being apathetic towards education, the desire I have to finish school and begin contributing to the world pushes me through anxiety and stress. It also helps me to avoid fearing failure, because the knowledge that I have acquired has meaning to me. This means that even if I fail, I will have learned something that I view as valuable.
Even though I have since managed to get my apathy in check, there was still another state of mind that loomed over my ability to succeed as a student: perfectionism. Perfectionism manifests itself as an unwillingness to accept anything that is less than perfect. For as long as I can remember I have wanted absolutely all of my work to be exquisite. In elementary school when I was learning to write, all of my letters had to be exactly as they were in the book. This caused me to be the last to finish assignments that should have otherwise been easy. In middle school music class, I wouldn’t allow myself to make any mistakes in a piece, and when I inevitably did, my frustration would make me stop and restart countless times. Finally, when high school came around, in a class like physics that I enjoyed, every mistake that I made caused me hours of mental anguish. Throughout my life, I realized, but never accepted, that I was just as human and imperfect as everyone else. I was never comfortable falling short, making mistakes, or downright failing. In order move forward and succeed a person must come to terms with their own humanity. They need to stop setting unrealistic expectations for themselves and punishing themselves when they can’t meet them. A thought that has helped me is that at some levels perfectionism can be a good thing. Trying my hardest for that one hundred percent on a math test has helped me to improve my study habits and acts as a built in accountability check. I realized that even though I can be my own worst critic, I can also be my own best motivator.
Another thing that has helped me to overcome this part of my character was the realization that perfectionism can cause auxiliary issues. Chasing perfection has on many occasions become a source of extreme stress and anxiety. Striving for something impossible can destroy your self-esteem, making you feel inadequate because you can never be good enough. Perfectionism can also be the cause of bad habits such as procrastination. Procrastination haunts me to this day, and the reason behind this is because I never feel as if I have the tools or the ability to produce perfect work. Whenever I received an assignment in high school, I would look for the due date. If it said three weeks, then my mind would interpret that as meaning that I could start it in two weeks and six days. I was forced to realize that the longer you put off the work that you have to do, the easier it is to fall into a panic and make further poor decisions. Unlike apathy, which has the tendency to prevent any work from being done at all, procrastination impedes your ability to submit quality work. Because I was never able to turn in classwork and homework that accurately described my abilities, I find that I have more work to do now in order to move towards my goal. Putting off studying until the last minute landed me in low-level mathematics classes. Because I never tried until it was too late, my relationship with my teachers was poor. And finally, failing to work hard enough in the beginning lost me my ability to stand out, so even if I had wanted to, I wouldn’t have been able to get into a top program at a university of my choice.
Procrastination, however, is nothing more than a bad habit. I eventually saw that it neither defined who I was nor controlled what I could do. It was something that could and needed to be conquered. I still sometimes struggle to get started on assignments in a timely manner, but I owe a lot of the progress I’ve made to one big change. I took my goal setting to another level and began planning out the steps that were required to reach them. I also stopped and took the time to reflect on my choices. This gave me the necessary time to remember why my work or current project was important, and exactly how it worked itself into my grand scheme. These moments of reflection have been very useful to me. Whenever I am dreading an upcoming activity, taking a minute to remember its utility motivates me to get started and try to my best.
As with all areas of life, hindsight is often twenty-twenty. There were many bad habits and attitudes that have caused lasting effects in my life. I, however, am not ashamed. Life has been, and will continue to be, full of positives and negatives. A key to not being so hard on yourself is counting your blessings and seeing the positive lessons that can be learned from the bad times. Newton told us that there will always be an equal and opposite reaction for physical events in the universe. From a more philosophical standpoint we can gain comfort from that in our own lives. For every down moment, there will be an equal up moment. For every missed opportunity, there will another opportunity that we will choose to not miss. As I’ve studied science and the great scientific minds of our day, I see a pattern. There are times of thinking, preparing, testing, and then times of action. Mistakes are always made along the way, but the powers at be always get back up and keep moving forward. Likewise, even though I can never go back and redo my high school experience, I can always work on the issues that held me down. In order to fight procrastination, it is paramount that I define and follow through on the steps to get me to my goals. To fight perfectionism, I will constantly be reminding myself that while it can keep me on track, no one, not even myself, can be perfect. And finally, to push back against the seemingly dominant trait in my mind, I’ll always remember my goal of understanding the universe, why exactly that goal is important to me, and I’ll constantly remind myself that apathetic rockets don’t fly.
Professor Shamane Bell had this to say about Ron Gomillion’s work. Ron is a brilliant student and didn’t know it, and tends to over think things. He almost didn’t turn this in. I liked that he turned it in. He needed to work on tightening the point and every word was not working. He was a bit repetitive and needed to work on transitions. But he also needed to own that he was doing his best and turn things in. He needed to be ok with being an imperfect writer and to take more academic risk and trust himself to think his way through a topic.