Ben's Photo Blog

Photos from my various adventures

Expectations and Priorities

Posted by Ben on October 19, 2009

I’ll apologize in advance for those of you who came just looking for pictures (you can just skip to the end).  This is another one of those posts that’s been building up inside me for a while now.  For those of you who know me, you know that I’m not generally a very “open” person, except with the closest of friends.  However, the majority of this post is about things that I wouldn’t normally talk about.  A friend, whose opinion I value greatly, told me that putting things in writing can help, so here we go.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had very high expectations for myself.  I’d definitely consider myself a self-motivated person, in that I push myself to achieve the goals that I set.  While this may seem like a great thing, it can be a double-edged sword at times.  The benefit of this mindset, I’ve found, is that when I truly set my mind to accomplishing something, it gets done, no matter how much work that entails.  And therein also lies the problem.  Sometimes it doesn’t feel like the end result is worth the amount of effort that I put into achieving it, and that while I’m happy with the way things turn out, my time could have been better spent elsewhere.

The biggest example of this, I feel, is schoolwork.  Especially when I was in high school, my life was dominated by my work.  Throughout my early education, we were basically indoctrinated to the school of thought that the only way to be happy in life is to have a good job, and for that, you need a degree from a high end college, and to get into that college, you need superb grades in high school.  I had always done well academically before I got to high school, so, to me, this philosophy was simply an extension of what I had already been doing for the past 5 years or so.

Failure, at least academically, was not something I had ever really dealt with, and it never really crossed my mind as a possibility.  Whatever effort it took on my part, my work was done well, and done on time, with few exceptions.  At the time, this was what I felt was truly important in my life.  Other things, like hanging out with friends, ended up taking a backseat to this goal.  I don’t think I realized it at the time, but a lot of what I did in high school was centered around this fairly vague goal of getting into a “good” college.  Even baseball, which I had played since I was 5, seemed to become an investment in the future rather than the present.  I knew I’d never play baseball competitively after high school, so it wasn’t really more than a resume builder after sophomore year.  And of course, once practice was over, it was back home to the shower, then dinner, and usually straight to work for all those AP courses.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that it was all a mistake.  I am very pleased with where I ended up.  The honors community here at Tech is a great place for me to be.  And all that work for AP courses in high school frees up my schedule in college for much more interesting courses that I probably wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise.  But, I feel like there was a lot I missed out on during those years, and I have to wonder how things would have ended up if I had been a little more social and a little less studious.

Regardless, my self-motivation carried over into college with barely a hiccup.  That same old set of expectations was still there.  I had to do well in college so I could get a great job and make lots of money.  Looking back on it now, I feel like my first semester here at college was simply an extension of my lifestyle during high school.  My first priority, despite the freedoms I now had, was getting my work done and studying for exams.  Again, this is certainly not a horrible thing, but it had the effect of making me somewhat of a loner, even in such an active, academically strong community like Main Campbell was.

I owe a lot to a few individuals, and for the most part, I think they know who they are.  I see them as responsible for breaking me out of my “shell” after that first semester.  They showed me that there was more to this whole college thing then studying.  I found myself hanging out in other people’s rooms or down in the lounges or hallways much more often than before, and for once, the things I did with other people began to take a higher precedence than work.  I think I finally was able to find a good balance between work and play.

To this day, I count myself lucky to be able to say that I can count on one hand the number of times that I haven’t lived up to my own expectations; times when I’ve poured my heart and soul into accomplishing something and then failed.  Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately (we’ll have to see), two of those failures came last semester for me.  While neither was academic, I feel that I was able to gain fairly valuable insight from them both.  The first one knocked me down really hard, and recovery was a pretty long road at the time, one that sometimes I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to walk down or not.  For a while, I felt like I really lacked a purpose and just kinda drifted on, falling back into my old habits and priorities.

Eventually, I was able to find things to focus on again.  This blog was started during that time, and has been a very good thing for me, helping me to improve my photography and to give me a place to put down thoughts like these.  It was also around this time that I took on another project, which ended up taking a large amount of time.  It was something that I was actually able to get excited about, I even spent most of my spring break working on it, trying to make it as good as it could be.  It was a lot of work, and was definitely stressful at times, but ever so slowly I was making my way back to my feet.

However, it was not to be.  A week before exams started, I got a very impersonal form email informing me that I had not been selected to move on in the process.  I took it very hard.  In fact, I left my office hours early, went back to the dorm, and then went on an 8-mile run to blow off steam; which unfortunately was not nearly as effective as I imagined it would be.  Needless to say, it put me in a pretty serious funk for the last two weeks of school, and by the time exams were over, I was ready to get away for a while and go back home.

I did come away from the semester with two important lessons learned though.  The first is that it doesn’t help to dwell on the past and the “might have beens.”  There’s no way to go back and change things that have already happened.  The best you can do is to realize this and try to make the best out of whatever situation you find yourself in, no matter how shitty things seem to be.  Letting something go and moving on can be extraordinarily hard, but it is essential.  The second is to find people who you can always count on.  Again, for the most part these people know who they are, but I’m not sure how I would have made it through without certain people in my life.  Having someone I knew I could really open up to helped ease the burden that can be overwhelming if you try to keep all of your troubles to yourself.  It’s also good to know the people who can always make you smile or pick you up when you’re feeling down.  So, to those of you who are always there for me, thanks again.

I’ll leave you with a couple of recent pictures of fall here in Blacksburg.  And if you actually read all of this, thanks for sticking with me.  I know it wasn’t the most uplifting of posts, but I do feel better having actually written some of this stuff down.

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