Being a product of the millennial generation, I made higher than straight A’s in high school thanks to some cockamamie grade point system that weighed honors classes higher than regular classes as part of a clever ruse designed by high school guidance counselors to get some of us into private colleges (so I thought at the time). Although I claimed to think of grades as “just letters” or “just numbers”, I assumed I’d perform at least this well in college just by the virtue that I simply must be awesome.
A few weeks into the class, Brady had us write full sentence outlines for one of our papers. Up until that point, I was doing decently well in the class and, for whatever reason, I didn’t write my outline in full sentences. (I probably thought it was a waste of time). I think what I did was write full sentences for the roman numerals and fragments/key words for everything below it. Which is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Somewhere probably two-thirds through the outline, I got the infamous “I stopped reading here” note and a D for a grade. The D must’ve been for Doubt, because Brady later told me that she couldn’t tell how bad it was from what I had given her and, for all she knew, I might have been onto something genius. Assured that I was still indeed awesome, I re-worked the assignment to actually fulfill the basic criteria and fleshed out everything into sentences with subjects, predicates, and all that other stuff sentences are supposed to have. I turned it in a few days later and she gave it back to me a few days after that…
And she gave me a F.
And she laughed when she handed it to me.
At first I thought she was pleased with herself, that maybe all that time she was just setting me up to fall harder. But I knew better than to start arguing unprepared, so I read her comments (deciphered them, really). And she was right. My argument was inherently flawed and the outline would produce a terrible paper. So I told her, I guess I better come up with something better if I wanted to write a decent paper and tossed out an idea I got from one of her comments. The next thing I knew, the two of us were discussing not my grade but what my paper should be. And it was fun. I went from thinking “I have to write this paper” to thinking “I have to write about this really cool thing”.
After that conversation, I don’t think I bothered reworking the outline a third time hoping for a better grade. I was ready to write the danged paper and I let the F stand, having determined that, to a large extent, grades really are just letters and numbers that don’t really correlate to how awesome or not awesome I am.
I’m not saying that grades aren’t important. I’m just saying, for the life of me, I can’t remember what that paper was about or the grade I got on it or what I got in the class (either an A or a B, I think). But here’s what I learned from that class:
- Read the directions and follow them, even if you think they’re weird or stupid.
- F’s happen.
- All failing really means is moving on to do the next thing better.
- Success also really means moving on to do the next thing better.
- Repeat 1 – 4 regularly, even if you only believe yourself half the time. [This one came later].