When I was in highschool, I was a good student. I skated, really. I did very little homework at home. I did most of it at school in the class before it was due. Yeah, there were some tougher classes where I couldn’t get away with that and I had to actually study, but the point is that when I graduated from high school, I had a crappy work ethic and not a clue about homework. Don’t get me wrong, if I had to get it done, I did. I held jobs and I belonged to clubs. I just did the minimum and no more.
In College, I ended up in engineering Calculus. When too many people passed the first test (I got a B+), the professor announced he needed to fail 1/2 the class as this was a weed out course and things would be toughening up. I tried. I had tutors, I did reams of extra homework. But I couldn’t pass. I didn’t have the ability to make intuitive jumps that he was asking for. In other words, he didn’t test on the work we had practiced and learned, he tested on what we might infer from that–the next step as it were. So I failed.
The rest of my time in college was much like high school. I did what I needed to, sometimes more, but I never felt like I really worked hard. I didn’t work weekends either if I could help it. I thought weekends were sacred time off.
Then I went to graduate school. In my Masters, I was able to maintain the sacred weekend part, mostly, but I did learn that I had to do homework and research and really work. But it was nothing compared to my Ph.D. program. In that one I really got put through the wringer. It was one of the best times of my life. I stretched and reached for ideas and words and concepts and I did well. I was proud of myself. I still didn’t really work on weekends. I passed my comprehensive exams and then I started work on my dissertation.
And this is where I learned the real truth about discipline and about the weekends. First of all, no one was setting demanding deadlines. That was all on me, as was meeting them. My thesis director and committee were very demanding in terms of revisions and what they expected, but it was up to me to do the work. And I couldn’t get it done M-F. I had to use weekends. And nights. More than that, I had to go into my office, put my ass in the chair, and do it. Who knew?
I think this is when I really figured out what adulthood was about. It wasn’t just taking responsibility for yourself and your bills, it was that I had to hold myself accountable. Nobody else was going to and if I wanted to achieve things, I was going to have to ask myself to do it and then I was going to have to see it through. Whether it’s writing, or yard work, or dishes, or exercise, or climbing a mountain, no one is going to be behind me with a cattle prod making me do it.
It’s funny. One of the things adulthood lets you do is eat cake for dinner and sleep late on your days off. There are perks. But there’s also that endless self-responsibility. I can’t believe it took me so long to learn it. Of all the things I learned in grad school, that was probably the most important.