For the past year and a half I’ve spent an awful amount of time doodling in my notebooks. It always starts the same way. I tell myself at the beginning of every semester that I’ll study harder; I won’t let the math lose meaning behind foreign symbols. Then a fourth of the way through each semester I look up and it’s all a bunch of Greek letters. Whenever I reached that point in an upper level math class, I tilted my head down to start doodling. Upper level math classes revolve around theorems and their proofs. I usually zoned out for the entire explanation of a theorem. Then while the professor started writing down steps for the proof I would copy them into my notebook by listening to his/her voice. I reached this point in every upper level math class without fail.
I’m not here to say I’m depressed and confused. Contrary to that, it may be even more brutal that I accept my fate with a relatively calm demeanor for the most part. In two classes I have taken, the material was simply beyond my ability to comprehend. I didn’t have any room to slack off because I was on the verge of failing in both cases. I remember looking up from my desk one day and realizing about a third of my class had just dropped a course required for the major. I’m just glad I passed two extremely difficult courses. On the other hand, I definitely didn’t try my hardest in all the other upper level math courses. It seemed to follow the same pattern. I would get a decent grade on the first exam that accurately reflected my capabilities. Then everything went downhill from there.
There came a point in each of those “downhill” classes where I obviously viewed the amount of work to maintain a B average as unsustainable. I knew very damn well that if I worked my tail off, the best I could hope for is a B. Then after the first exam I was able to reflect on the fact that my life became consumed by one class for a B. I guess subconsciously the opportunity cost was too high since I ditched socializing, gaming, and any creative endeavors for about a month; just to get that first B. A week or two after the first exam I usually stopped caring. I think it’s a combination of lack of positive reinforcement and viewing the work required for those classes as slave labor. The slightest mistakes in a proof were constantly scrutinized. Many times some novel trick was required to solve the problem and I didn’t stoop low enough (like several individuals in my class did) to find those clever methods online.
I’ve been faced with the choice between “slave labor” for grades or mediocrity accompanied by freedom before. The truth is that I have always chosen freedom. I’m not afraid to work hard, but I’ve always refused to sacrifice freedom that I believe is crucial to my sanity. if I ever feel like the curve for reward is too steep or I am barely being emotionally rewarded for my efforts, that effect only gets exacerbated. When I think about it deeper, it’s kind of like a self-defense mechanism. I see work for this class sucking me into depression with minimal reward and I gravitate towards activities that provide positive reinforcement. Namely allowing me to make my own rules, feel a sense of accomplishment, and be productive while doing so. Therefore I spent a lot of time daydreaming about things I would rather be doing or doodling in the margins of my notes, while taking upper level math classes.
One fear of mine is that the rest of my life will be filled with daydreams. What if the adult world is even more ensnaring? What if I’m not entitled to two hours of free time every day? (That’s a lot of time isn’t it). I’ve only experienced a tiny part of adult responsibility. So far I can live with the consequences of maintaining freedom, but I really don’t know if freedom in this manner is something I can keep feeling “entitled” to when plenty of people dig ditches straight down into the ground for 10 hours a day.
When I mentioned earlier that I’m not hesitant to work hard, I wasn’t kidding. In the rare moment when my creative interests and work that is required of me unite, magical things happen. Last weekend I spent seven hours writing a short story when I’m more than capable of writing a shorter one in two. if I ever got full creative freedom while employed, I could make my employers very happy. It’s all part of a greater desire to express my own creative desires in the way I see best fit, I guess. Things are so much more mundane when the only reason I’m doing something is for a grade or because some authority told me to do it. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled with having the luxury of questioning orders. From my perspective, I need a reason to do what I’m doing. I need to be happy and justify my productivity in the process.
Now that I’m graduating, this issue concerns me more than ever. I don’t know if I can actually look onward to freedom. It would be overly optimistic of me to assume that I can find a way to avoid “slave labor” in the working world either. Sometimes I really wish I could change myself. I’ve cried about it countless time to be honest. There are times when I wished I could sacrifice free time or freedom for long-term gains. At the same time I realize that it’s sort of a gift to evaluate every action holistically without automatically taking orders. Nevertheless I understand part of this is born out of stubbornness/childishness and eventually some of this attitude will have to give in order for me to make a decent living in the working world.
Or maybe I could live out in the jungle where there are no rules and regulations. Do jungles have wifi? What about outlets for my laptop? No? Ok I guess I’ll join your society then.
*Just in case I need to mention this, I got really good grades besides the upper level math courses. I’m an economics double and I enjoy that much more, which resulted in far superior grades.
I took the featured image right after one of my math exams. Looking around at nature or the sky helps me relieve some of the anxiety associated with being doomed to a fate not of my own choosing.