|I spent the 4th of July weekend at Smitty and Stine's in Richmond, VA partying down with some very welcoming Richmondites including other former JMUers: Burns, Stu and Barrow. We saw a minor league baseball game complete with fireworks and went tubing down the James River with a raft full of beer coolers in tow. During the 7 hour drive home (when I wasn't thinking about using some frequent flyer miles next time I visit), I spent some time thinking about catching up with friends I haven't kept in enough touch with since JMU and summing up my whole college experience now that its finally nearing an end (a mere 8 years later, and no I'm not a doctor).|
I left JMU with 54 credits. So I had a lot of work to do in order to finish up my degree. In retrospect, I got what I needed out of college the first go 'round, both in social and professional experience, but that doesn't mean I don't constantly curse my past self for being so damn irresponsible and subsequently making things so much more difficult for me now.
I met some great people and got to experience plenty of foolishness and blackout drunken debauchery (much of it documented in detail on this site), which is what one should aspire to achieve from their late teens and early twenties. But more importantly, college also prepared me for my career, which is more relevant than amassing general education credits for things you'll never need to know. I learned a trade in all those late nights spent programming and working on website ideas while the rest of my peers were sleeping. Sure, I slept all day when I should have been in class and those professors who had strict attendence policies handed out quite a few failed grades, but as for independent learning I was getting all A's.
For the past two years and change, I've been taking the equivalent of a full course load with UMass online while also working full-time. I've also got a small side business that generates a little extra cash while stealing some of my remaining free time, but I haven't been able to cultivate that business properly, at least not yet. This past year I took 30 credits, 27 the year before that, and a handful of courses the year before that. That course schedule has been spread over three semesters a year including the summer sessions, but it's still quite a bit of work to manage with my day job and some side work.
At some point 2-3 years ago I finally decided that if it was ever going to get done, I had to just concede my philosophic fight against the college degree system, and put my head down and power through so I'd still have some time left in my twenties when I headed out the other side. That time is now, as I'm in the countdown to completion stage with just a few short weeks left. The bigger point I'm trying to make is that everything in life evens out, granted that your perception is tuned to finding the balance.
At JMU, I loafed through the academia, ignored my responsibilities and generally felt like an outsider among friends. But if I had been "Mr. Party Guy" who drank all week and never went to class, that would fit the mold of a popular archetype. It would likewise then be easily explainable why I deserve to work twice as hard now in my degree completion to account for all the fun I chose to have during my first shot at higher learning. However, that wasn't really my MO at all, I was more of the guy who disappeared all week to show up on the weekend to vigorously blow off steam from a hard week of doing nothing and crying about it.
I know now, that I wasn't mature enough to handle being that far from home and managing my sleep schedule and everything suffered as a result. I slept odd hours during the day, or not at all for extended periods, which led to my not being all that healthy and missing more classes than I attended (and the ratio isn't even close). Sure, my bad habits contributed to a neurotic mindset but the worst part was because I was very aware of how all of my bad choices were effecting my grades.
My first semester, I was shocked to find out that I had failed History 101 because of my lack of attendence in the weekly 8am session conducted by a TA. I had passed my exams, turned in my homework and the syllabus had specifically said that my contributions in the TA session accounted for only 10% of my grade. The professor chose to fail me to prove a point or to exercise his power of authority, lest it atrophy from disuse, but that's one of the few examples in which I even have a leg to stand on. As for the majority of my failed classes, I knew every class I missed was another shovelful of dirt in my grave. This awareness did nothing to get me to show up, it only made it harder to show up the following week as I'd be afraid the teacher would call me on my shit and ask "who are you, why have I never seen you?" or provide some tangible evidence of my failing grades like missed pop-quizzes or assignments. Every week the fear and the failure snowballed, and emotionally I just couldn't figure myself out.
Having very few classmates who I'd ever met, sleeping while most of my dorm was awake, and latching on to an established group of friends a year older than myself, many of whom had shared the freshman experience, didn't help my mindset at this fragile time. Of course, I had some truly great times with some geniuinely amazing people, but I felt I was missing a true sense of belonging because I convinced myself of as much. My perception was so skewed that everywhere I looked, I saw people smiling and having fun and always thought the grass was greener for them, why not me? Because it all can't be fun times in the sun, there has to be a balance. The micro-view of the balance within my JMU experience was that of a bipolar manic depressive, both very up and very down.
The UMass years (not as well documented on this site), have been very scheduled, very orderly, very exact, and nothing like the days at JMU. I'll bring it back to balance again, because in a very literal way it's been a balancing act of multiple responsibilites academic, professional and social. Admittedly, the social part has often taken the backseat during this hectic period due to necessity, but I've been making concerted efforts to address these shortcomings as time begins to free itself up.
More than that, the past two years of relative danwho.net radio silence have been a very balanced experience, but I'm sure much of this can be attributed to the healthy structure of a daily 9 to 5 and other adult responsibilities. There aren't as many wild nights to create foolish stories to retell (there just isn't as much free-time or youthful exuberance to foster that), but there aren't as many dips in the road either. I'm generally happier, despite being super busy, as productivity has always been good for my general demeanor. And while there's always a chance I was put here to study the humans, there's an increased feeling of legitamacy and comfort in my existence. It's not super exciting but its not very scary either, its just balanced like your morning breakfast.
Summing up both college experiences together in one macro-view shows a complete story of balance. The Bipolar balances the Steady. The Time Waster balances the Task Scheduler. But this is growing up, right? This was going to happen anyway, the steady and scheduled life was going to find me eventually. I should be glad I got here in such a way that let me appreciate its contribution to my current outlook. Maybe "Past Dan's" choices made the last two years tougher than they should have been, but it was balanced out by the unique experience of doing college my own weird way, through trial by fire and the eventual acceptance of the work it takes to even out the mistakes you make. College is supposed to teach you things you can use, and while my road certainly lacked efficiency it has included some useful lessons.
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