Ever feel like you have life all figured out? You breeze through classes, often getting higher grades than expected. Relationships seem to always work in your favor, both friendships and partnerships. Ultimately, things can’t go wrong and you always find yourself ahead of the game. Teachers look to you for well thought out questions, all without getting labeled the infamous “teacher’s pet.” Well I experienced this before. It happened in a dream the night before I failed my first music exam.
As far as students go, I could be much worse, but I tend to invite pressure and stress into my life daily. I possess the coveted procrastinator instinct, which allows me to justify putting off research projects because “I perform better under stress.” In high school, I pulled this off with a little Lil’ Wayne and Red Bull. But, man, I got blind-sided going into my freshmen year.
As a music major that never took music lessons and only started learning piano last year, I would call unprepared an understatement. During the first week of classes my professor asked the class about our favorite composers. Many said Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mozart. I, on the other hand, almost said Swizz Beats before I came to my senses. Every day introduced a new topic with new terminology, chord names and quizzes. My teacher said, “Write a second species counterpoint for the cantus firmus using the alto clef.” If you don’t understand what that means, I can tell you confidently, neither do I. In fact, the first half of the semester I sat front row with a doodled notebook and a sour-milk expression on my face.
A month into the semester and I already told myself, “Alright I need to make a comeback.” The one thing I learned looking back from that semester: Don’t fall behind.
If the introductory phase confused me, you can only imagine how bad it got towards the end. My professor gave me so much leeway, letting me hand in assignments weeks late and handing out retakes for tests I definitely didn’t ace. Ultimately this proved to be a blessing and a curse. Any inkling of my college-minded mentality quickly left, leaving only a naïve, Netflix-binging teenager in its wake.
All those dreams of success never came into fruition. I remember each homework assignment progressively getting more difficult, finally culminating in the midterm exam. Months of confusion and lack of focus led up to this point. Scribbled note cards and review problems covered my desk. Dozing off every 10 minutes at 2:30 a.m. didn’t help my last-minute study routine at all. I smelled trouble.
Not understanding what I studied, it felt as if the only question I could get right involved my name and the date. When I finally got my scores back, I found out that not only did I fail, out of three sections I got an entire one wrong. Devastated, I started to question my qualifications as a student. My pride took a hit and my GPA went into unknown territory. I just about lost all hope for the semester, but then a miracle happened.
Out of the goodness of her heart, my professor allowed me to retake the exam for partial credit. At first I felt ecstatic because I knew I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Then she said I needed to hand in all my late homework assignments first. This meant completing at least 15 assignments on top of the daily struggle of learning new material. I thought to myself, “How did I ever let this happen?” I felt like I a person in perpetual orientation mode where I just sat back and enjoyed myself without any grades or worries—but that reality I only found in my head.
After another few months of consecutive sleepovers in the library, I finished my work. Meeting with my professor almost every other day, I got the advice and clarity I needed to understand the material. Somehow I set a goal each day in order to break up the amount of work. The countless hours of research matched with the motivation to pass the class allowed my nature of procrastination to subside.
It took until the final week of the semester, where I ended up completing my midterm and final within a couple of days. Sleep-deprived and with a depleted meal plan, I survived off a box of Honey Nut Cheerios to get me through the day. By some miracle I passed the class, but left the battle with multiple wounds found in red ink and a lack of confidence to take the next course. I wish life went as smoothly as my dreams—but it doesn’t. Eventually I’ll need to take the next course. For right now though, I’m looking forward to my Intro to Drawing and Philosophy classes in the coming months.