One of the rallying cries of rebuilding teams in professional sports (and maybe even a Big Ten team here or there) is “it’s a process,” or “trust the process.” There’s something about the process that really hits us. We like knowing that there is a process, and that if we stick to that process, we’ll see results. We see that when we start working out, and we see that when we’re trying to eat healthy, and we see that in any aspect of our life that involves a little bit of work to be put in. It’s no different with academics. Knowing that it’s a process is crucial to getting results you want from your college experience. However, simply knowing it’s a process isn’t going to be enough. You need to enjoy it.
Enjoy the chase.
This was a Nike slogan. The whole idea was, “enjoy the chase of getting better.” Think of your favorite extracurricular. Why is it your favorite? At some level, it’s because you enjoy the practice part. There’s something about getting better at that instrument, or sport, or skill, that gets you excited. You don’t enjoy all parts of practice, sure. But you enjoy a lot of it. Then, it’s seeing the process turn into results which makes you even more enthusiastic about it. School is no different. If you don’t enjoy the process of getting better at whatever subject you’re doing, you’re really in for a horrible time. Academics in college is a grind, and, usually, it’s a discouraging grind. Rarely do you get 100% on your first try at anything. Actually, you don’t even get 90% on your first try. And since the material isn’t always exciting, you get bored, and that boredom translates into procrastination.
Academically, enjoying the chase is the most liberating thing you can do for yourself. Let’s say you score poorly on a midterm. You just fail Economics. Without an “enjoy the process” mindset, you get bogged down in the fact that you now have to find some way to save yourself from eternal condemnation, or whatever exaggerated punishment you assume will befall you because you forgot a demand curve. Enjoying the chase frees you to try and get better. A bad midterm is just more room to grow. More opportunities to get better. More opportunities to learn more about the material. More opportunities to learn more about yourself.
Do whatever you can to enjoy the grind. When you study, treat yourself. Make studying fun. Make studying something you can look forward to. This is possible. Everyone around you will say it’s not, but then again, you aren’t everyone around you. You’re trying to fight academic conformity, so you need to be unorthodox. Learn about the material you’re studying, and not just from the assigned textbooks. If you’re reading about the Enlightenment, watch youtube videos about it, or a documentary on Netflix, or read a Wikipedia article. You’re in college to cultivate your mind—that’s the whole idea. Don’t fall into the trap a lot of us fall into: “I’m just here to get a degree.” No, you’re not. We’re not. We’re here to learn to think better. There’s no point having raw intellect if you have no idea how to harness that to better yourself and the people around you. Enjoy the process of getting better at learning. Ultimately, you need a positive driving force in your life. If what is driving you is the fear of failure, or the desire to prove yourself, you’re going to burn out. You will. Because failure will come. And you’ll never be good enough to prove yourself to yourself. Replace negative driving forces with positive ones.
Build study rituals for yourself. One thing I did, and this is super nerdy, was have a ritual of drinking Earl Grey tea while studying for my organic chemistry tests two nights before. Why? Because Captain Picard from Star Trek likes Earl Grey tea, so I wanted to channel my inner Picard as I studied. Weird? Sure. Quirky? You bet. Did it work? Absolutely it did. Find rituals you can rely on when the pressure is on. Maybe you want to walk around the Engineering quad. Maybe there’s a classroom on the south quad that you like to study in. Maybe you found a special spot at Espresso Royale. Build those rituals into how you study, and enjoy the experience when you’re there. These things are about building an environment for your mind to get in a groove.
So as you enter the sixteen week grinds that we call college semesters, enjoy the process of getting better. Enjoy the practice part, enjoy the preparation, and then enjoy the exams, where you turn that preparation into performance. And whatever the score is, rinse and repeat. There’s always better. Enjoy chasing it.