Ladders and Chutes
Recently, I made the decision to start taking online classes to earn my bachelor’s degree. I had never been a great student. It wasn’t that I was dumb, although I was convinced that I was. I started with a lack of confidence in my ability to learn. I did badly enough on an early test in first-grade that my teacher humiliated me in front of the class. I started to have panic attacks whenever I took an exam. I might have studied so much that I knew the answers backward and forwards, but come test-time, I was a wreck. My mind went blank. My second-grade teacher was actually worse. Each day, I felt as if I was drowning.
It didn’t help that I was bullied at school. I was never into, or any good at sports. I wanted to play superheroes, or talk Star Wars, or other such nerd things that weren’t as excepted as they are today. At home, my father made me feel worse than anything that happened at school. And nobody went to bat for me. Nobody went to the school and told the teachers to stop humiliating me when I did poorly and help me learn.
My third-grade teacher was different. She used to call me to her desk after an exam and just talk to me about the subject we’d just been tested in. She realized I knew the material. I just was a bad test taker.
However, other teachers weren’t as willing to work with me. By the time I’d reached high school, between struggling day to day in classes, and being told I just was too lazy and stupid at home, I decided it was no use trying. It was easier never to do homework or to study. It took me an extra year to graduate high school. Since my family seemed more or less embarrassed at that fact, I didn’t bother trying to go to graduation. My mom told me congratulations in the driveway, and that was it. No other acknowledgment, especially from my father.
I went to a local community college. It was, for the most part, the same pattern. I’d learned to believe I couldn’t. I had, of course, developed horrible study habits. Looking back on my transcript, if it was a subject I was interested in and I paid attention and did the work, I did okay. My English grades and even grades from my psychology classes were all A’s. Anything math related was a D.
In the end, although I did earn an associate’s degree, I chose once again not to walk the stage. Why bother when nobody in my family at the time seemed as if they thought this was an accomplishment worth celebrating or even acknowledging?
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how education is like a ladder. You have to take it one rung at a time. This analogy can be used not just for education, but almost anything. You’re in a certain place in your life. Bad job, in debt, and far from where you want to be. You may have made mistakes in life that put you back, but moving forward from that is just so hard to fathom. You’re in a state of depression, where getting out of bed is a challenge that seems insurmountable. It's a tall ladder to climb. And because of all the setbacks, because of all the self-doubt, inward loathing, and the inherent belief that you’re not good enough, you have to climb that ladder with weights attached to you. You only got your 2-year degree and you have to go back to school in your late forties to get a degree you should have done a quarter of a century ago. It’s so many classes. So much work. So many rungs on that ladder to climb. One bad grade is like a chute that brings you down. Every time you start a class, you’re convinced you’re not going to make it to the end without flunking out. Yeah, others have done it. But they weren’t you. That ladder seems so tall, and you just don’t know how you can be expected to climb that high now after when you should be much higher already.
The answer simply is one rung at a time. Don't worry about climbing all the way to the top today. Just worry about that one rung. Just concentrate on staying on the ladder, and not falling down one of those chutes that brings you back to the bottom again.
Is it really that easy? No, nothing ever is. It’s still a long climb. And yes, you have a lot of ground to make up. But you can do that one rung today. Worry about the next rung tomorrow.
Me? I’ve got 2 classes under my belt. I received an A & and A- so far. All while working full time, running a local critique group, participating in another author group, and working on 3 different books. I’m nearly done with the one math class I need to take and believe it or not, I’m actually averaging an A so far. So maybe I’m not as dumb as I’d always believed I was?
See you on the next rung.