Two days ago, I suggested several (nearly one) good reasons why College is a good idea. However, I must concede: there is one thing many people learn in college that does them a great deal of harm. In college, you learn that stress is good.
You don’t realize that you’re learning that it’s good. You think you’re just stressed. Yet, I propose, that through a kind of Pavlovian reward/association system, you come to associate stress with positive feelings.
Right off the bat, stress in college is connected with having a good time.* If you weren’t having a good time, there would be no need to be stressed. In fact, if you had been doing your reading for class instead of having a good time, you probably could have written the final paper in the margin of your book during class.
[[**Unless you are my brother. My brother knows how to have a good time without getting stressed.]]
But you didn’t do the reading–which is SO stressful. You must, therefore, raise your hand at least 5 times during class expressing overly-complicated notions that create the illusion that you’ve done the reading. Your is heart pounding. Your face is burning…Your teacher thinks you’re a genius. I mean, your ideas are so original. (Not doing the reading is the mother of invention, you think.) You feel a little guilty, but it’s too late. Your teacher has just rewarded for your stress.
But then it comes time to write the paper. You’re in a total panic. You’re not awake enough. You’re not smart enough. You should have known better. Suddenly, you’re on a “calm down” bonding trip with your roommate to get all the caffeine and carbohydrates you’ll need to survive this arduous evening/night/early morning. God, how you love diet coke and pretzels. Things could be worse…
Arriving back the house, you perceive the twinges of a caffeine headache. After all, it’s 10pm and you haven’t had coffee since after dinner! Concluding that it’s essential you ease the clenched vessels in your head before commencing writing, you vow to drink 3 glasses of diet coke in the living room before even turning on your computer. Three episodes of “Sex in the City” later, and you’re finally ready to skim the text for something you can turn into a thesis.
Later, it’s after 3am, you’re finally completely wired from the diet coke and most of a “one pounder” bag of Rold Gold’s. (Ok, so you left 2 pretzels at the bottom just so you wouldn’t have to say, “I ate the whole thing.”) You can’t possibly focus on the paper in this state. Then you notice that brooding and brilliant senior from your philosophy seminar has signed on to AIM. This might just be the most romantic moment of your life.
By 6am you’ve proved a) that you can flirt while talking about free will and causation, and b) something about that book you read–wait, what was your thesis again? You fall into bed, feeling that you’ve earned both sleep and the right not to proofread your paper.
For the next two weeks, you speak endlessly about how you are sure to get an F. Your friends offer both sympathy and the assurance that you are too smart to get anything lower than a B. So I messed up that one paper, you think. But gosh darn it, I am smart, aren’t I?
Then the paper comes back. A. But don’t they give out As to everyone who signs up for seminars called “Tolstoy and His Aesthetics?” When you factor in grade inflation, your A is kind of mediocre. You conclude the ordeal with just right mix of pride and self-loathing: A perfect combination for inspiring a long night of celebratory drinking. You toast to stress. Where would you be without it?
Ok. That was a long story. But the point is: College teaches you to love stress, but having a job will teach you (hopefully sooner rather than later) that hysteria is not actually the key to success.
In fact, it’s quite possible to calmly sit down, turn on your computer, and write something. It may not be perfect, but chances are, even without stress, you can complete a project in a timely, civilized manner. Not only can do a project without stress, but (I hope you’re sitting down) it’s actually easier to do a project without stress. Aren’t you glad you’re in the real world, now?
If you still need some stress relief, I recommend you read about two of the most serene and stress-free places on earth, The Florida Keys and Cape Cod. Yes, I am recommending those places because I wrote about them for findingDulcinea. But I stand by the fact that they are nice places.
Finally: are you less or more stressed than you were in college. Discuss. (post a comment 🙂 )