Crystal Clear: Class stirs anxiety in new student
February 3, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- It has been more than seven years since I've had to turn in a homework assignment. And frankly, I was not very good at it then.
When I picture a graduate student, I think of a fastidious worker, checking and re-checking homework assignments that have been completed weeks before they were due. I completed my assignments like I was working on deadline at a newspaper; hours, sometimes minutes, I would be tapping away in my office, sometimes making corrections even as the professor entered the room.
Needless to say, despite my fairly good grades (hey, I work well under pressure), I was never what one would call a good student. So as I enter the third week of a Defense Information School distance learning course, I am amazed that I have, in fact, become that quintessential student I never had the desire, or discipline, to be. And let me tell you, it's stressful.
Don't get me wrong; I know that learning is a lifelong process, and no matter how long it has been since one set foot into a classroom, it is never too late. In 2009, a 96-year-old Taiwanese man became the oldest college graduate. A year later, the previous record-holder received her master's degree at 98 years old. My own mother went back to school and received her MBA in 2000; 21 years after receiving her bachelor's degree.
So why am I so nervous' Part of it, I think, is the strongly worded acceptance letter I received. The class would be difficult, we were warned. And those who may be thinking of taking college or other professional development courses were discouraged from doing so during the 5 1/2 month course. And those who dropped out were advised that doing so may have "an adverse career effect." Whew! It was almost enough to make me quit before I'd even started.
The first week, I jumped in head first. I completed assignments well in advance, then looked at them for days afterward, scouring for any missed errors. One assignment I redid three times; although I was fairly sure I knew the answers, I was afraid the instructor wouldn't be able to read my handwriting. I would check the "virtual classroom" and my e-mails several times a day for fear I'd miss something.
At home, I constantly refreshed my laptop. And even when a family emergency called me out of town, I tried to keep up via BlackBerry. I realized, though, that it wasn't really an urge to do well that had me so nervous. It was my fear of failure. Although that fear continues to crop up, I remind myself that if my supervisors didn't think I could do it, they would never have approved my taking the course.
I remember that I have tackled difficult situations before, and though they weren't easy, I finished. So I will approach this course as I approached my first 5K race last year; I did what I could to prepare, and once I stepped onto the race course, I knew that nothing would prevent me from finishing; nothing could stop me from running the entire race.
And nothing will stop me this time, either.