#1 58 Performance Points and False Expectations
In my last post, I wrote about my personal struggle with blogging, identity, and expectations of others. On my way back from Germany to the UK two days ago, I spent some time thinking about what I might want to write about. You know without any pressure to “deliver” something. Do you know that I had a podcast? Probably not, because I stopped after a few episodes, but I enjoyed it. I still have the script of all episodes. In this post, I’m starting to share a little story that I used to call A Backpacker’s Tale which is part of the story of myself, how I started to travel, and how it completely changed me. But to start with this, we have to travel back in time over ten years. So… Let’s do this.
Tick, tick, tick… Imagine the second hand of a clock that is ticking. Tick, tick, tick… The second hand of a clock can be surprisingly scary. It feels like a real hand slapping you on the back while someone shouts, “Go! Go! Go!”, no matter what you do, no matter what you think, it just doesn’t stop. I’ve often wondered why the clocks in university lecture halls are so loud. Almost as if someone had deliberately designed them that way to show students that their time is running out. In a way, I find that absurd.
During an exam, such ticking clocks were more than present for me. For me, exams always felt so unreal. I had to squeeze a bunch of knowledge into my brain within a short amount of time, just to put it down on paper in a 90-minute battle. My weapon of choiceThere is no real choice since you are only allowed to use specific pens and colors when writing an exam. is a pen. The battle is against the exam, the examiner, and against time. A fellow student used to call it a “battle of arithmetic”, although math wasn’t a part of all of my exams. How this fight could possibly determine my skills remains a mystery to me to this day, but that should not be our focus for nowToday in my job, I am on the “other” side, so sometimes I am the examiner, but this has not helped me clarifying the aspect completely, at least so far it didn’t.. As you probably have guessed: At that time, I was a student at a university. I was in my second-last semester – Bachelor of Science majoring in a combination of computer science and math.
Exam periods were horrible with a lot of stress. As soon as one exam was over, I started studying for the next one. But I was also a source of my stress; I had set a massive goal for the second last semester: 58 credit points. For reference: 30 points are the typical amount for a semesterIf you want to read a little more on that, I refer you to the official information on the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), last accessed Nov. 12th, 2021, that is what you are supposed to do as a student. One credit point is supposed to cover about 30 hours of work. If we do the math, 58 points equal 1,740 hours. If you work 8 hours a day and do that seven days a week, that would be 31 weeks, which is more than a semester. And I guess I don’t have to say that one shouldn’t work each and every day. Before the exam period, I had already earned twelve credit points, so I thought this semester would be just perfect for making up for other semesters where I had earned less than 30 for different reasons.
If we fast-forward to the end of the semester, I somehow managed to pass all the exams and earned 58 credit points. At the time, that was a record among students. I was insanely proud about that. But, to be honest, I was also very broken. No matter how I feel about exams and credit points today, back then, I planned my life based on them until that almost completely broke me.
To give you guys a bit of context, I worked multiple jobs and volunteered at a sports club for kids. I had a lovely apartment – it was tiny, but it was all mine: the first place that was my own. There were no financial worries, and I did a lot of sports – I don’t even know how I managed that, probably just by “slamming” my calendar with appointments.
At that time, I thought I was finally getting used to university -awesome!- even though my graduation wasn’t far off. I felt better late than never. I felt that if I could earn an excellent master’s degree, then and only then could I finally be proud of myself. I thought everything would be okay if I just believed enough that this would turn out to be great. All the stress and struggles I had when I started studying would finally all have been worth it. Having goals in mind doesn’t sound bad, right? So why was this an issue for me? Instead of accepting myself the way I was, I chased some happiness that I was supposed to “live” in the future. Instead, I introduced many ifs into my life that I needed to fulfill, but once one if was there, the next one came and another one. You see where this is goingIf you want to read more an that, I highly recommend this article by Mark Manson, which is an excerpt of his book “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck”..
During university, I often thought I was too slow and not good enough that I needed to perform better. It’s also ironic that credit points in Germany are also called performance points. As if they could somehow measure how a person is performing in their life. I just needed these 58 performance points so severely to chase my conditional happiness. However, as I realized much later these expectations didn’t actually come from myself, I thought it was expected of me to be a certain way, including performing and thinking positively. The other students seemed to perform so well. I often wondered, how do they do it? No matter how they did it, I thought I could do it too! At least somehow. But I ended up making a lot of quite unrealistic comparisonsEarly research in the 50s already showed that the human brain is somehow wired for comparison with others: https://doi.org/10/bg7388 between the outside of others and the inside of myself. Looking at the outside of someone alone, at a snapshot of them, can never result in realistic conclusions.
Back then, I was so focused on my success and everything I expected to achieve in the future that I completely neglected myself in the present. The price for this was a lack of energy and emptiness. I felt empty because I only did what was expected of me without having time to find out what I truly want and what I‘m passionate about. I felt like a robot that just had to function every day no matter what: I got up, studied, worked, slept, got up, studied, worked, slept. The same procedure every day. At some point, I didn’t appreciate anything anymore. Nothing at all. While I somewhere deep down knew that this was not good for me, I couldn’t stop or change anything, no matter how much I deep down wanted to. I actually thought it would come again, if only I could live up to all my expectations, if only I could achieve all my goals. I even built up a protective layer of several meters and didn’t let anything or anyone get to me anymore. It was as if I tried to remove all the dark spots from my life or to protect myself from them, but at the same time, I turned off the light completely.
At that point in my life, I was completely stuck in a daily routine that followed these “false” expectations. I thought I was doing the only right thing with a tunnel vision to achieve “the” goals. To be who I was supposed to be. I’m telling you this because that situation back then was the basis for what later became an intense desire to change something. A desire to let go completely and free me, a deep desire to be me whatever that meant. Because honestly, all the accomplishments, goals, and career plans somehow didn’t feel right. A chain of a few small yet important and disrupting events finally helped me to free my mind to make a difficult and hugely important decision: The decision that I will leave everything (and everyone) behind and travel alone.
Maybe one or two of you out there feel similar: you feel trapped in your everyday life, you don’t let anything or anyone get close, you chase the expectations and wishes of others, and once you are by yourself, you feel empty. You have a to-do list that is always full; you work on it with blinders because that keeps you busy. Back then, I was utterly blind even to consider other ways because I thought that this is the way it has to be, and there is no other way. I didn’t think about it and didn’t question anything, and I didn’t have the time, or better: I didn’t allow myself to have the time to think.
To conclude the beginning of “my” story, we have to make a slight detour. It might be strange at first, but trust me on this one: You probably know the Yin-Yang symbol. But Alise, are you going completely nuts and all esoterical? Thanks for asking. No, I don’t. The symbol consists of two halves that complement each other to form a whole: dark and light, good and evil, and so on. I always thought the symbol was pretty silly. And you’re wondering, what does this have to do with Alise’s decade-old stress from university times? Recently, I realized that the symbol also symbolizes change and transformation and is not static. The two dots indicate some change: both halves are chasing each other. What I told you above was a very dark time, although I was too blind and too “shielded” to realize that. But, just like in the black part of the symbol, there was a tiny white part in my life that was about to expand. But, I also have to say that I don’t believe that there can only ever be growth and advancement in life and that there’s always love, peace, and harmony; it’s like in the Yin-Yang symbol: a constant change. Like a sine curve, though not quite as regular and predictable. I think we simply can’t eliminate dark times from our lives, but we can change how we deal with them and what expectations we have or if we have any at all. For that, we need time: time with ourselves, time to reflect. This can be a trip abroad, as in my extreme case, but a simple evening walk can be sufficient. It’s even much better than a trip because it’s much easier to integrate into everyday life, and today I make time for it almost every day.
Now we are at the end of this post. Today, we “talked” about my initial situation, all the misconceptions and expectations I had back then. Next time, let’s talk about how I broke out of that situation, what ultimately disrupted my life and triggered that change, and what I learned from it.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post, even though its content was rather dark. Thank you so much for your time. I think it’s essential to also look at darker times to get a better idea of the bigger picture. I want to end this post with two words that mean a lot to me: Don’t panic!
|↑1||There is no real choice since you are only allowed to use specific pens and colors when writing an exam.|
|↑2||Today in my job, I am on the “other” side, so sometimes I am the examiner, but this has not helped me clarifying the aspect completely, at least so far it didn’t.|
|↑3||If you want to read a little more on that, I refer you to the official information on the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), last accessed Nov. 12th, 2021|
|↑4||If you want to read more an that, I highly recommend this article by Mark Manson, which is an excerpt of his book “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck”.|
|↑5||Early research in the 50s already showed that the human brain is somehow wired for comparison with others: https://doi.org/10/bg7388|