8 Lessons In 8 Semesters: Lesson 5

8 Lessons In 8 Semesters

Diarmuid Brady


February 12, 2024

Manage your expectations and allow yourself to make mistakes.

đź’ˇ  How often do you set goals for yourself?
       When pursuing your goals, do your expectations usually meet reality?
       How do you respond when your expectations do not meet reality?

Entering my third year marked the beginning of the end. Now, my grades contributed toward my final mark and I felt the stakes were high. The previous semester saw my highest-grade achievement in college and I believed I could sustain that high performance - or so I thought.

I started the semester applying the same strategy as before: previewing lecture materials, preparing questions in advance, and reinforcing my understanding post-lectures. My routines for training, diet, and sleep remained constant. Yet, something felt off.

I had anticipated to have an even stronger drive this semester, but instead, it seemed dulled. Despite adhering to my routine, everything demanded a bit more effort than before. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, I thought I was doing everything right. I stuck to the plan for as long as I could but it became increasingly challenging. I felt a little off-kilter because this semester’s modules leaned more towards theory than practical application. My enthusiasm and motivation to study waned. I felt immense pressure to excel, and each mistake I made demanded greater effort to uphold my set standards. Falling short felt like failure.

As pressure mounted, my performance didn’t improve. I became angry, frustrated, and disillusioned. The harsh contrast between my expectations and reality felt unfair. With grades now counting, I felt I was choking. The toughest part was accepting that I might not achieve the grades I wanted but that I should still give my best effort. I felt like one of the siblings in the short children’s story “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt”, as it goes “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. We’ve got to go through it!”.

As the semester came to a close , I felt worn out. I couldn’t wait for it to end. The semester gone by saw my grade increase by 9% hitting its peak but now it saw a 13% drop, marking its lowest point. “Pride comes before the fall” echoed painfully. It felt like all the progress I had made was for nothing.

Reflecting on the semester, I realised I had not managed my expectations properly due to my rigid and fragile approach. I had left no room for mistakes, and when they inevitably arose, I panicked, pressuring myself to claw my way back. This self-imposed pressure, coupled with the changed course content, soured my enthusiasm for the coursework and high grades.

Fixating on outcomes over processes can create unrealistic expectations. Chasing perfection breeds negativity towards errors, which are crucial for learning and progress. Accepting this lesson proved to be the most agonising for me.

I needed a break - time to gather myself and ponder plans for my final year. But there was no rush yet. It was time for a change of pace, a new environment, with interesting work, and great people. Follow along next week as I discuss my 9-month INTRA (INtegrated TRAining) work placement.