Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. So far so good on the weather front. We are getting warmer temps. I really hope the garden responds. Yesterday I harvested the first (and only, to date) zucchini, the first of the pole beans and peppers, and another two tomatoes. The first of the acorn squash did not set. But I have hope. I see several developing female flowers and the bees have recently become more active and plentiful.

Speaking of hope--I had several other thoughts about that story I linked to yesterday and all of those thoughts center on hope. More specifically hopes raised and hopes dashed (or cheated, or misplaced or (chose your modifier). Or perhaps I should say 'expectations' that simply don't pan out for whatever reason. Many years ago, I worked as a teaching assistant at one of the institutions of higher learning I have been associated with over the course of my adult life. I taught discussion sections for the Western Civ classes. It is one of those courses that students should take as either a freshman or a sophomore but I often had juniors and seniors who had put off taking it hoping they could somehow persuade the powers that be to let them skate since it wasn't in any way related to their major. That never happened. Hope number 1 failed. Usually those students came into the course with one of two attitudes: 'D for diploma' or they could skate through and get an A or B because history couldn't possibly be as hard as their major courses were. The first ones usually got exactly what they wanted. The other group however often found out that history could be a very hard indeed at the post-secondary level. These students often had their hopes dashed. I tutored one Chemistry Major who had come in with that expectation and who had the sense to ask for help. Most didn't. Chemistry Major remarked that he never thought history could be as hard a chemistry. I did manage to help him get a C in the course (after he had failed the first of three major tests.)

We absorb our expectations from various sources: parents and other family members, friends, advertising. Take a look at any of the ads for the various schools that have sprung up on the airwaves like toadstools after a rain. They make promises--explicit promises. Go through their courses and you will succeed. You will get a good job and be able to afford a comfortable (even luxuriant) life style. Graduate from their program and they will provide all of the career support and advice you need to get that good job. It is a bunch of hooey, of course. Like all other advertising. But desperation can make fools of any of us and these ad campaigns are designed to catch the desperate (or the inexperienced, or both).

Sometimes we base our expectations on predictions, often from (usually) reliable sources, that simply don't materialize. Twice I went into programs expecting to find stable work at the end and both times those expectations were thwarted by circumstances no one expected. I was old enough and experienced enough that I hadn't taken the 'promises' very seriously. But those were very serious blows to the old ego. I knew I was smart. I knew I had succeeded very well in the programs. But in the end, I failed at the final goal. In both cases these were (supposedly) expanding fields with plenty of opportunity. The opportunities vanished. In one case there were signs of the impending implosion but I was trapped in a box and couldn't see my way out. In the other case it happened overnight without warning.

Along the way, I learned several lessons. 1) Smart, hardworking, and accomplished people can still fail. 2) That failure isn't necessarily anyone's fault. 3) Luck plays a bigger part in success than we like to realize. These aren't comfortable thoughts for most of us. We like to think that this is a meritocracy. Sometimes it is but often it isn't. We like to think that hard work is always rewarded. Sometimes it is but often it isn't. We like to think that failure is always someone's fault. Some of us blame ourselves; some of us find others to blame. We don't like to think that sometimes 'shit happens' and no one is really to blame. Oh, I almost forgot lesson #4: don't believe the promises.

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