The ideal midsemester experience

“My wife, whenever I’d go off to work and I’d be kind of anxious, she’d say, ‘Remember, have fun.’ Oh, I forgot, thanks for the reminder. Because sometimes we do forget. We take it all too seriously, and there’s a lot of joy to be had wherever you are.”

The famed American actor Jeff Bridges, known for his work in “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and “The Big Lebowski,” said these words. I Web searched “quotes about anxiety.”

Thought you should know, because honestly, who off-handedly quotes Jeff Bridges.

I think this article will still be fairly legit, but if you are offended by my authentic inauthenticity, you can stop reading.

See, that sounds snarky. I’m trying to be funny, but come off a wee-bit hateful.


Probably because I’m a little anxious and frustrated by all my midsemester scholarly obligations: tests, maps, research projects and general reading and homework.  This is causing me and I think my fellow students to feel a little frazzled and, thus ticked off.

I’m generally a really nice person (except when I rebut other columnists, apparently), but the looming deadlines, coupled with a case of senioritis (I graduate in December) are making me feel like a very unpleasant person. From the conversations I’ve had with friends, they feel the same about themselves.

Also, I’m not really sure what to do as far as a career goes. High school English teacher? That would be cool. Graduate school? I guess. Try writing professionally? Ridiculous. Sell insurance? I don’t know.

Also, there are not very many jobs out there in the professional world. I could be a career fastfood worker or Walmart employee, but then, why do I have a college degree?

I sense that many people feel this way. Where do you go from here? Professional school, graduate school, a job?

The last one used to be easily attained, even without a college degree. You just had to work hard and possess a sharp mind.

I recall my great-aunts, Betty and Barbara, spinning tales about their professional lives in Phoenix, Ariz., Yosemite Village and later, Northern California.

Both women grew up on a ranch near Sedona, Ariz., and only graduated high school. They took their aspirations to the closest large city, determined to leave behind rural poverty and ignorance.

College wasn’t really considered all that important or affordable. One could learn to think by reading books and newspapers, listening to the radio and paying attention to the actions of others.

My aunts didn’t have to prove their intelligence through arbitrary stresses over papers and tests. They learned business methodology and practice via clerical work; eventually owning several drive-ins and operating successful real estate firms.

I have a hunch they also happened to have loads of fun during their professional training.

Betty shared great anecdotes. A notable one told of her being featured in a Phoenix magazine in the early 1950s. Apparently, she looked like a million bucks worth of beauty and brains walking to her secretarial job downtown, so a photojournalist snapped a picture.

What an exciting experience for a once scuff-kneed, fist-throwing farmer’s daughter.

Their fun lasted well into middle age. Both Betty and Barbara owned A&W Drive-ins along with Betty’s husband, my Uncle Roy.

Amid the toilet scrubbing, burger-flipping and bookkeeping, I imagine them laughing with the teenage clientele and tapping their toes to the sounds from the jukebox.  All while being self-made beacons of industry, truly risen up from nothing. Sounds like a great time!

All in all, my aunts were incredibly successful, and, it seems, happy. Their secret, I infer, was having worries that were highly legitimate, and, thus, incredibly tangible: paying bills, hiring new workers, meeting with clients and contractors, keeping up with codes and regulations.

Their careers were no doubt incredibly stressful and taxing, yet they had concrete problems and answers, and, thus, very real triumphs.

This is not so with history papers, math tests and PowerPoint presentations. We are left wondering what the actual accomplishment was? Creating the product or learning the information? Or something more arbitrary, like, having learned time-management and study skills?

An undergraduate experience more akin to the pragmatism learned by my aunts would include reading foundational texts from the Pre-Socratic philosophers to Richard Dawkins, and discussing then writing various short essays.

One learns the foundational work of our civilization and then commits it to the mind by reflecting on it and finding original conclusions. This allows our minds to learn thinking rather than temporarily meaningful information.

There are places where this actually happens. They are called “great books schools.” The students almost always score higher on graduate entrance exams than their peers and generally attend graduate programs in the top tier or land dream jobs.

These students cut right to the meat of education—learning to think.

There are parallels between my aunts’ education at the school of hard-knocks and that of a “great books” education.

Both deal in tangible expectations. My aunt’s met with clients and kept accounting books. Great books students simply read and reflect.

Thus, when both go in for more advanced work like real estate and graduate school, they can think clearly, both theoretically and practically.  They were never bogged down with silly group presentations and in-class assignments. Their stresses were focused on very meaningful products.

My aunts could more easily take the advice of Jeff Bridges’ wife because their stresses had definite, real meaning.

Great books students can suppress anxiety with the joy of knowing they understand rationale, logic and ideas better than a vast percentage of their peers—all through their singular task of reading and writing.

For those of us who don’t own small businesses or reflect of Newtonian physics, keep strong and, please, try to find the fun in this, the postmodern higher education experience.

One day, stress will seem purposeful by a career. Even if your co-workers and partners are like my aunts or graduates of St. John’s or Hillsdale, I’m sure they will be happy to help you play catch-up in embracing pragmatism.

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