Four score and seven years ago… or, to be more precise, last Thursday… I had the most important exam of all my “career” so far. And since then, I’ve been trying to break out of the space-time-continuum that is the void of prep time. But what happened before the exam isn’t as interesting as what happened after it. It can actually be summed up in one phrase: I ate scraps, slept in regular hours and studied. Everything else went to hell. So once those groundhog days were over, I have been going back and forth between: I have to finally clean up the apartment, I have to take care of overdue paperwork, I have to buy real food, etc. and: screw it, I finally have some free time, let’s sleep in, pig out and watch series all day.
The day of the exam, however, was odd. This crucial turning point was on the one side filled with my own anxiety driven pressure (you better not screw this one up – it’s the most important ever!) and on the other side this weird feeling I’ve never felt before an exam – I’m guessing it was confidence? The last day of studying I had looked over all the monographies again, reread the lecture script, reworked the article I had chosen to present and recited my in-depth topic. Then it was five o’clock in the evening, and I didn’t know what else to do. Dito for the next morning. I wasn’t even my normal, shitty-nervous self, because this was the first time in history of learning that I didn’t have the feeling I should have done more. Because I couldn’t have done more. I had read the entire literature list (something I never usually do), had sit in over a dozen seminars in the course of my studies and actually understood and was interested in what I was learning. Totally weird, right?
So that morning I just sat around waiting – instead of frantically overlooking my documents – and went with a clear head to the university. The secretary had written an email the week before asking if she could bump up my schedule, which was a good thing because I hate waiting around the morning of an exam. But once I got there, nothing was moving. I stood outside the office for 35 minutes. That gave me enough time to go over the options: either I was tricking myself and should be nervous, because otherwise I’ll just think everything’s going fine until I fall flat on my face (which is what happened the first time I failed an exam), or I actually knew what I was doing and had every right to be confident. I wasn’t really trusting that last thought. But finally, at some point, it was my turn, and then the automatic brain kicked in. I sat there with crossed arms (I think it’s comfortable, but I am aware now that it probably looked grumpy) and just spew out one answer after the other. The presentation of the article, which should have filled 10 minutes, went into a 45 minute debate, going even into the newest research findings. The general questions that followed breached everything from manic disorder, neurotransmitter systems and epilepsy to virtual reality therapy techniques, the social bonding theory and what self-esteem has to do with the limbic system. I ruled. I nailed it. I got the best grade I ever had.
And yet I feel like I’m bragging and being obnoxious and since I hate those feelings I even have a hard time writing those thoughts. Even though many friends congratulated me afterwards and said I deserved it, I was able to feel proud for about a day before my guilty conscience reared it’s ugly head. When I got out of the exam – first of all, the professor announced my grade in front of several people in the secretary’s office and already I thought that was embarrassing because they might think I was one of those high-and-mighty nerds – but when I walked out to the street and called The BF I felt like Rocky in his famous “eye of the tiger” scene, or like a gorilla pounding on his chest. It felt great, really, and that’s why I posted it on every status of every online community I have. But then I started to rationalize: If I deserved this very good grade this time, didn’t I deserve it the other times? I had worked really hard then, too. But also: how couldn’t it have been such a good grade, since I had done everything possible to get there? See the problem is that I have what is called a depressive attributional style. When something goes well, I automatically assume it’s due to luck (external) on that day (variable) and in that exam (specific). When something goes wrong, I think it’s my own fault (intern) because I’m too dumb (stable) and can’t do anything straight (global).
I really have to work on that, to not put myself down, to find a way to be self-confident without the fear of being arrogant. So that’s why I’d like to follow the example of a good friend of mine (hi Jo!) and strengthen a positive view on things. Jolianna (see blogroll) has started a “things I love thursdays” series. But besides that she is one of the most positive people I know, always having a “glass-half-full” spin on things. Following her lead, I will start a category shortly in which I list things of the past week that made me happy. Stay tuned!