October 13, 2011

TableTopics: #16

Today; question #16: What life experience has strengthened you the most?

There are a trio...

I can't remember whether I've related this story on the blog or not. If so, congrats to the regulars for being around long enough (six years, two months, and twenty-six days as of today) to finally hear me repeat myself. I'm sure I've never done it before...in this forum, anyway.

I'd spent much of my elementary, middle, and high school career unintentionally cultivating a tidy little persona as the smart alleck, smartest guy in the room. I was quick with a comment - most likely an unkind one - and snappy with a comeback to pretty much anything said.

I hadn't entirely noticed the totality of my self pigeon-holing until I came back for my first visit home from Wabash. I was at a friend's house -Todd Kanning's, specifically, if that means anything to you. Many of our group of friends was back together for the first time, and I found myself falling far too easily into the role that I seemed to have written for myself. It wasn't a happy feeling, and I decided to change who I was in my group. I can't say that I am not quick witted or that I don't tend to have a snarky comment at the ready much of the time, but I hope I at least recognize that I don't have to lead with those words all the time.

Next up comes the totality of my time at Wabash. I'll admit that I never felt in high school that there was anyone around smarter than I. I wasn't the valedictorian or anything, but I felt I could have been if I'd wanted to, and I was the best test taker (because that matters in the long run) at New Albany High School. I never felt that I needed to work at much throughout the course of high school. I cruised fairly easily through and ended up doing pretty well (I can still quote my class rank, my SAT, and my AP scores in case you're curious as to the depth of my immodesty).

When I got to Wabash, however, the professors generally weren't impressed. I was an intelligent young man, probably on the high side of the bell curve, but I was surrounded by intelligent young men, some of whom were clearly my academic superiors. Even at Wabash I wasn't necessarily working my hardest, but I was working far harder, at least. During the second semester of my freshman year, I took an English class about short stories. I thought myself a pretty good reader and a talented writer, so I assumed I was in for a breeze. Sure, the class was for juniors, but I was one of three or four freshmen in the class, and I wasn't worried. I got my only Wabash C in that class, and I was the better for it. Prof Stern was a creature I hadn't know before, and he demanded a whole lot more than I was ready or - at the time, anyway - able to give him, and I saw these things happening more frequently at Wabash. Sure, I was pushing work off until later than I should have been, but I was having to start the final push earlier and earlier, to work harder and harder, to spend hours in the library studying where I'd been able to do the same in twenty minutes in high school. Academically, Wabash pushed me, and I'm the better for it.

The single most formative experience for me, however, was my time in Scotland. I went overseas knowing almost no-one (there was one other Wabash chem major there, but Doug and I hadn't necessarily been tight in Crawfordsville, and I didn't anticipate being all that tight with him over there.) I was free to create myself as whomever I wanted to be. I could be more outgoing, freer with a drink, more pursuant of the ladies, more whatever, and through the course of the year I found out which aspects of my personality I was happy with, which ones I wanted to jettison (as much as that's possible), who I wanted to be and who I was comfortable being. I came back a much more confident, fully realized person who was ready for the world to begin. I can't think of any experience that was more transformative than my time in Aberdeen. I can't recommend overseas study high enough for anyone. I was revelatory for me, and the classes weren't bad either.

In case you're late to the party, here's the deal...

Here's what I've answered so far...
  • #25 - "I Know What Love Is" by Don White
  • #35 - no business 
  • #36 - MLK, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech on the National Mall
Already requested answers...they'll be answered (probably in this order)...
  • 19...22...24...27...32...37
Feel free to request other answers in the comments.

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