I keep meeting people whose whole aim in school
is just to get good grades
. Now, I am in school and I work hard and I love it when I get the magic
letter in my mailbox
that says I've made the Dean's list
or some such thing, but to me that's peripheral
. If I get a good grade in a class but I can't prove to myself that I've learned anything new then nothing in the world makes me so ashamed
. There are people around me who really don't want anything out of school but good grades, to them any learning is purely incidental
'What for?' I ask them.
’So I can get into grad school,' they tell me.
'Then I can make a lot of money.'
I would like to go to grad school, and maybe do great things, but I think its really important to do what ever you do for its own sake. Beowulf says "Let those who can/ win glory before death". While I hesitate to quarrel with the baddest mother (--shut your mouth!) in the history of British Literature, I don’t really think the rewards for the work are the point of existence.
So you kill yourself in school and college and grad school and then make a lot of money and become one of these people who have forgotten what it was all for. These are the people who try to tell me that they shouldn't have to pay extra taxes for public programs because they worked hard to get where they are and now they should be able to enjoy it. If you've spent all this time doing things you hate in order to get it all, can you even really remember how to enjoy it? And what if it all disappears in a flood/earth quake/ fire/ stock market crash/ hostile take over/ etc?
You aren't entitled to the fruits of your labor.
The only things in this world you can keep are your thoughts and your actions. Matilda Joslyn Gage contributed more than her share of the work for the book she collaborated on with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, (The History of Women’s Suffrage, volumes I, II, and III) but she doesn't get any credit from history. Should she not have done it? Gage was dedicated to women's rights in the US and if she hadn't worked for that worthy cause her whole life she might have gone insane. She got the work, it satisfied her deeply. While I think it’s unjust that she isn't remembered, I don't think her efforts worthless.
Anne Lamott, in her essay Grace writes,
"...by then I'd figured out the gift of failure, which is that it breaks through all that held breath and isometric tension about needing to look good..." My mom told me once that when she was young she used to want to change the world, like totally overhaul, turn it upside down, and fix it. Any mistakes she made ended up making her feel like she’d never get anywhere at all and it was hopeless. Now when she thinks of people like Mother Teresa or Nobel Prize winners or something, she imagines a Chocolate Lab with a dog biscuit balanced on its nose looking anxiously up at God, waiting for when it can eat it. How impressive are our tricks really? Let’s keep doing things, having Radical Ideas, trying to change the world, creating things, etc, but it’s fundamental (to my mind) to remember that when we fall short, it’s okay. No amount of screwing up can cause us to fall off the planet. No matter how stupid you look you’ll still survive.
We're human. We want approval for what we do, we want shiny things, fame, money, women, and XP. The rewards are not guaranteed. They’re not important either. The rewards won't hold off death. Failing, really screwing up, getting hurt teach us to accept ourselves more deeply. When you fall you can pick yourself up again. When you realize that you will ultimately fall, you realize that you are completely free. Free of the need to prove your ability, free of the need to hold on to all that fruit, free from everyone's definition of success but your own.