That New Semester Smell

I think that I am the only college student who is not unabashedly optimistic at the beginning of every semester. Every college student I know starts off the semester with the same attitude: This is the semester that I'm going to start getting good grades! This is the semester I won't fall behind in my classes! This is the semester I'm going to start working out nine times per week! This is the semester I won't impregnate someone!

Then you come down to earth, slowly but surely. The first week of class you go to every single one, take notes, bring a tape recorder and go home and write down everything the professor said in class and then highlight key points. Then you'll read the text and highlight things that the professor mentioned in lecture. Then you'll go to the gym and do a full cardiovascular and muscle-building workout. Then you'll eat a low-fat and healthy dinner high in fiber and conimomalitosilvlavin, a key mineral which helps you to obtain lofty goals.

But within a week you have realized that Chee-Tos™ do not contain conimomalitosilvlavin and that sleeping through your 8 o'clock geology lecture with 700 students is oh so easy and fun. You have also realized that video games, although far less informative than your journalism textbook, The History of Fonts, seem to be far more interesting for some reason. Your workout regiment has been scaled back to "whenever I have time." With good reason; who has time to work out when you are so busy ordering pizza and playing Grand Theft Auto 3 until midnight when you realize you are already somehow 380 pages behind in your literature class?

Instead of setting unachievable goals for yourself this semester, why not do what I do and underachieve to the point where you can only say "Hey, at least I'm not as bad off as Hal." Now, there's nobody in particular here that I'm trying to point out, but everyone in their life has a Hal. A kid who doesn't work too hard, a kid who has been on academic probation a couple of (okay, ten or eleven) times, a kid who maybe only goes to class once a month (and when he goes he's drunk), but still manages to scrape by on a 1.5 or 1.8 GPA. Even the Hals of the world have Hals: the people that fail out of school. So no matter what, everybody somewhere can always say "Hey, at least I'm not as bad off as Hal."

This is a great thing to say to your parents, who are the people who likely instilled the idea into your mind that you need goals in the first place. Parents love goals because it makes them think that their kids are organized, overachieving world-beaters, when in fact their children are likely unorganized, underachieving video game players. Whenever my parents ask me what my goals are for the semester, I always say "to do better than Hal." And they say, "Who's Hal?" And I say "the kid with the highest GPA in the history of MU."

Also appeared in the MU Student News, January 28, 2002