I want to tell you a story about my senior year in high school and in college. This period and the choices I made set me up to do great things at the next level of my education and work life.
I learned a lot of valuable lessons that I want to share with you! 🙂
Part 1: High School
It was the first week of my last year of high school. I wasn’t accepted to a college yet, and I was coming off my junior year where I had taken some AP and Honors courses as well as some business and engineering courses to round out my studies. My senior year began with AP Calculus, AP Government, and Honors Physics, but the rest of my schedule was laughable. I had 2 study hall hours and a class on current events in sports. I was bored out of my mind that first week and my parents and I decided that it was time for a change. No one who is trying to achieve greatness needs 2 study hours…
Change of Plans
I talked to my adviser the next day and we concluded that I would switch to AP Environmental Science and AP Psychology while removing the current events in sports class and a study hall. This was one of the best decisions I ever made. By switching classes, I was able to meet new people, learn new topics, and earn some college credit through the AP Environmental Science test. Even though these things are great, there are lessons that I took away from this experience that made it worth more than college credit or helping to position me for admission at a great school.
The psychology class that I took was one of my most favorite classes ever. I’m a math major and very much enjoy problem-solving, but what I like most is examining relationships between people and how diverse cultures think and act. One of the first assignments was to pick someone in the class that we didn’t know and write a paper about them (creepy, I know). Since I consider myself an observant person, I thought this was a piece of cake, but it was interesting to study a relative stranger and then write a paper about them. Besides this assignment, I enjoyed learning about the distinct parts of the brain and how they affect our reactions to different situations. I strongly suggest taking a psychology class if you have the time!
The environmental science class was also beneficial to me because it allowed me to get college credit, and one of the most influential teachers was the instructor. My friends enrolled in the class as well. We had a fun time in the class debating and discussing diverse topics in environmental science and this helped to round out my knowledge as I prepared for college the following year.
By taking some of the harder classes my senior year, I was able to gain knowledge in different areas and round out what I knew about people and the environment. If you attend a public high school the courses are free, and it is an opportunity to try new things and fail if you must. By that, I mean there is no penalty for struggling in a course. In college, your GPA is much more important. What I learned from this experience was that for me, no class load is too difficult, and it is possible to perform at a high level if we apply ourselves. However, this came to shoot me in the foot in my senior year of college…
Part 2: College
During my junior year of college, I took Advanced Calculus 1 and 2, which were more rigorous applications of calculus and the first upper division analysis courses that I had taken. I wanted to take these classes as preparation for Real Analysis 1 and 2, offered as an honors course at my college. These classes are two of the hardest undergrad mathematics courses available. I knew I was going to take those over my senior year, but I was set on going to graduate school and I believed that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in theoretical math.
So, I enrolled in two more honors courses as well as a higher-level Theory of Statistics course. That summer, I decided that I was going to apply my knowledge and change direction by going for a master’s degree in financial mathematics instead of a Ph.D. I took an internship with a local mutual fund manager and had one of the toughest semesters ever. Classes were Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and I went to my internship on Tuesday and Thursday. The internship wasn’t really worth it in the end, but it gave me some exposure to the markets.
The next semester I signed up for three highly advanced math courses: real analysis, topology, and algebra. I had three homework assignments due every Wednesday and another each Friday. I would get home from class on Wednesday at 2:15 PM and I would have to start my homework just so I could get the work done by that night. My biggest struggle was not having enough time to think on my own about what my coursework was trying to say to me. That is one of my regrets: I wish I had given myself more time to just sit and think about the math, rather than struggling to simply get the work done. This is the reason my thinking came to shoot me in the foot.
Topology and Algebra for me were the two toughest courses that semester. Topology is an alternative way of thinking about space and sets and Algebra was very new for me because I had never studied Group Theory before. I ended up getting a B- and a C+ respectively, and I am not too happy about these grades. But for the work that I put in and the level of understanding that I obtained, I think that these grades were appropriate.
What Can You Take Away from This?
After my experience with an extreme load, I have never thought school or work was difficult. Everything that semester was a grind; it took real determination and effort to not take a day off, and it took focus to try and learn difficult subjects in a short time. Now when I learn something, it clicks much faster and I can complete assignments and tasks at work more easily because I developed greater time management skills and focus. The complexity of problems that I faced in that semester has prepared me for any situation that I meet now.
For you, pushing yourself to the max for a few months can produce great future results. Whether you are a student in school, an adult in the workplace, someone exploring starting a blog, an aspiring entrepreneur, etc., by continuously challenging yourself you will experience tremendous growth.
If you are afraid of the pain, just remember, there is meaning in suffering. We know this from Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
The Bottom Line
By continuously challenging yourself, you can experience real growth. Life begins outside the comfort zone, as they say!
How do you challenge yourself daily, weekly, monthly, etc.?