When I was in college studying Abnormal Psychology, I decided to take a College Algebra course. I took the class very seriously and, when the time came, prepared diligently for the final exam. I felt confident that I would do well, but I was still somewhat apprehensive. What if I hadn’t focused my studies on the right things? What if I drew a blank during the exam? What if I forgot a formula or two? What if my instructor had overlooked a topic that would appear on the exam?
When it came time for the exam, I entered the testing center, sat down, took a deep breath, and began. It was a really hard exam, but there weren’t any real surprises. All my studying was paying off. I struggled with a few problems, but I worked through them.
To my surprise, there were two extra credit problems at the end of the exam. They were difficult and confusing, and I definitely hadn’t prepared for them. One of the extra credit problems was worth two points, the other was worth three. The test was worth 100 points, so that meant the maximum possible score was 105. (My math skills were already paying off!)
As I slowly walked up to turn in my exam, I was going over the test in my mind, second guessing myself the whole way up. After a few minutes (which seemed like several hours) I received my test score. I received… 102?!?! How was this possible? I was absolutely devastated. I worked so hard only to fall short of a perfect score.
I looked around, muttered a few choice words under my breath (that my mom wouldn’t have been proud of), and walked out of the testing center with my head down and my tail between my legs. Anyone watching would have thought I had received news that my dog had just been run over, or worse.
Stacy, my wife, worked in the Administration office at the college. We agreed that I would stop by her office and tell her how I’d done on the test. I tried to hide my disappointment from her, but she saw right through my facade.
Before I even opened my mouth, she asked, “What’s wrong? How did you do on your final?”
“I missed a problem, but on the way to your office I figured out what I did wrong. I wish I could go back and retake the test right now, then I’d get that stupid problem right.”
“So, what was your score? Why do you seem so upset?” she asked.
“Because I missed a problem. I only got 102 percent.”
“Wait! You’re upset because you only got 102 percent? What is your problem? Most people would be thrilled to receive 102 percent, and you’re upset? Stop beating yourself up. You did great! You just passed your College Algebra final!”
She was right, of course. I was being way too hard on myself. I worked hard and prepared diligently, and I should have been happy and content because of what I had accomplished. Instead, I was beating myself up needlessly. Stacy set me straight and helped me to look at things from a different perspective. She helped me get outside of the box.
A good friend of mine, Army Captain David Calderwood, before entering the Navy in order to attend Medical School to become a doctor, told me, “You know what they call a medical student who graduates at the bottom of his class? . . . Doctor.”
Now, I’m certainly not advocating that we should shoot for the minimum standard. On the contrary, we should aim high and work hard to achieve our goals. However, after we’ve done our best, after we’ve done all that we can do, after we’ve given it our all, we should hold our head high and let the chips fall where they may. If we happen to fall short, we should pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and commit to do better next time.