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An Object Lesson in Perseverance

Not everything in life goes to the swift and strong

For me, fall means more than spicy baked goods, craft fairs, or a wardrobe change. After a summer off, autumn means returning to part-time study in my graduate program. And this quarter, that comes with an extra challenge: Most of the people I started my program with have graduated.

When my classmates and I started together two years ago, I anticipated a couple years of intense full-time study. But I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to sustain the pace I originally envisioned. The stress of taking two or three classes and working full-time would compromise my health. I was also concerned that I'd start focusing totally on the short-term goals of maintaining good grades and earning a new credential at the expense of less measurable long-term goals—gaining deeper insight into my academic interests, and thinking about the most satisfying ways of pursuing them.

For me, the best choice has been to take one course at a time. As a result, I'm not quite halfway through the program, while many of my classmates have moved on.

For someone with my personality—a highly motivated, mostly Type-A, recovering perfectionist whose gifts shine in academic settings—that's been kind of difficult. It's also been a bit strange being one of the older people in my classes, having worked for a few years before returning to school. This year, for the first time, I had a professor my younger brother's age. Add to these things a first-born's sense of entitlement to do things, well, first, and you can see why I've been feeling a bit angsty.

Part of me understands that, angst notwithstanding, I'm the object in an object lesson about perseverance. If someone were writing a neatly resolved thematic study about this portion of my life, they'd probably reference the snippet from the oft-quoted first portion of Ecclesiastes 9:11: "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong." (Referencing the full verse—a challenging reflection on time and chance—would undermine a writer's attempts to resolve the study neatly!)

The truth is, I'd rather be swift and strong. In fact, I often depend on these qualities. I think I've done some of my best work in short, intense bursts. I like holing myself away in my home with my laptop and a pile of books and emerging a day or two later with a paper. I can rise to the challenge of a sudden crisis—a flat tire along a busy highway, or a sensitive situation at work—fairly calmly. When I need to do a big project with only a week or two, I'm often energized enough to get past the feeling of being overwhelmed. I prefer swift and strong over slow and steady most days.

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From Issue:
Today's Christian Woman, 2010, September
Posted September 14, 2010

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