When I was in fourth grade, my class was given an assignment that might have changed my life if I had allowed it to. We were instructed to select an inventor or scientist, research his or her life, and transform ourselves into a wax dummy of that figure for an hour while spectators walked around, pushing buttons that would “bring us to life”. We’d explain our figure’s contribution to science, then return to our resting state until we were “awoken” by a new spectator.
I selected (or was handed, I don’t recall) Sir Isaac Newton. I vaguely remember typing his name into a search engine and rehearsing an ostensible speech about gravity and Newton’s birthday. I had no idea what gravity even was at the time, except to say that it was the ultimate authority on why we don’t all just float off into outer space. If my commitment to mediocrity was not sufficiently apparent, my demonstration of Newton’s principle was to drop an eraser on my desk. My teacher was polite enough not to expose my academic laziness at the time, though he may have done me a favor had he at least offered some polite disapproval. In either case, the blame rests on my shoulders. I could have taken this as an opportunity to learn about the effects of gravity. I would have discovered that it is responsible not only for our tendency to stick to the earth, but also for our position in orbit, the creation of stars (and thus chemical elements and ultimately life), and according to some physicists, the universe itself. But I didn’t have to stop there. I could have discovered something about Newtonian physics, differential and integral calculus, and, where the real fun begins, Newton’s failed experiments and unintelligible assumptions.
As is so often the case, the assignment itself was nothing special. Nobody remembers my speech, nor should they. What I failed to realize at the time is that its real value was in the process. Being a wax dummy was a fun way to kill an hour. Getting a glimpse into the mind of Isaac Newton was worth more than that. Understanding the pursuit of knowledge and appreciating those who dared to think, that was the goal.
When reflecting upon my academic career thus far, the word “underachiever” comes to mind. I’ve always done just the right amount of work to get by. Sometimes this has been more than sufficient, which is why when I look at my superficially high GPA and President’s List appearances, it’s hard to take my accomplishments seriously. The reality is that I seldom put forth my best efforts in school.
Indolence is not the only source of my sub-par efforts. Wandering through the bureaucratic void known as the Cal State system can take a mental toll on anybody. Lacking any meaningful direction for the past year and a half certainly hasn’t helped.
My old blog was a place to spill my sporadic thoughts and gaze from a distance at a nonsensical scatter-plot, looking for some semblance of a pattern. It’s filled with naive, poorly researched opinions, uninteresting self-loathing and embarrassing prose about loneliness and angst. I could look back on this with scorn, or derail it in scorched-earth fashion. Instead, I think it’s important that I recognize it on its own terms and start moving forward. I’ve been roundly criticized for having a wandering mind, preoccupied with itself and constantly wading through a sea of useless pop-culture references, baseball statistics, and paranoid delusions. I wish I could defend myself against these accusations, but they come from such trusted sources that maybe I ought to consider them for what they’re worth. Maybe my sporadic and random firing of thoughts is preventing me from seeing the world as an adult and forming mature relationships.
Recognizing all this is one thing. Changing it is quite another. This blog is something of a symbol of my commitment to shaping my mind into something more coherent. More importantly, it’s a pledge to start putting my best foot forward in everything that I do. I hope it will serve as a useful medium for documenting that journey.
One week ago, I got off the fence and officially declared a major in economics. I was, and still am, apprehensive about the choice, but defining a direction has gone a long way towards invigorating my pursuit of knowledge. Today I’m committing to taking knowledge seriously: every day, every assignment, every lecture.
There’s probably no Nobel prize at the end of it or 7 figure salary along the way. But I’m in it for the chase. Who knows? Maybe someday a fourth grader will put on dark rimmed glasses and a messy faux-hawk to explain the Bakker Theory of Market Operations.