day 74: by the river
In a week I will know the results of my MSc dissertation and also the final result of my degree. I’m not sure what to expect, but still I’m trying not to worry about it. That’s exceptionally difficult if you spent years on end worrying about marks and the effect they have on your future. I even see it as a bad habit now. Future, chances, opportunities, goals, are marks really all that important for them? Will my life change significantly if I get a merit instead of a distinction? I actually doubt it, but still, I worry.
I think this obsession with marks comes from an obsession to be in control. For example I can’t control who looks at an application for a job I want, so having high marks is one method of making it less likely that my application is weeded out in the first pass. It’s just an attempt at being more in control in situations where we feel helpless. Trying to be in control in combination with doubt and with circumstances that always stay beyond our reach is nerve wrecking though. Why bother? Why not see it all as chances, even when we fall below our expectations?
As a part of my BA I had to write a dissertation which was marked by a professor who was feared for her harsh standards. It was commonly known that only one guy from our BA ever got the highest mark from that professor for a dissertation. I saw it as a challenge and tried to also get the highest mark. I didn’t manage to get it though, I got the second best mark instead. At the time when I received the mark I could not get feedback for the dissertation, because I was in England on a semester abroad. I felt like I had failed, that maybe I just wasn’t good enough to really pursue doing research in that field. There was no way to know the real reasons at the time. I think this mark even influenced my decision to switch fields.
About half a year later when I needed a piece of paper confirming my mark I managed to get my hands on this dissertation with all the margin comments and feedback. When I read the feedback I started to laugh. There were only positive margin comments and the feedback for the content was thoroughly positive. Apparently I got the second best mark because of a formal error: I wrote the dissertation using old German spelling and punctuation which is against regulations but nobody else ever cared about it. My own interpretation of the mark was completely wrong and in reality it didn’t reflect on my abilities at all. Still, when I still thought it did, I used this interpretation as a failure to look for new opportunities and that’s actually what I like about this story.
The point is, we are never fully in control even if we think we did everything we could. Any attempt at staying in control is futile and I hope at some point this purely rational conclusion will sink in and stop me from worrying so much about things that are not only beyond my reach but maybe not even important.