Lessons learned from things that ‘do not matter’

Photo by Casey Gomez

During any given hell week, the most common question I ask myself is inevitably, “How much does this matter?”

It is a nice, versatile question. At its most direct, it is the prompt for a mental triaging of material. Anyone who has paid for enough Pearson access codes recognizes those “Application” and “Try It Yourself” sections in the books for exactly what they are: a manna from heaven, pages that do not have to be read since there is nothing there to be assessed.

As far as my final grade in the course goes, these sections simply do not matter. That determination is not subtle or trying; in fact, it is maybe obvious.

Things get more difficult, though, when I ask that same question at a broader level. How much does this concept matter to my understanding of the course? How much does understanding this concept matter when it comes to my GPA and the value of my degree?

I will not go beyond that, because doing so will make me seem even more pseudo-intellectual and wannabe philosopher than I typically do, but I think my point here is clear. The stress, from suddenly needing to digest a set of tricky technical jargon to balancing group project or three (yes, business majors have real, honest-to-goodness work sometimes), can dominate a period of days. And yet, when the storm dies, the sun comes out and the birds start to chirp again, it is unclear whether the effort was worth the while. Sure, I have a few more grades available to view on T-Square (and a fresh pair of dark circles around my eyes) to show for the work, but am I a better student of a Business Administration or International Affairs? Am I better equipped to tackle challenges outside the walls of Georgia Tech?

The answer, I have found, is largely yes. I cannot explain material from my Empirical Methods class nearly as well as I did when I took it two years ago, and I would be lying if I said that I used that material in my internships (or that I plan to in the future). Yet the value of hard work and setting priorities lasts well after the course schedule reaches its last week.

That may sound cliche, but the most important observation I found was that it also worked equally well when I did not do as well as I expected. That subpar grade I received on an exam might hurt, but it did not cancel out the hard work I put in to study beforehand. A project presentation may have been derailed by a non-contributing member, but my work was still worth something.

Just as we learn to see our academic successes as minimally important in the long run, we should begin to view our shortcomings in the classroom the same way. Whether your professor grants you a curve, or you are left out to dry a few points away from a much-coveted letter grade, the underlying principles that Tech classes teach us — resiliency, innovation and stress management — will stick with you.