Last week, I indicated that this semester was the worst one ever and I said it wasn't about the grades. I saw my grades yesterday and they weren't my worst ever: I had a worse GPA my first semester of freshman year. I am not sure how I feel about my grades based on how the semester was. I did worse than I expected in a class that I didn't think was on the border line but the class was weird. We had one group report and a final. I guess I failed the final.
Back to the reason for writing this, let me explain what happened this semester to you. Before I can do that, I have to tell you a story.
I never really cared about my grades before I came to Howard. Seriously. They had never really mattered. I did as well as I could without stressing myself and that meant doing well in classes I was “naturally good” at and “failing” the others. That worked for me throughout high school as I was the goto guy in these few classes and for everything else, you had to seek help elsewhere.
At Howard, things changed. Everybody emphasized a high GPA so it was something I had to consider. I also had a cutoff to meet to keep my scholarship. At the end of the first semester of my freshman year, I messed up in two classes: Freshman Composition and Calculus I. This really pissed me off for a variety of reasons:
- Of all the classes I was taking that semester, those were the two classes I had prior experience so I might have had underrated them
- One of those naturally good classes I mentioned above was Math yet I was faltering.
- Almost everybody around me got a 4.0 that semester except me
- The main reason: I didn't think it was my fault that I didn't do well in these classes. In Calculus, I was always making mistakes and my teacher penalized mistakes really hard so it affected my grades a lot. And in English, the professor was one of those professors you warn people about. Nobody in my section of the class got an A although I know someone else who got an A in another section of the class. What used to piss me off the most was when he used to give us a status of where we were in the class, he would say: “You have a very strong B.” A strong B? What's a strong B? Nobody wanted a strong B. I wanted an A in the class and this guy was telling me about a strong B. wtf?
So, at the end of my first semester, my GPA wasn't that bad but it could have been so much better so I set a goal that I wasn't aware of until now. It's one of those goals you set unconsciously that you are not aware of yet they keep on driving you. My goal was to increase my cumulative GPA every semester the highest possible it could increase based on the classes I was taking. This affected me in more ways than I could realize.
I stopped making mistakes in classes and always did whatever it took to get the best grades possible in class. This “whatever it takes” mentality was evident in classes in which I felt I was wasting my time and not learning anything yet I did the work it took to pass the class because I had a goal in mind. Have you had homework which took so long to complete yet was worth such a small percent of the grade? I have. And I did this homework judiciously so I could get the best grades possible from my classes.
So, with this mentality and this drive, I was able to get through the 5 semesters between my first semester and this one, learning as much as I could and succeeding with my plan. I hit a snag this semester.
At the beginning of each semester, I used to calculate the GPA I could attain at the end of the semester if everything went according to plan. I knew how much my cumulative GPA could increase and what my new GPA could be at the end of the semester. Although, the increments became obviously smaller with each semester, there were still improvements and something to look forward to.
This semester when I calculated my possible GPA at the end of the semester, I realized that my GPA could not increase. Well, there was a possiblity that it could go up by 0.01 if it was rounded up. I think it had always been rounded down so I wasn't optimistic.
I think I became disoriented. I had lost all my reasons for wanting as high a GPA as possible (remember, I didn't really care before college):
- The GPA couldn't go higher
- I knew it couldn't go that much lower
- High GPAs were good before prospective employers for internships. As I already had internships which carried more weight than the GPA, and it wasn't like it would suck now
So losing my main goal along with senioritis along with pure laziness and tiredness meant I had the horrible semester I had. Apart from school work, I was a slacker in almost everything else. I just didn't do much. I have caught up on the work missed for the most part of the semester in the last one week.
So, why did I tell you all this? Well, because I realized the importance of goals. One more story, a shorter one, I promise.
At MSFT and GOOG, you have to write goals at the beginning of the internship about what you are trying to accomplish and what you plan to have delivered at the end of the internship. I believe I pretty much met the goals I set for myself at the end of the internships. And the reason I think I did is because they were written down and I could always refer to them to remind myself of what I was doing there and what I was trying to achieve.
See, I told you it was going to be short. You didn't believe me. Back to goals...
During the summer, I finally decided to set some goals for myself and what I wanted to achieve this semester and in the forseeable future. This is after Godwell and Rev. Burrell have been prodding me about them for a while. I wrote some fancy goals for this semester that were frankly really hard to achieve in retrospect but would have done me a lot of good if I had come close to meeting them. Well, guess what. They were in a Word document on my computer and I never opened them till I was writing this. I didn't even come close to meeting most of them. Why? because I never saw them. So, if you write goals, put them in a place where you can see them often. Preferably everyday.
So, it took me having a horrible semester to have an understanding of why goals are important in the process reducing my GPA. Well, I think it was worth it. If I had had a normal semester and gone on to do well next semester, the maximum my GPA would have increased this academic year would have been that 0.01 I was telling you about earlier. Now, it has gone down and can go up again next semester :) and I have learnt how important goals can be. (Disclaimer: I didn't do “bad” on purpose just to give me an opportunity to let my GPA rise again, that would have been plain stupid).
Finally, one more thing: with the right motivation, you can turn whatever situation you are in around for good. I got my motivation to stop the slide and turn the situation around based on a few things that happened during the semester plus I didn't want to fail. I am not going to go into details of what happened on that fateful day because this entry is already too long but with the right goals and/or motivation propeling you, you can accomplish what you need to do.