When it countsBy Matthew Gillham | 02/23/2016 1:54pm
“I’ll start caring about them when it actually counts,” they said, in their triumphant wisdom, refusing to be fooled into the futility of working for A’s on a middle school report card. There were the nerds and the teacher’s pets of Hill Country Christian School of Austin, and then were the bright adolescences who recognized the meaninglessness of grades in middle school. Pass your classes, and you were going to the same high school, with the same opportunities, as everyone else.
I tended to fall into the former group, whether as an over-achieving champion or a naïve slave I’m not completely sure. But middle school became high school, and a rather predictable trend occurred. The students who cared about learning continued to care about earning, and the majority of those who hadn’t in middle school, never really started “when it actually counts.” It turned out, it had always counted.
What none of us had realized, regardless of which group we fell into, was that decisions compound. It’s why lies only become bigger, and slopes only become slippier. It’s why good eggs become bad eggs, and small decisions become big decisions.
Often, I’ve felt myself slipping into the trap of thinking my choices don’t matter, only to claw myself out. Other times, I’ve been six feet under before I’ve even realized there was any trap there at all. And I’ve learned I’m not alone.
“I’m not gonna take a stance on this because I don’t know if I want to cause controversy. But if it was something truly concerning, of course I wouldn’t hesitate to challenge and to fight.”
“I’m not gonna be involved with this organization, because how much impact can a college student really have? When I graduate though, I can truly do something that matters.”
“I’ll explore religion later, when it’ll matter more to me.”
As a college student, your decisions matter, but not always because of what you think. The choices we make today, right now, as college students, as high schoolers, as adults with families, help define who we are and who we are becoming. You have as much power today to choose as you’ll have in the future—don’t fool yourself into thinking that circumstances will make decisions effortless. Your choices become habits, and habits help define you.
In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the famous screenwriter Eric Roth, wrote “For what it’s worth … it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be.” I couldn’t agree more—but fooling yourself into thinking that, when you’re graduated, or have a job, or married, you’ll suddenly be more capable of making hard choices, you’ll find yourself sorely mistaken.
Of course, there were those who recognized the dreaded middle school trap in which they found themselves, and searched for a curiosity and excitement to learn as they continued their schooling. Like Eric Roth implies, you always will have a choice, but it won’t get easier.
It will always require a decision, so start choosing now. Be bold, be brave, and act, because it counts now.
Matthew Gillham is a senior majoring in economics. His column runs biweekly.