About a year ago, I finally realized a few things. First off was that I need to cook a dish five times before it becomes "my" dish. The first couple of times are to make sure I get the dish properly cooked — not burnt, but also totally cooked. The next few times serve two purposes: to play with the recipe a bit and also for simple repetition. The final time is just to enjoy something you cooked that is really good. Or at least should be good; if you can't get it after five tries, it will never be your dish.
The other thing I realized was that the way I was trying to do grad school was insane. Well, I say "trying," but I wasn't "trying" to do a bad job anymore than I was "trying" to finish solidly in the lower third when I used to run cross country. I still can't believe that I let people talk me into "sticking" with it even though I weighed 215 pounds my senior year. Seriously, sometimes quitting IS the best thing. But anyway, I wasn't trying to be a bad grad school student.
You see, part of the problem was being a pretty good undergrad. I never really had to worry about school; tests have always been my thing, and papers took me a pot of coffee, two liters of water, two energy drinks, two Gatorades (half the night was spent walking to the bathroom), a box of graham crackers, and anywhere from 7-12 hours to complete. The system was tried and true. It worked, and even though I complained, I sort of liked the feeling that I was cheating the system.
What I didn't realize was that what I thought was a very useful tool had become... well, a crutch. I needed the adrenaline of the deadline, the feeling you get when you have to get this DONE and if you don't you fail and everything for the rest of your life will be a steady decline into failure. But I realized that I needed that rush, and without it no machinations or scheming could make me do the work. Classwork was ok; I could usually get myself to read all of what I needed — here, the "all-nighter" system kind of worked. But the papers, which are generally longer and, more importantly, not compared on a scale with "Freshman majoring in drinking and minoring in the Greek system" (most of the time, they are called "communications majors").
You see, I wanted to work on these papers. Not only because that was a sane way of getting work done, but because I am a nerd and I have a pretty free range to work on whatever I want to work on. I could collect works, review them enough to know what was useful and what wasn't, and even occasionally read way more of an article or book than I needed too (the first skill any good humanities student needs to know how to read efficiently). But when it came to writing the papers? Nothing.
The end of this story is "I have A.D.D." Now that I am getting help, it makes sense. It was a little disconcerting to discover that my wife, friends, mother, brothers and former teachers all told me "that makes a lot of sense" or "I have kind of thought that for a while." It was pretty obvious; I probably should have been more open to the idea when I turned in roughly two math assignments my freshman year in high school.
I wonder how decisions like that might have changed my life, how much that removing my need of a fear of failure might have allowed me to do more, or less, or (probably) something different. Heck, I might be somewhere different in a job that actually pays lots of money. I could also, I suppose, be worse off.
Either way, it's insane for anyone to live like I did. Having wanted to write about this for a while, I struggeled to figure out some way to make this useful to you. What I will say is this: there is an overwhelming chance that you don't have A.D.D. I doubt, though, that you are living your life in the exact way you want. I urge you to read more or lose weight or reorganize your life — not to do this is far worse than the work it takes.
— Gregory Bearringer is a graduate student in Medieval Studies. He can be reached at email@example.com.