Today concludes my journey throughout my first quarter of my career at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I took the last final, of this first quarter, today. I spent all of last week studying with intent to prepare for these finals. In total I had five finals: two lab finals, one Public Speaking final, and two lecture finals. I feel confident with the work I put in to prepare, felt confident throughout each test, and feel confident that I will get good grades as a result. To be honest, for me it is not about the grades. It is about doing my best, and if I do just that then good grades are a happy by product. If I didn't do my best then I would be wasting away the $26,000 a year it costs to attend this school. In addition, I work to take every moment in life, whether stressful or joyous, as an opportunity for growth. That is why I don't usually get stressed about school, because life itself is a masterclass in betterment and school is no different. This quarter has been a wave of life, with its ups and downs, however I have taken each up and each down as an opportunity to be present and persevere. To grow.

I began this journey with many warnings that the quarter system goes fast and it is hard to keep up. However, I have really enjoyed the 10 weeks of condensed education that I have received. I have not only enjoyed them because of the classes that I am taking, although that constitutes a major part of my enjoyment, but I have also enjoyed it because I value efficiency. Efficiency is a beautiful thing. To waste time or effort on pointless activities is to waste your life. Most education falls under the inefficient category due to its year long nature, where most of the year consists of futile activities that don't earnestly contribute to your education on the subject. With a quarter system you have 10 weeks to learn the course, because of the limited time the professor and student both are obliged to be efficient.

As my father says...

Live your life with intent.
— Gabriel Contreras

This has been a mantra of mine for the past few months and it rings true in education as well. I want my education to be taught with intent. As such it should have thoughtful direction and purposeful drive. While I have not had necessarily the best teachers of my life this quarter, I have observed a natural necessity to be better due to the condensed nature of the quarter.

Public Speaking

One teacher that I have had this quarter that without a shadow of a doubt falls into the category of 'Best Teachers' that I have had is my Public Speaking professor, Professor Scarborough. Within the first weeks of school I went to his office and told him that I have a podcast. He was extremely impressed at that fact and at the fact that I have been doing it for so long (I reached Episode 100 last week. Woohoo). He told me that I may have it harder doing a podcast than even speaking in front of an audience, because with a podcast I don't have immediate, real life feedback from the audience. Regardless I let him know how excited I was to be in Public Speaking, how much I hoped it would positively increase not only my podcasting skills, but my speaking skills in general. Professor Scarborough was quick to assure me that he could see how talented I already was and that I would, without a doubt, be better when I finished the course.

He was not wrong. If you listen to the podcast I hope that you have noticed an improvement over the past two months in my ability to speak intelligently and competently. The art of communication is an art built by practice. I have had the pleasure of practicing in front of the microphone for two years now with the podcast. However, being thrown into the fire that is public speaking is an entirely different beast. Now to be honest I am not scared by public speaking. Whether that is due to loving the sound of my own voice, ego, megalomania, or a combination of all three, I do not know. Hopefully the reason is much less negative. I think it is, because I love to tell stories. Whatever the case may be, unlike most people in our society, I am not deathly afraid of opening myself up to an audience. I am not afraid of being raw with my fellow humans.

Through the podcast and through my writings I strive to be raw with you, the audience. As such, while I may not be deathly afraid of public speaking, I still get nervous. The trick is to use that nervousness to your advantage. When you are nervous your senses are heightened and you have adrenaline pumping through your body, your body is enacting a flight or fight response. These natural reactions allow you to focus on the task at hand and execute it with confidence, but only if you do not let that focus tip the scale into fear. Use the reaction to simply sharpen your attention.

The Choice

During these couple of weeks where finals are on all of our minds here at college we students are presented with a choice. We can use our nerves, and the body's natural reaction to that stress, to sharpen our focus and accomplish what needs to be done, which is to do our best. Alternatively we can excuse ourselves into laziness.

That is the eternal choice of the college student, indeed of us all. That choice is what separates those that are truly successful and those that are not. However, when I write successful I do not mean monetarily, relationship wise, career wise, nor any other conventional definition of 'success.' When I write successful I mean those who are truly fulfilled and following their truest paths. Now what do I mean by that?

Well, if you can look back on your life and smile with a twinkle in your eye, then you are following your truest path. If are passionate about what you are doing in each moment, and what is to come, then you are following your truest path. If you can look within yourself and acknowledge that you are fulfilled, then you are following your truest path. However, these barometers for the truth of your path all require a vital ingredient: honesty. Honesty with yourself, with your life, and with those around you. If you cannot be honest with yourself about who you are, then you are truly lost. The only way to find yourself is to go within, find that honesty, and break down those walls that we have built around who we truly are. We all still have work to do.

As Robert Frost says...

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.
— Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost

I have written and spoken extensively on this topic of following our truest paths. A key component of that journey is to make this eternal decision between perseverance and laziness. This decision is at our fingertips in each moment and, as our minds are wont to do, we tend to reach for laziness. Once we have a firm grasp on laziness, or are within reach, we pardon ourselves. Our mind is extremely well practiced at explaining to itself why it should take the easier route and we quickly comply. But, when do we ever grow in ease? Never.

This week of finals is not a time to excuse laziness. Life is not a time to excuse laziness. If laziness is the reality today, then perseverance and focus are ephemeral specters. To often do we drift linearly through life, without concrete commitment to connect us to reality nor the fire of discomfort to allow us to grow. We need commitment and discomfort to better ourselves, it is as simple as that. It takes commitment to successfully study for finals and achieve grades you are proud of by doing so. The discomfort that arises within that commitment is simply part and parcel of the process. To learn from the discomfort we must acknowledge and accept it. Know that it is a teacher and tool, not a curse. To commit we must acknowledge what we will accomplish and accept the process inherent in accomplishing it.

Our mission must be to break the paradigm of laziness and become pillars of perseverance for those around us. You can be the example for those you love, you must only begin the journey. Go within.

Break the Paradigm

How? That is the question is it not? How do we transfer from doing the easy thing, to what takes actual effort? How? Well, recently I was walking to my room in my apartment and one of my apartment-mates said, "Oh man, all I've got to do is read 150 pages and I'll be ready for that final tomorrow." He said that, which clearly displays his level of unpreparedness and the necessity for work to be done to prepare, yet he sat and played video games on his computer. He sat idly by in the midst of an opportunity to better himself, but instead reached for the easy thing. He made his decision. What will yours be?

Now, I am not perfect. There are many times when I still reach for the easy thing. A few days ago, while studying, I suddenly realized that I had spent the last ten minutes mindlessly scrolling on Instagram. A few days before that I finished my breakfast, then got up, and filled my bowl with a heaping pile of sugary cereal. I was already full of oatmeal, but still decided to fill my bowl with wasted sugar. I never even eat cereal. What was I doing? I do not know.

Presence is not about escaping, instead it is about connecting. Connecting with the present moment. When we let desire drive, we run ourselves off of the road. The solution is to live your life with intent. To condition yourself through daily doses of discomfort, so that you can learn how to learn and how to persevere.

We are back to the question of how, are we not?

The Process

  1. Shut Up: the very first step is beautifully simple, yet it rings true. To begin this process is to begin in silence. Stop your complaining, your excuses, and your lies. Grit your teeth and put your head down. Quite simply: SHUT UP.
  2. Get Real: now comes the hard part, honesty. This is where you must acknowledge where you are and what needs to be done to accomplish your goal. Be honest with who you are, because you may think that you know yourself, but you might only know the walls you have built around your truth.
  3. Plan: establish a plan for how you will accomplish your goal, no matter how big or small.
  4. Be Here Now: here is the opportunity to execute your plan, to accomplish your goal. However, you must stay present within the joys and the discomfort. Be open to what comes and learn from it. Persevere.
  5. Review and Revise: what could you have done better? This is a continually, constantly changing, impermanent process. Be even better next time.

It does not matter what you might think, what those around you might think, now what society might think, because the truth is that you have the control. The buck stops with you. With us. Inherent within each of us is a capacity to choose between excuses or action. While you may have a boss or a professor or other position of authority above you, you must make the decision if you will do your best. Remember that this is not a time to excuse laziness. So what will your decision be?

Graciously,

Jarod Contreras

Comment

Donate to Touching the Trail