I flunked out of college on my first attempt. The autism, lack of study skills, lack of self-control/motivation, exploding family life, and having the law remove me from my mother’s home due to incompetency probably stacked things against me a bit. Nevertheless, I flunked out with two Fs (math and German), one D (art), and a B in stagecraft (behind the scenes stuff for a play). Being honest didn’t help me later as I took those grades with to me on my fourth try at college and still graduated with honors. A dummy I was not! But I didn’t know that back then.
On my third try at college I entered a two-year program at a local technical college. $50 per semester covered all tuition. No, I’m not kidding. Back then you could get two years of solid college credits for only $200. Too bad they don’t do that anymore.
During my first semester in the technical college I took a class in psychology. I was pretty freaked out as a student anyway, but this time I was supposed to be an adult. I was about six years older than the average freshman, and for some reason that made people think I was smarter than them. I saw it the other way around.
Our first psychology test was on the first chapter in the book. This teacher wanted us to find success in his class and figured we might not be the cream of the crop, so he told us he would use the questions in the book at the end of the chapter. I spent a whole week composing answers to those questions. And I was so freaked out — I really wanted to pass that test — that I memorized the answers to the questions. Four essay questions!
I had no faith in my ability to remember anything. I had no faith in my ability to figure things out. I had no faith in my ability to do much of anything. And it astounded me that I had no faith in me.
Test day arrived and I carefully wrote out my memorized answer to the first question. But then something happened and I read it over, realizing I did understand the material and the answer was pretty good. So I started on the second question and realized my inner editor could make it better on the test paper than it was in my head. By the third question I tossed out my fears and just answered the question. I had conquered something that had been holding me in chains for my entire life.
If I had to put a name on that thing that held me captive, I’d have to call it “stupid.” Not that I was stupid, but that I had been convinced by the nonfunctional people around me that I was stupid. I recently watched the Hallmark Hall of Fame version of “The Water Is Wide,” about a young Pat Conroy trying to convince the principal of a tiny island school that beating children into submission was not conducive to learning. I identified with Conroy because I’d taught under principals/headmasters with similar beliefs. But I also identified with the students who had been told they weren’t the brightest stars in the sky and they just needed to learn how to sit still and be quiet.
I aced the psychology test. And that brought about something in me. Something alive, something growing, something that turned me into a human being in my own mind. I entered the path of life for the first time. Well, maybe the second. But this time was bigger. This time time I caught a glimpse of the road ahead. And it wasn’t so terrifying anymore.