It’s not because it’s easy, that’s for sure

I just finished talking to my mom on the phone. I asked her how I was when I was a kid when it came to test-taking. She laughed. She said that I was just like my little sister is now. She said that I used to panic in the extreme when a test was coming up. It didn’t matter the test; I made a big, huge deal out of it.

I credit my really good GPA for my master’s degree to the fact that I really liked what I was learning and to the fact that there were no really “big” exams to speak of. Yes, there were midterms and finals, but there were also small quizzes and exams in between. There were also homework assignments, and those were worth cumulatively more than the exams. And the data analysis homework? Those were a breeze. I love digging into puzzles and looking for patterns.

I’ve often wondered what would happen if I just up and quit public health altogether. Academically, I’ve gone far above and beyond what was expected of me. (The assistant principal in my high school told me that I would be lucky to just graduate high school. He was sort of right. A ton of us don’t graduate from high school, but it’s getting better.) I could right now walk over to the local hospital, apply for a really good paying job in the laboratory, and get hired in a snap. So, professionally speaking, I’m in a good spot.

So why do I put myself through a doctoral program at the top university for public health in the world (THE WORLD!) and through the stress of exams and peer pressure from some of the most brilliant kids people that I’ve ever met? Why get low grades (not A’s) on exams that make me panic and have nightmares and not sleep well and such?

I know it’s cliché to say it, but it’s not because it’s the easy thing to do. If I took the path of least resistance in my life, I would have never left Juarez, Mexico. I would have married the first girl I dated. I would have taken a crappy job at the mall and stayed there all this time. I would have checked my ambition at the door and carried on like so many people seem to do.

Let me stop right now and clarify that there is nothing wrong with taking the path of least resistance. Some of the happiest people I’ve met have done so. Some of them are even successful in their careers. But it’s not for me. Even with all the drama and stress, I would much rather challenge myself and do something no one (or few people) would expect of me than just sit around and wait for things to happen. Very few people expect me to get a doctoral degree. Those that do are my parents, my siblings, my close friends, and my wife — all people who want the best for me and expect the best of me. Society at large, on the other hand, it could give a hoot what I do with my life so long as I don’t become a criminal.

So bring on the tough exams, even if I don’t ace them. Bring on the high expectations, even if I fall short of them. I’d rather try to do those things than just do things not worth doing.

This the end of my personal pep talk for today… On to studying.

I'm a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen