Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My College Years

Yes, it's that time, boys and girls; it's time for another installment of boring you with my personal history!

I had finally made it! I had made it out of the prison that was my high school and clawed my way up into college. So it's going to get better, I thought to myself! It's going to be more about practical experience and less about rote memorization and repetition, right? Right?

These are the kinds of things I laugh about today.

No, it turns out that the teaching through experience bit only happens in the higher level courses, and not so much in my field even then. So it was back to the drudgery of the rote memorization that I despised so very very much. I resigned myself to this life, at least for the moment, and turned my attention to more pressing matters; I was broke.

I needed a job! I need to feed myself and buy textbooks and such! I was lucky, though. A family friend was in charge of hiring for a local factory, and I got hired there easily. I believe her exact words were, "Don't worry, I know who you are. If you don't work, I'll fire you." It wasn't pretty work. The factory made miscellaneous plastic parts, and my highly important job was to stack up the parts and put them in boxes. But it was work, and the people there were good, and that helped.

This went on for a couple of years, but then I started to falter in school. My grades dropped, and one term, I actually managed to fail three out of four classes! I've pondered the reasons for this ever since. The symptoms were a lack of interest in school. I started skipping classes and failing to do my homework. But it wasn't that I didn't want to learn; that's not it at all. I would often skip a class so I could spend some time taking something apart to find out how it works, or so I could go to the library and read up on some interesting subject. The problem behind this was that I was sick and tired of learning on the school's terms! Hate is a strong word, but it applies; I had come to hate the school's method of teaching, the same method that I had been struggling with all my life! Rote memorization and repetition works for some people, but our school system, and even our colleges and universities seem to think that it applies to everyone. It does not! I have seen close friends who were complete geniuses drop out of school and fade into obscurity because they couldn't learn this way! I was very lucky in that I could, but it was an extraordinary struggle! I literally started getting nauseous when I was given a big assignment. However, several things happened that helped me turn the ship around.

That was around the time of the incident in which the Columbia space shuttle burned up on re-entry. What a terrible tragedy that was! Incidentally, I have a cousin who is a smoke jumper, and she was on one of the teams gathering the wreckage. She's one of the coolest people I know. But I digress. This really wasn't much of a blow to my spaceflight aspirations; I was always aware of the dangers of spaceflight, and I'm willing to take the risk. In fact, my philosophy has always been that blowing up in a spacecraft would be a hell of a way to go! But I digress.


I do that a lot.

Anyway, This was also around the time the Ansari X-Prize was really heating up. Two or three of the competitors were performing flight tests and were coming very close to their initial launches. This was inspirational for me; that in the face of the space shuttle disaster, these private companies could still be competing so diligently toward the goal of manned spaceflight, with much less money and fewer resources than the U.S. government. A better story of persistence in the face of complete disaster I have rarely heard! This helped my morale quite a bit, and then when SpaceShipOne made its three spectacular flights, and I learned the story of its development, well, I was hooked. It really gave me new drive to accomplish my ultimate goal, and helped me choke down the bile brought on by the horrid learning techniques that I had to endure.

The last thing that happened about that time is that I got laid off from the factory. This sounds pretty bad, but it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It got me to look into getting a job in my field, and two weeks later, I had landed a great student job at the university. It paid more, it was two blocks from the dorms, and it was a heck of a lot more fun! Nothing motivates like having a job you like. And I have no doubt that part of the reason I got that job was those hard years I had put in at the factory, and the great references I earned there. This brings me to my second rule for getting into space:

Rule 2: Get a Job.

Any job. And early. Get a part-time job in high school if you can. Even if the only job you can get is the most disgusting, wretched, horrid job you can think of, take it, do the job like you mean it, and don't quit. About now, you're wondering how you could possibly get to space with the money from a job like that. You can't. However, having any kind of job on your resume will help you get a better job later on, and that one will help you get an even better job. Then you can start making the kind of money you need to get to space. A pattern I've found in observing my friends and family is that the people who stick with the awful job and never give up are the ones who go on to bigger and better things later in life. The people who get tired of their job, give up, quit, and look for another are the ones who struggle to get anywhere in life. If you want to get into space, it's almost a requirement that no matter what you do, do it well and don't quit! Slogging through a crap job for a few years will do wonders for you in the long run.

So I had a great job, and new motivation, and that helped push me through. It took me five and a half years to get that four-year degree, but I didn't give up, and now I have a piece of paper on my wall to prove it. Unfortunately, my graduation presented me with a whole new bucket of problems. Remember how I oh-so-casually mentioned that my new, great job was a student job? Well, I was no longer a student, so they kicked me out. I submitted application after application to companies all over the area, but I had few bites. I had to get yet another job and get it fast. My rent was due and the clock was ticking.

But that, my friends, is a long-winded story for another day.

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

No comments: