Take Chances, Make Mistakes

Over the Christmas/New Year holiday, one of my family’s favorite traditions is watching the annual Mythbusters marathon on the Science channel. For anyone who actually has things to do over the holidays and has no time to flip channels, Mythbusters episodes—all fourteen seasons—run back-to-back for nearly two weeks, saving everyone the breath it takes to moan, “There’s never anything on over Christmas!” It’s almost as good as a college education, but with practical knowledge instead of vague theories. (Sorry, college.)

Among the many notable quotes from the show (e.g. “This is starting to sound like a bad idea,” “Am I missing an eyebrow?” and “I reject your reality and substitute my own”) is one used quite often throughout the show’s run. In the episode in which this particular quote was first used, the Mythbusters hosts attempt to get two trucks to fuse together by crushing a small car between them at high speed, but no matter what they do, some part of the experimental process goes wrong. After several failed attempts and discouraging results, the hosts finally manage to completely demolish the trucks and car, but, just before the test, they spray-paint a valuable lesson on the sides of the semis: “Failure is always an option.”

The idea of failure being a viable option is easy enough to learn when the whole idea of an endeavor is to learn whether or not something can be done, like in the process of myth-busting. When the stakes are higher—say, a student must make an A on her final exam in order to pass her class—failure suddenly becomes a lot scarier. When we think of failure, we often think of an ashamed student refusing to look his or her angry parents in the eye as they wave a test with a big, red F scribbled across it, but it’s not always that simple. Failure can take different forms for different people; even the student with a 4.0 GPA can live in fear of that first A- (ask me how I know). Writers know this well; after all, what if their manuscripts aren’t good enough for a publisher to accept?

Sometimes we need a little push to get going on a task and do it well, and fear of failure is as good an incentive as any. However, letting that fear of failure run our lives is a much bigger mistake. Say, for example, all your friends are going ice skating at the mall, and they invite you to go with them. The thing is, you’ve never skated before, and you’re sure you’ll end up on your backside, bruised and embarrassed, with the entire mall laughing at you. What’s the harm in saving yourself a little dignity? Besides the fact that you could be a great skater and you just don’t know it yet, you’re giving up valuable bonding time with your friends. Plus, even if you do have trouble simply standing in skates, you might have a good time, anyway.

Most importantly, though, failing gracefully in a small instance such as this failed ice skating excursion would give you the ability to fail gracefully in bigger situations. I can’t stress enough how important it is to train your mind to not beat yourself up over mistakes. It takes conscious effort to say, “Hey, that didn’t go well, but I’m still smart and capable, and I can learn from this, so I can avoid making the same mistake again.” However, as hard as that can be, completely forgiving one’s own mistakes is even harder.

There are endless Bible verses about forgiveness, but sometimes we forget that those verses aren’t just for sinners to receive admittance to heaven. We can rest easy in God’s forgiveness, knowing that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our sins are covered, so what are our blunders to God? They simply don’t matter. That means we can forgive ourselves; we can refuse to dwell on our mistakes and move on; we can learn from them, but they don’t have to signify the end. In that sense, failure is absolutely an option.

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The end of the Mythbusters story didn’t come for another four years. This was the time when the valiant Mythbusters decided to retest the myth—only this time, the test was successful. The ultimate conclusion, that two semis cannot fuse together via high-speed collision, was the same, but this time, everything went according to plan, and everyone was satisfied (except for the unfortunate assortment of vehicles, of course; they didn’t stand a chance against a rocket sled). That’s the thing about failure—it’s almost never final. In a vast majority of cases, failure is still a perfectly viable option. Failure is a chance to learn and grow. Don’t rob yourself of that chance. Go out on that limb. Maybe you’ll regret it in the moment, but chances are, you won’t regret it forever.

Written by Catherine

Image credits: Header image, Ms. Frizzle

Letter to the Overconfident Writer

Dear Over-Confident Writer,

I applaud your self-assurance concerning your writing abilities. It is important for anyone to be proud of what they have produced. Your paper certainly has many great qualities that reflect the work of a mature writer. However, I sense a little pride resonating from the gait in your walk. While signing in with our receptionist, I overheard you mention a tid-bit about how you just came here because your professor required you to for a few extra points. “There’s nothing wrong with my paper,” you said. “I just came here for the extra credit.”

I mean, there is nothing wrong with wanting some extra points on a paper that will be turned in. Hopefully, a short visit to the University Writing Center (UWC) does not put you out enough to make the 5 points worthless. But there is a little secret I want to let you in on: every paper can be improved. There are definitely great points and parts of your paper, like how your voice is clearly communicated, and there are smooth transitions between paragraphs and ideas. But from looking over it, I can tell that some work needs to be done.

You’ve read your first paragraph aloud, and there is no thesis. Without a thesis, there is no direction for a paper. Even if the body sections are written with such pizzazz that one cannot help but believe what you’ve said, theses provide points of reference for readers. If, anywhere along the way, the reader becomes confused, s/he should have something to refer back to for clarity. Theses also keep your writing in line with what is necessary for understanding what you’re trying to prove.

I ask you to identify your thesis, and you are at a loss for what to say. Obviously your paper was not as perfect as you thought. When you came to the Writing Center, you expected to simply have a stamp put on your paper and to walk out the door all within a few minutes. I’m sorry that is not the outcome you received. I am trained in all the best tutoring practices and have studied the English written language in order to be confident in helping each student who walks through the door. I am not simply trying to make more work for you; however, I cannot let you leave without expressing to you, and making sure you understand, some of the things lacking in your paper.

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The Writing Center can add immense value to a piece of written work. Our job is to help you become a better writer. We want you to love the work that you have created; however, confidence in a paper does not mean perfection. I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but we suggest you should tone down your swagger walk until you’ve had someone from the UWC go through your paper with you. We are certainly not perfect, and we don’t claim to be, but someone should at least read your paper before you turn it in. You might understand what you’re trying to say, but a reader may not.

You have just reached the 45 minute limit for a session. Congratulations, I believe you are leaving feeling even better than when you walked in. Although, now I think you have stepped down a few rungs on the perfection ladder ;).  I hope to see you in the UWC again soon but, hopefully, as a Growing Writer rather than an Over-Confident Writer.

Sincerely, The Consultant Who Helped You

Written by Maddison

Image credits: Header image, Boys Studying

Silly Love Songs

“Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know” (McCartney, verse 1). Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday. It represents something beautiful: love. Love seems difficult to define and to obtain. Sometimes it acts like an emotion, while other times it’s a choice or even a fated destiny. Love can even take different forms linguistically, being defined as either a verb or a noun. Personally, I think that love can have different meanings to different people at different times. In fact, one of the attributes of love I am fondest of is this sort of graceful, catch-all nature it seems to have.

Valentine’s Day has come to be known especially for its representation of romantic love. I’ve always thought that a romantic kind of love was magical. Once upon a time, I was a little girl swooning over Disney princesses as they danced with their princes. Now, I’m an adult with a heart that bursts with excitement as I watch the people around me fall in love, get married, have children, and grow in love day by day. I definitely want to get married someday. I think of marriage as a friendship you’ll never lose and a chosen partnership for life. You choose a person and that person chooses you. Comedian Ray Romano described his own marriage this way: “You wake up—she’s there. You come back from work—she’s there. You fall asleep—she’s there. You eat dinner—she’s there. You know? I mean, I know that sounds like a bad thing. But it’s not” (Raymond, episode 9).

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Love can also take a much simpler form than a lifelong partnership with a husband or wife. Love can be found in a single act taken by one person on behalf of another. For an example, the week or so surrounding finals last semester was a rough time for me. During my Sunday morning church service that week, I was all but exhausted mentally and physically. An older married couple who are members of my church came to see me after the service to tell me that I’d been on their minds lately and ask if there was any way they could pray with me. Their coming to me and asking to pray communicated so much love to me in that moment; it was exactly what I needed, and it reminded me of God’s everlasting love for me.

Sometimes love is in the thought that one person expends for another. It really can be the thought that counts when it comes to love. In recent years, my siblings and I have begun exchanging little Christmas gifts. It’s my idea because I like buying ridiculous things for my brother and sister. My sister outdid me last year, though, when it came to thoughtfulness. She told me a week before Christmas that she’d picked out my gift and that it was not what I’d asked for. Naturally, I was worried and even a little annoyed. After all, my sister likes to think things through her own convoluted mental processes. She has even told me on several occasions that she cannot predict what I’ll say, do, or want in any given circumstance. On Christmas Day, she presented me with a radio adaptor that would let me play music from my phone through my car’s radio. She remembered that I didn’t have an auxiliary plug in my car and that my grandmother had gotten a Wow Hits 2007 CD stuck in the player years before she gave it to me. She took the time to think about what I really wanted and gave me a stellar gift I still use to this day. When I opened it and realized what she’d done, I felt remembered, considered, and loved.

Love is multi-faceted, easily felt, and always better in excess than in lack. Valentine’s Day gives me an extra reason to celebrate the love of all the wonderful people around me. Love, in all its forms and with all its facets, is a trait to be cherished. It is more than silly love songs; it is the very core of Jesus Himself.

Written by Becca

McCartney, Paul. “Silly Love Songs.” Wings at the Speed of Sound, Capitol, 1976. “The Lone Barone.”

Everybody Loves Raymond, created by Philip Rosenthal, performance by Ray Romano, season 3, episode 9, 1998.

Image credits: Header image, Heart-shaped Hands

Letter to the International Student Writer

To the international student writer,

I love it when you come to the UWC. Don’t tell your peers, but international students are among my favorites to work with. You are bright, eager, and hard-working. I can’t imagine what it would be like to move to a different continent, across the world for some of you, or to navigate a foreign school system. All too often, you enter our Writing Center appearing solemn, fearful, or sad. I want you to know that not only are you always welcome no matter how ardently you may be struggling with an assignment, but it is a joy to work with you. For me, few things feel more rewarding than when that understanding glimmer appears in your eyes, and you are able to apply a new writing concept to your ever-expanding set of skills. Surviving as a college student is no simple task; you, on the other hand, face more challenges than most. The barriers of language, social standards, and course-work expectations test you daily. Although most of us at the Writing Center can’t fully understand the struggles you endure, we are trained to support and equip you. Some of you don’t realize that your writing struggles are universal. We see students of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities, and all of them have writing weaknesses. In many ways, you have come farther than most traditional students. Few of us are fluent in more than one language, and writing coherently in a different tongue is a separate challenge of its own. Take pride in your progress, no matter how marginal it may seem to you.

Did you know that international students often grasp grammar concepts better than traditional students? Lots of college students were not thoroughly trained in crucial concepts of grammar, structure, and the like. You, on the other hand, had to familiarize yourself with a plethora of writing rules in order to get where you are today. This is an advantage that many of your peers would benefit from. Even when there is something you don’t understand or simply haven’t been taught, you are well equipped to learn.

At the UWC, ‘discouragement’ is not in our vocabulary. Our writing consultants are equippers, not maligners. Although writing apprehension is certainly not particular to you, it shouldn’t ever stop you, either. International students, come to the UWC. Your faces are always a welcome sight, and we are here to help you grow.

Sincerely,

Consultant Karoline

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