I’ve failed a lot.
About a month and a half ago, I had my latest failure. My wife and I have been enrolled in Hebrew classes. It’s our fourth class, level Bet-plus. We’ve gotten to the point where we can read this strange language and have simple conversations, like tell Shoshana the cashier at the local Super-Zol that Benzi the butcher told us that chicken is 50% off today.
Anyhow, about two months ago I started having a tough time with the course. It happened to coincide with starting up this site, as well as having a major project thrown into my lap by my supervisor. Suddenly the times I would usually spend doing Hebrew homework were getting squeezed out by the necessity of devoting my time to these other, more pressing matters.
So I quit. Something had to go, and that was it.
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me that I set out to do something and I ended up quitting. But I feel that somewhere, subconsciously, it was probably a reflection of the fact that I didn’t care all that deeply about it (my wife has always been more passionate about taking these courses, as well – there was less “buy-in” from my end). In the end, I was choosing to spend my time doing other things besides my language class – writing about chemistry, mostly – and when push came to shove, learning a language that doesn’t fit into our long term plans was an obvious candidate for back-burnerhood.
Learning Hebrew was on the “nice to do” list. On the other hand, making this site useful and valuable for students is something I feel I need to do. Once I got the idea for doing “Master Organic Chemistry”, I felt absolutely driven to do it, a) because I love the subject, and b) because nobody else is doing something like this.
About ten years ago, I realized that learning organic chemistry was a matter of necessity for me. I examined a number of other possibilities at the time and there was simply nothing else in the world I wanted to do as much as this. There were tons of other things that I thought were interesting, and would be fun to do, but this was a field that I felt that was the best fit for me. Not for my parents, not for my friends, but for me. Through my graduate career and my time at MIT, I was absolutely relentless on learning as much organic chemistry as I could. I could honestly look in the mirror every day and say, “this is exactly what I want to be doing“.
So let me turn the question back to you. Do you have any deep conflicts about your course of study? Is it something that you truly want to do? Organic chemistry might be a detested prerequisite – and that’s fine – but your course of study should be important to you (not your parents or your friends – you). Your major doesn’t necessarily have to be your passion, but it should be a choice that you make for yourself, one that fits in well with your temperament and interests. Here’s the key point, as far as organic chemistry is concerned: the course doesn’t test intelligence so much as it tests commitment. Like Everest (it’s grandiose to compare it to Everest, but whatever), it’s not necessarily the most technically challenging course, but it is certainly one of the most demanding in terms of endurance and discipline. Just like in a language course, to truly do well requires constant motivation – and if you’re conflicted about taking the course (and would secretly rather be doing something else), those conflicts will ultimately lead to deep procrastination, and probably dropping out of the course.