When I took sophomore organic chemistry I was kind of a proud and cocky young kid, to be honest. I thought I was smart enough to just do everything by myself, blow through everything and ace the course. I fancied myself a bit of a Lone Hero. I was going to take the course and show up all those pre-med gunners who talked about orgo like it was the Black Plague. And I was going to do it all by myself.
I wasn’t afraid of organic chemistry because I’d prepped the summer before by doing the problems in the first five chapters of the textbook. So I blew the first midterm out of the water in early October, and watched the students who sat in the front of the class with me freak out like headless chickens and start organizing themselves in study groups. I was quietly satisfied that my little plan was working out nicely. “Poor suckers”, I thought to myself. “They’re screwed.”
In the end it was the gunners who won, not me.
As the semester wore on, while I was working on problems by myself and getting stuck with nobody to turn to, they had at least somebody they could talk to about problems and even teach the material to each other. In contrast, I stubbornly insisted on doing everything myself and not relying on anyone else for help or even feedback. I was my own little island.
When the final exam came, some of the reactants were written down in a format that was unfamiliar to me. Since I was relying on my own methods and never exposed myself to alternative ways of looking at the material, I never fully developed the skill of thinking these things through. I screwed up two major sections of my exam.
I was so pissed. I remember thinking how unfairly difficult the exam was. Then, as I was getting coffee after the exam, I saw one of the gunners from my class and asked him what he thought about it.
“Not so bad”, he said.
“Not so fricking bad? are you out of your mind, you smug little prick”, I thought at the time.
He smoked me.
Unlike me, the gunners weren’t afraid to look stupid by asking questions, were comfortable in giving and receiving help, and ended up being among the social learners with good outcomes. My mistake was thinking I was a Lone Hero when actually I was just a loner.
The next year at college, I got lucky. A loud and extroverted classmate of mine essentially grabbed me by the lapels and made me his study partner. We were never best friends. But we had a great working relationship. He got me out of my shell. My grades improved too.
Don’t be an island.