I had a bit of a personal crisis this week. I'm sure that this is a sentiment that isn't unique to me, thus why I'm sharing it.
I'm used to being viewed as very smart. I had a super-high GPA at my second undergrad; I was given multiple awards for having this high GPA; and when I entered the working world, I was used to people telling me how smart I am. Note that my GPA wasn't a result of natural intelligence but constant hard work.
With all that, it got to my head. Getting into CMU was a dream - my GMAT could've been better, I'll agree, and if I had to take it again, there are other strategies I would've undertaken to prepare for it. Again - the hard work angle. But I digress... So I start classes thinking, I'm really smart, I can master this easily if I just work at it. Maybe get a high enough GPA to get the Ford scholarship. I'm going to try really hard to be the top of my class. Screw what the other people had told me, that GPA wasn't important and that if I focused on it, I would get burned out - I can do it. I've done it before.
I was seriously wrong.
For two of my classes, I got mid-term grades that were a couple of points below the mean of the class. Now for one of the classes, I'm going to admit to myself I didn't take it seriously and didn't prepare as much as I should have. But even so, it's rather humiliating to see myself so low. I started to doubt myself - maybe I'm not as smart as everyone used to say I am. I began to make excuses for my high GPA. I essentially beat myself up over this all. I have a couple of friends who are brilliant - both pick up ideas and concepts very easily and had some of the highest grades in the class. I don't begrudge their natural intelligence - I know it takes hard work for me to learn this stuff - but I feel pretty loser-ish next to them when I do all this hard work and not even compare.
Pride is probably my greatest vice of all, so it took a fair amount of wallowing in self-pity first before getting myself together with a game plan.
First, I had to be reminded that it's a tough program. It's designed this way. I chose the school because I wanted it to be tough. I wanted to be challenged. I just had to shift my unrealistic goal of being top of class to actually trying to understand and apply the concepts in the short amount of time they give us.
In a related note - the fact that I'm understanding a fair amount of this in such a short time is pretty amazing in comparison to the rest of the population.
Secondly, a lot of the draw of the program also is that my classmates are equally as smart and equally as accomplished. It's such a great experience being with such smart people that challenge me all the time.
Thirdly.... I have to learn to ask for help. I'm used to learning on my own, getting an understanding on my own since most of my learning experiences were based on being given all the information I needed. A type of hand-holding, I suppose. Here, probably because of the time structure and rigor of the program, I'm being asked to make leaps of intuition to apply concepts to situations that weren't covered in class.
This meant swallowing that pride and going to TA office hours and recitations. It's probably a realization that I should've made earlier on in the mini... but I was stubborn. But it's probably better late than never :) And I guess it's a good thing that I had this crisis so early on - this means that in future classes where I know I will struggle, I can look for help early on.
The goal is now just understanding and applying concepts, not getting the top grade.