The Secret from My 3rd Grade

When I was a kid I was very relaxed. And I mean in school. I never worried too much about it, yet I managed to get the highest grades in my class. Even my teachers were aware about my apparent passivity and they “blamed” my success on my natural skills: a fantastic memory, they said. I was a good kid in school because I was blessed with a fantastic memory. And not because I was diligently studying. That was my secret, or so they said…

The more I think about this, the more confused I am. I did have a good memory as a kid, but not something way above the average. In fact, I think every kid has a far better memory than an adult. I didn’t read much about this so I’m not backing up my assumption with some scientific research, but I think our memory, as a cognitive function of the brain, is more developed in the early years, when we have to absorb a lot of new information and somehow decreases in performance as we grow, to make room for other brain functions like flexibility or information processing.

The Secret

Whatever. The truth is I wasn’t a good kid in school because of my memory. I was a good kid in school because I didn’t care much about it. How come?

Well, I almost never did my home assignments at home. I used to do them at school, just before the class. There was a 10 minutes break between classes and I almost always used this short break to write my homework. Sometimes I didn’t even know I had a homework, so I had to react pretty fast. In 90% of the cases I had better assignments than my colleagues. The rest of 10% I didn’t had any assignment at all because there were situations when 10 minutes weren’t physically enough to do it. But the vast majority of time, 10 minutes was just about enough to get by.

I didn’t improvise at all, while I was quickly writing my assignments. I was pretty sure about what I was doing. In fact, the mere fact of having to do something in a pressuring context seemed to made me act faster and more focused than usual. Every time I knew I have to face a challenge, being it the challenge of finishing my home assignments during the break, my mind was like crystal clear. I really enjoyed during my homework.

Somehow related to this feeling I also remember the feeling of excitement each morning I was going to school. What challenges was I up for that day? What unexpected things were waiting for me? What small victories was I ready to conquer? What tiny but relevant roadblock would I overcome? Would it be a new assignment? Some new math problem that I have to solve? Some essay that I have to concoct in less than 10 minutes?

I confess I loved school. But I loved it not because I was successful at it, I loved it because it gave me a playground for my risk taking abilities. Am I going to finish my homework during the break? Am I going to learn something new? Am I going to get caught?

Even when I was getting caught without my home assignment (those 10% were emerging quite often, so to speak) I had to come up with something. I had to deal with the situation. Either by inventing an excuse, either by facing the consequences upfront. Ok, I will have to do twice the volume of work for the next time. I will come earlier to school and finish the double assignment, no big deal.

And finally, I remember the feeling I had each evening before going to sleep. Yes, today was a good day. I did great at school. I confess that each morning I was a little bit confused and even frightened just before getting into the flow of events, but once I was there, acting and doing stuff, everything felt into pieces. And almost every single day at school was a fantastic day for me.

Playing It Safe

Maybe you’re wondering now why I’m writing about my 3rd grade home assignments. That’s a good question. I’m writing about that because somehow, along the way, I lost those feelings. I lost the thrill of not knowing what homework did I have to do, the excitement of doing it under pressure, the satisfaction of doing a great job and the incredible feeling of self-confidence I used to have every day before going to bed.

Somehow, I started to play it safe.

I started to plan in advance everything, to make sure every single situation is covered. I started to do my life assignments at home. Even in advance. I think I started to spend more time doing my homework than actually learning and living.

Sometimes, I miss the thrill of not knowing what will happen tomorrow. Most of the time, I already know it. I have appointments in my agenda and tasks to be done.

I miss the self-confidence feeling I had each night while I was looking back at my school victories. Because I don’t really have any important victories to be proud of nowadays: every little task is done according to the plan.

I even miss my confusion and fear in front of something unknown and challenging because, even if my day is made out of difficult tasks, there’s nothing really unknown or challenging.

At some point, life became boring. Our fight for immediate survival made us create a highly predictable universe. The more predictable the universe we’re creating, the easier the life we’re living. We’re having a job which will provide money every two weeks. We have a partner who will fulfill our physical needs twice per week. We have a house that we’re going to really own in thirty years, after we’ll finish to pay our mortgage. And that’s for sure. Because we took every single measure to be sure. We’re constantly making our life assignments at home. At safe.

Maybe it’s the society. We have to survive. We have to push harder and become richer so we can pay our mortgages, get a bigger and fancier car and spend our holidays in exotic places with names that we couldn’t really spell. We have to provide and be accountable for our own contribution.

Or maybe we just get scared. Maybe it’s the fear of death which makes us surround with beautiful and shiny distractions just to avoid the very dreadful thought of physical destruction. By playing it safe we’re creating the illusion of security and predictability.

No Risk It, No Biscuit

Alas, there is no such thing as security. There is no such thing as predictability either. Security is an illusion invented by  insurance companies.

Fact is we’re vulnerable. We’re exposed to dangers every single second. Our life is not predictable, although by starting to do our assignments at home we’re creating this illusion.

You may wake up one day to realize that planes aren’t flying anymore because of a big volcano with an impossible name from a country half frozen. The sky is filled with smoke. The sky is not safe anymore.

Or you may wake up learning that your partner is not the person you though he/she was. Just like that, in a split second, you realize you invested yourself in the wrong partner. Your emotional life is not safe anymore.

Or you may learn from your bank that inflation made your life savings worth a nickel. Or nothing. You thought you’re covered for many years, but all of a sudden you have to start doing your money assignment again. Your financial life is not safe anymore.

And, as surprising and difficult to accept as it may seem, that’s the beauty of it.

The truth is life is what’s happening while you’re making plans. The secret we’re constantly forgetting is that life is what happens on that fragile line between defeat and victory. Life is about taking risks, embracing challenges and overcoming limitations. And you really can’t overcome limitations if you’re playing it safe. Doing your assignments at home, far from the noise and surprises of the real life, trying to prevent bad things to happen or desperately predicting every single bad outcome and avoiding it, will not make you more alive. This will push you deeper and deeper in the illusion of security, while constantly weakening your risk taking muscles second by second.

Until one day you realize you’re not excited about life anymore. You lost that secret along the way. You’re not going to bed happy about the victories you had during the day. You’re not starting your mornings eagerly waiting for some unexpected challenge. You’re not experiencing the thrill of coping with unknown assignments, focusing with a crystal clear mind and getting better and better.

Every time I get these feelings of boredom, limitation and frustration, I simply recall some of my 3rd grade victories. Now you know my secret. 🙂

18 thoughts on “The Secret from My 3rd Grade”

  1. Hello,
    I like the part u have mentioned No Risk It, No Biscuit,
    if we are willing to do some thing, it can be finish in bad way or good way, even we were wrong, what learn from that is more important,

    if we are going for challenge there is risk after we over come that, we can have biscuits


  2. How can you give up the “biscuit” and the “twice a week fulfillment” so you can risk it all over again?

  3. Ah, I remember well, that was how school was. We even read out our assigned text from empty notebooks, making them up as we went.. I think a big part of the secret is to be present and unafraid as well. You’ll automatically participate and everyone will think you brilliant.

    It is also the reason I love to travel with little planning ahead. My days will become endless and in the evening the morning will be left so far behind I cannot even remember.. and I have to rely on my skills to get by. It also makes you a very open person, because the next traveller you meet might just point you to the next great thing you can freely visit because no plans are holding you back. That said, it’s not bad to have emergency plans to fall back onto if all goes wrong and your head starts spinning..

    But the last two years, since I’ve started studying phyics, things have become harder. You can’t just wing physics, or I can’t, it seems. Everyone around me is at least as clever and good as I am and they’re all working so hard – maybe some areas need preparations..? Hm..

    • I think that you’re enjoying the new adventure of studying physics, it just tends to be a really long one 😉

  4. I liked this post very much and I was a similar student as well. I had a wake up call just a few years ago and have been actively working with a side of myself I call the brave girl. She likes risks, facing fears and personal victories in a big way and working with that side of myself has pulled me from a rut and allowed me to take chances and accept change in a more graceful way. Here’s to remembering how to have adventures! 🙂
    .-= Clearly Composed´s last blog ..~ Nutrition Spotlight: The Smoothie =-.

  5. Interesting perspective on all of this. I would tend to look at it somewhat differently. I did some things like you, depending on the class. I was good at math, so I’d do it on the bus on the way to school. There were other times when I didn’t study, but would read the book on the way to school if I knew I had a test that day. I did okay, but I wasn’t great, and in retrospect, I think that’s hurt me in life at times because I’m not always as prepared as I should be, falling back on bad habits from the past.

    I see where you’re going with the excitement part, but for me, that was never exciting, just something that had to be done, and me not doing my best.
    .-= Mitch´s last blog ..Making Posts Private =-.

  6. Great post, Dragos!

    There are two very important messages I am taking home from this post:

    1) Don’t make it a big deal!
    Like you said, you were good because you didn’t care much about it. If you care too much, you land up playing it safe, and the rest is like how you very well described.

    2) Take calculated risks. There’s lots of it anyway, whether you take it or not.
    Like you did in your third grade, the uncertainty associated with it would give that extra punch to your day. The best part I liked was that you had a backup plan, in case you had to face the consequences, which was as simple as coming in earlier and getting it done with!

    Beautifully written!

    This is my first comment here, but you’ve hooked me on with this post, and I can bet I’ll be here for more.

    Wishing you success,
    Mark @ Secrets of Success
    .-= Mark @ Secrets of Success´s last blog ..Snore away to success! =-.

  7. Dragos, for me, the key message embedded in your post is that life is not predictable. Our suffering and discontent come from wanting life to be predictable and it never is, not for a single moment. Even when our life is boring and safe, there is plenty of fuel for discontentment.
    .-= Sandra Lee´s last blog ..What’s healthy for YOU? =-.

    • yeap, life is not predictable, you’re right, and even more, it’s not our discontentment that is out of the picture, it’s the fact that we’re trying to avoid it. Discontentment is a red indicator pointing us to the next challenge.

  8. Hey Dragos, Great Post Buddy!

    I personally LOVE challenges, but once I concur my challenges I eventually become complacent and my head starts to get really good because I think to myself, ” I got this down!–piece of cake ”

    Something I forget from time to time is to always on a consistent basis, challenge myself. I can definitely admit to getting comfortable to the challenges I overcome, and not taking on anything new for a short period of time.

    I’m actually still working on it right now



  9. Wow, Dragos you really gave me something to think about this morning. It’s exactly what I needed to get more inspired about my own life and take some risks.

    This has been so true for me: “Our fight for immediate survival made us create a highly predictable universe.The more predictable the universe we’re creating, the easier the life we’re living. ” My life has been pretty easy lately and I think it’s past the time that I shook it up a little.

    Thanks for sharing,
    .-= Karen´s last blog ..Two Inspirational Videos – Failure and Imagination =-.

    • glad I made you think, Karen. Sometimes we get our incentives from the most unusual places. Happened to me too this year while reading a blog post from a friend 🙂

  10. Hey Dragos,

    Looks like – I hated school for many reasons, but I can relate to the excitement part. Security really is an illusion – and a life that’s lived on the safe lane is a life not lived at all.

    That’s why I personally challenge myself each and every day, to grow and to feel alive. It’s harder than one thinks, but it’s sooo worth it.
    .-= Mars Dorian´s last blog ..The 4 Magic Traits that Summon your Online Influence =-.


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