“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” — Lao Tzu
We’re a couple of days into the new year, and with it comes goals, hopes, and promises for the future.
Here’s what I’m aiming for:
- Finish up the online courses in AP Psychology at University of British Columbia I’m taking.
- Take the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude-test.
- Start full time university studies in the fall.
Notice that there’s one key thing missing in each of these “goals”. Can you see it?
A couple of years ago I would’ve made these goals to look more like this:
- Get at least 90% on my AP Psychology courses.
- Get 1.75 or higher on the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude-test. (It goes up to 2.0)
- Start full time university studies in psychology in the fall.
They’d be specific but not as helpful.
It’s not that I’m lowering the bar for myself. Those are still the things I want to accomplish. But there are things I’m aware that I’m not in control over.
For example, even if I study hard and get a good result on the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude-test the final result is still out of my hands.
This is because grading system is averaged.
If I get 140 out of 160 questions right this year it might earn me a 1.7 while the same result would’ve given me a 1.8 the year before. The test doesn’t only look at how well I do, it takes into account how others taking the test the same year perform.
This means that if others perform better on this year’s test that 0.1 difference can mean I don’t get into the psychology program. I might have to “settle” for studies in social sciences or philosophy.
And that’s OK.
I’m going to aim for the best possible result, but I’m not hung up on it. I can always do the test again. I can always apply again. And I can keep doing things in the meantime to get better.
Some might argue that it’s a cop out or defense mechanism to “not get hurt” in case things fall through. Yes, that might be true.
But it doesn’t take away from the fact that the results are the results. They’re an indication of where you’re at in a specific moment in time given the circumstances and the work you’ve put in.
You can do everything right and still fall short due to things that are out of your control. The difference is whether you acknowledge that fact or if you use it as an excuse.
That requires that you take an honest look at yourself. Did you really put in the time and work required? If you did, great! If you didn’t, find out what you need to improve for your next outing.
Here are some of the steps I’m taking with each of my 3 goals:
- Reading, watching, and listening to all the AP Psychology course material. Taking tests online, watching YouTube videos explaining the concepts further, reading psychological study papers, etc.
- Test taking is a skill. There are old Swedish Scholastic Aptitude-tests available online, dating back all the way to 1993, which I’m taking. Understanding the way tests are set up will prepare you for the format, as well as put yourself in the right frame of mind. I mean, how often do you take tests? It’s like playing tennis after just reading about it. You need to apply the theoretical knowledge into a practical environment, and taking a test is that practical environment.
- Last year I applied for university but didn’t get in to any of the ones I really wanted. Faced with the choice of taking one of the backup courses for a year or to keep working, I opted to work. Last year applying for university was a kind of “spur of the moment” decision, and I didn’t have a clear plan of action. This year I’ll prepare myself better, and whether or not I get a seat in psychology I’ll start studying something that interests me.
Even without the desired results I can still go through the process. That’s in my control. If I’m sick on the day of the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude-test? That’s something I don’t have 100% control over, but there’s always next time.
Some people might think the quote, “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving”, means you go with the flow and don’t make plans or have a destination.
That’s not how I see it. To me it means that a good traveler has a plan, but that it’s malleable and adaptable to the circumstances.
Let’s say you want to vacation in France. You arrive at the airport and all the flights are canceled due to weather. There goes your plan. If your plan is the most important thing then you’ll be too rigid to find other solutions.
For example, you could perhaps find an alternative route or mode of transportation. If that’s out of the question, perhaps you could travel somewhere else. Maybe there’s an equally good, or better, destination and vacation a lot closer to home than you thought?
What about the part about not being intent on arriving? To me it means that you love the process so much that it becomes its own reward. That you’re never really finished with the process of living. I mean, the ultimate destination of life is death. What’s the hurry?
And that’s the game.
You’re never guaranteed the outcome you want, you’re only guaranteed the process.
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