The Art of Just Passing, or D is for Diploma

In college, my friends and I had a saying: “D is for Diploma.” It was our battle cry. We weren’t the Animal House-Tri-Lam-superconnected-constantlypartying-fraternity types. We were the I-just-spent-6-hours-in-the-editingbay/studio/writinglab/computerlab-after-working-8-hours-and-being-on-campus-the-other-8-and-I-think-I’ll-be-lucky-to-get-2-hours-of-sleep-before-I-do-it-all-again types.

The one thing we always did was not give up. Even if we knew we were just going to pass, we didn’t give up. We just pushed through – slowly. Sometimes this meant that we only just passed. Even with all of the work we did, we may have only just passed. We may not have made the honors list. We may not have made the Dean’s List. We may have only squeaked by with just an average GPA. We didn’t base our successes or failures on the letters we got on our transcript. Instead we focused on the projects we completed; the papers we wrote and were proud of; the performances we particpated in. That was okay. Just passing was okay because we knew we did more than we thought we could, and we learned a heck of a lot on the way.

It still is. I still hear people say “You have to go the extra mile”, “You’re cheating yourself if you’re not giving 110%”, “You have to work harder than the next person”, or my favorite “Failure is not an option.” (Note: Bullshit! Failure is always an option, it’s just how you react to failure that’s important). These are preposterous notions.

First giving 110% of yourself is mathematically impossible – it just is. At some point in the 80’s, maybe before then, the self-actualization-give-your-self-completely-to-your-work-and-forget-everything-else became en vogue. We had life coaches pop up  telling us about how we had to have goals. We had coaches tell us that the only way to make it in life is through success. That there was no success in being number 2 (to be honest, number 1 and number 2 are not things I EVER wanted to be – #ewwwIcky). And we still feed that crap to our kids. We have to have goals. We need to have dreams.

NO! We need to find new paths. We need to create what we see in our heads. We need to learn. We need to grow. It is not the final product that we need to be obsessed with. It is how we stay open to the possibilities in the pursuit that we need to focus on. There is a story I’ve heard countless times attributed to Bill Murray that always sticks with me. When asked why is he successful, or why he is able to do so much, he answers with Because I like to keep my options open. I say yes to the opportunities. (Not a direct quote).  YES! That is what we need. Stay open to the opportunities, and take the bumps on the way with stride.

People became obsessed with the goal instead of the pursuit. Recently, I was asked by my Martial Arts instructor why I was taking the classes. I said exercise, which is true. He asked why not go to the gym. I got irritated with him mainly because I hate the gym – I mean really hate. I would much rather exercise and learn a new thing rather than stand at a machine and wash, rinse repeat. Now it may just be me not liking to be asked questions like that, but it did make me think about what drives me. It is not my goal to be a black belt one day that drives me to learn. It is my pursuit to learn something. To make something. To find the possibilities. My goal is not to become a Black Belt. My goal is to enjoy the pursuit.

When I make a new art piece, website, or any other venture, I am more let down by the completion of the project than I am during the creation. During the creation of the project I am learning, I am reacting, I am finding new avenues of thought. When I complete a project, I am closing a chapter of something that I typically want to keep exploring – this is of course dependent on the client as there are many times which I want to scream “here, take it. I’m done!”

We can only give what we can give. We live in a fractured society where schedules are rapid and change quicker than they were planned. We have multiple dependencies that need our attention at all times on all fronts. There’s family life, social life, work life, education life, religious life, personal life, and they all are equally important. We come up with catch phrases like Work/Life Balance to con ourselves into believing that we can compartmentalize all aspects of our life into equal parts, when i reality that is not how Life (big ‘L’) works. Sacrifices and compromises need to be made to secure the proper balance. The scales of each aspect of a person’s life need to be adjusted and rearranged constantly to achieve equilibrium. It’s not about making sure each aspect gets our full attention. Work/Life Balance is about how we react and adjust to our constantly changing day so that we feel a sense of calm when possible – and it’s not always possible.

So go out and do things. Do your best. Remember that you may fail, you may succeed, and you may just pass. All of those are good. It’s not the goal that’s important. It’s the journey.

Mudo Jun Shin and Be well.

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