My daughter called the other day to talk about her classes at school.
“I’m failing O-Chem,” she said, sounding more depressed and frustrated than I’ve heard her sound in a long time.
“Well,” I chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. “You certainly aren’t the first college student to have Organic Chemistry bring you to your knees!”
“Mooooooooooooommmmmmmm,” she said, clearly not appreciating my humor. “What am I supposed to doooooooooooooooooooo?”
I asked her some questions.
How much time do you put into studying for that one class? (“Not enough.”)
Have you talked to your professor about what you can do? (“Not yet. I will make an appointment with him this week.”)
What activities could you put on hold while you focus on O-Chem? (“I don’t want to drop ANYTHING!”)
And there it was. Right there. In that one answer.
I don’t want to drop anything.
For high-performing, internally-driven, ambitious people like my daughter, the thought of taking something away from her life — even if taking something away is in her best interest for achieving her goals in the long run — can be paralyzing.
Not only is she on a pre-med track with a full course load, but she sings in three different groups. (This is the equivalent of playing three different sports at the same time.) In the small amount of time she has left after classes, studying, rehearsals, and performances, she likes to do what most college kids like doing — hang out with her friends. Grocery shopping, meal prep, and sleep are tucked in around the edges somewhere.
This is not a college-based issue, either. In today’s accelerated economy, there is always something else we could be doing to advance our cause. (One more tweet! One more post! One more video series-webinar-conference-push up-training! After all, we tell ourselves.
We wouldn’t be doing all these things if they weren’t important, right?
Success is a math problem.
Organic Chemistry is the bane of most pre-med students’ lives. It has a staggering failure rate and is often viewed as a “weeding out” class for aspiring medical professionals. (As a pre-med student myself back in the day, O-Chem took me out and sent me down a completely different career path. Something I don’t regret one bit.) A recent first person narrative in the New York Times written by Barbara Moran does a lovely job of explaining why the class is so dang hard to pass.
And even though O-Chem is one of the few science classes that is not based in math and logic, successfully passing it is based in math and logic.
Because no matter how you slice it, success is a math problem.
Success at anything is about calculating the resources we have to get done what we say we want to get done. That could be in hours spent at networking for business development, or dollars that come in and go out of our budgets each month. For entrepreneurs and business owners, success is about figuring out our value, and putting it in front of the right people and opportunities.
But the truth is, sometimes we have to take something out of the equation of our lives to achieve our goals. Sometimes eliminating our choices and opportunities can lead to massive multiplication. Sometimes, going back to basics is the best strategy of all to bust open the barriers keeping us from accomplishing our goals.
From a business perspective, this might look like channeling time and resources into sharing content on two social media platforms instead of, say, twelve. It might mean going after three new contracts this quarter instead of twenty. It might mean taking your leadership team on a two-day offsite to analyze and assess your reality as it right now.
It means seeing where you’re at not as you wish things were, or believe things deserve to be.
But where things are. Today.
“Do you think you can do that?” I asked her after we’d talked for awhile. “Assess your situation and get back to the basics of why you’re in college in the first place?”
“Yes, Mama,” she said, sounding much calmer and relieved for having talked things through.
“Even if it means taking something away?” I continued.
“Yes,” she said.
I could hear a trace of disappointment in her voice.
“You’re not letting anyone down,” I assured her. “What you’re about to do is probably one of the most important life lessons you can learn. And if experience has taught me anything, it will probably get you closer to achieving what you want much, much faster.”
A few days later, she called to tell me she’d met with several key people on campus, including her O-Chem professor and college advisers. After a lot of thought and making a Franklin list, she decided to withdraw from O-Chem and come back to it during a summer term when it was the only class she had to concentrate on.
“I’ve also talked to one of my choirs, and let them know I needed to take a break for a bit while I concentrate on school. They will be there for me when I’m ready,” she said. “I’m happy with my decision. It’s all going to work out.”
“Yes it is,” I said, smiling. “It always does.”