pacing the void

Perspective is its own reward

Aspiring doctors like myself have all received the

hardwired pre-med programming: to get to med school - you must live a résumé. Anything less would be worse than uncivilized; it would be collegiate suicide. Armed with this knowledge, we often bury ourselves with passionless work, just for that well-rounded resume'. We form committees. We worship grades. We write columns ... . We do silly stuff.

One truck stop along this highway to success is awards. Awards are like Ferraris: good-looking, but limited in supply. This makes the award process competitive and our lives a living hell. We don't just strive to be well-rounded; we try to beat everyone else at it.

The damage done is subtle, but very real: we begin to lose our passion. The pursuit of excellence morphs into some perverse pursuit of mantel pieces. Actions no longer validate awards; awards validate our actions. We no longer praise our work but the praise our work received. Ultimately, our conviction and drive are deadened, for if anything brutalizes passion, it's fraud.

These were my thoughts walking into an interview for the university's Freshman Man of the Year Award. Not the most optimistic of thoughts, to be sure, but I was troubled. I had spent weeks questioning myself, probing why this award was more than a résumé ornament. I found only one answer, and a weak one at that: Praise makes us work harder. It was true, and hard work is certainly virtuous. But I knew the condition was this: Work harder toward what? If the answer was more awards, then a sad cycle would begin. Standing outside the interview room, I wished for only two things. One, to not fall into the cycle of awards. Two, to be hit by a meteorite if I do.

That 20-minute interview had to be one of the most God-awful interviews in the history of the world. I might have done better to walk in and just urinate on the table. I was horrible. A cold had coated my throat with mucus, cracking my voice sporadically. I was dressed in my most formal college clothes: black jeans and eaten-up Reeboks. I was nervous, and worst of all, I was perfectly honest. "Look at that painting, and tell me the first thing you think of." "My breakfast."

In retrospect, I know the "right" thing to say was "butterflies in a meadow," or "shells on a seashore," but honesty did bring me a little wisdom. "If you had an award named for you, what qualities would you want its winner to have?" "The person most deserving of my award would never apply."

It was this small speck of insight that sailed me through the following weeks, all the way to Monday's Evening of Excellence. I realized that the desire for praise and passion are inverse: the more you want one, the less you want the other. Although I left that interview feeling like fresh gum pasted to a bathroom wall, I reaped a grand award in the long run. I reaped perspective. I had lost the award, but I still wanted to be a doctor more than ever. I survived the cycle, and I would be all right.

When Monday night came, humanitiesProfessor Donna Swaim gave us all perspective to survive the cycle. Perspective, she said, would help us sort the meaningful from the meaningless. Recognizing this, she promised to give congratulations to those who win, and hugs to those who don't. After she finished, I rose and clapped. Hard. Really hard. I had perspective, and I had an upcoming hug.

Most of that perspective survived the entire night, right up to the announcement of the Freshman Man of the Year. As the award description began, I looked to my plate and killed a cucumber, drowning it in its own dressing. I was tense, teetering on 2 inches of chair. But I was all right. And with perspective, I would continue to be all right.

"This year's winner is a writer ... for the Arizona Daily Wildcat. .. "

No meteorites yet, and I still cashed in my hug.

Mark Joseph Goldenson is a freshman in psychology and molecular and cellular biology. His column, "Gold Standard," appears every Friday, but you don't need a dictionary to read it; he doesn't like polysyllabicity.

By Mark Joseph Goldenson (columnist)
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 18, 1997

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