If there’s one thing I can say about myself with confidence, it’s that I am, and always have been, a good student. And I don’t mean that I know how to cram just enough the night before an exam to earn exactly the number of points I need to maintain a certain average.
I actually took great joy in my assigned school readings. I even added excited, super-nerdy notes to my margins. When long-term projects were assigned, I set my own deadlines for smaller chunks of the larger goal, triumphantly checking them off as I went. In college, I went to professors’ office hours and had dinner at their houses (I love small liberal arts schools). In other words, school came easily to me. I knew what was expected. I enjoyed doing what was expected. Learning was a joy, and school was my home.
Servant Year is a different experience. Now, I certainly don’t mean to dissuade anyone from applying. The benefits of this program are numerous, and I could devote an entire post to them alone. In the past seven months, I’ve made new friends, explored a new city, and learned a lot about myself.
But something else has happened to me; something that I wasn’t well-prepared for in the warm embrace of academia.
I’ve been wrong. A lot.
I’ve inadvertently annoyed my housemates. I’ve neglected personal responsibilities (my body, my messy room, my pile of laundry, etc.). And God knows I’ve made more mistakes at work than I can keep track of.
If any other good students are reading this, I have something unsettling to tell you. You’re awesome, but you may be at a bit of a disadvantage in this department. School dominates the first eighteen years of your life. If school comes relatively easily to you, you don’t get a whole lot of practice being wrong. And in real life, you’re wrong a lot. Sometimes it feels like you’re wrong more often than you’re right.
But there’s good news. When I was a student, a single “C” on an assignment was enough to ruin my day, even if all my previous grades in the course had been “A”s. These days, if I make a mistake at work, I don’t have too much time to let it get me down, because I’m bound to make a different one the next day. I know this might sound like a nightmare, but there’s a great beauty to it. In a class, a certain number of mistakes leads to a failing grade. As I said above, I’ve made a lot of mistakes as I’ve navigated my Servant Year. But I haven’t “failed” yet. Because one of Servant Year's goals is for us to emerge as slightly better people than we were when we started. At the end of the day, as long as this is accomplished, the number of mistakes doesn’t matter (within reason, of course).
Before I go, I want to make one thing clear. I’m not trying to bash academia. I love it dearly. I miss it. I intend to go back to it in the next few years. But when I do, I will fear failure a little bit less than I did seven months ago. And if that’s not a blessing, I don’t know what is.
Annie Serves as Youth Ministry Assistant for the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.