Wednesday, May 13, 2015

True Expectations

     When I was a sophomore in college I asked my upperclassman dormmate—also an accountant in the making—what I should expect to get on a tough exam I had just taken that filled me with a mixture of optimism and apprehension.
     With practiced certainty he said, “Expect the worst. Hope for the best.”
     It was the best advice I could have received at the time because as I imagined an F, which wouldn't kill me, my fears subsided. And as I imagined an A, I felt buoyed. The exercise, oft repeated over time, brought me good, balanced perspective that I had previously lacked. I don't remember what grade I got—probably a B—but during the exam's distribution, I felt calm and warm, not jittery, what's-it-going-to-be-my-career's-riding-on-this tense as in past distributions. So from then on, I practiced the exercise during nearly all my anxious wonder-what-its-going-to be moments whether in academia, career, or even romance. 
     Through trial and error I soon discovered that I had to modify the exercise to better suit my needs. Specifically, expecting the worst became increasing difficult as I studied harder and harder and focused better and better in class. Why expect an F if it seems so remote? Better to expect the probable worst, I reasoned, as in a C. I still hoped for the best (A!). But I also prepared for the worst by imagining what would happen if I did get an F. (Redo the class? Change major? Quit college and become a plumber? None seemed so horrific or earth-shattering after thinking about them in those terms. After all, I loved and still do love working with my hands and the story I'd heard of a white collar professional that hated his job, quit, became a plumber, loved it, and earned twice as much struck me and made me wonder “Might that be me?” I felt okay about accounting but did I love it? I wasn't sure at that point.)
     I raise all this only because Braden, for the first time ever, freaked over a grade. Due his lying, acting up, displaying disrespectful and rude attitudes, and being negligent and irresponsible with his chores we disallowed his attendance at a couple of after school music rehearsals. I both times wrote and signed a note requesting that his absence due to discipline reasons be excused but upon Braden's return, he said that after turning them in, he was told, “Absences due to discipline reasons don't count.”
     This surprised me but I thought, What the heck? It's his problem, not ours. 
     When his mid-quarter report card came and showed an F for music, I asked him, Is this for real? 
     He said, Yes, it's due to my two absence.  
     I shook my head and smiled but later recommended that he change one of his next year's electives from music to foreign language—especially since he doesn't take music serious, having brought his instrument home to practice only five times during the past four years of music classes, and having practiced only twenty minutes or so each time. 
     With some reluctance, he agreed and got the form to switch music to Japanese.
     But then before signing the form I remembered he'd already signed up for four honors academic courses next year (which I'd approved of but wasn't confident he'd be able to handle with all B's or better) and realized that the swap will increase his overall academic challenges—Japanese being tougher than music. So I held off signing the form. 
     Two days later Braden complained to Deanne that based on his current calculations of his GPA, he's going to flunk and have to repeat ninth grade! And that it's all our fault because his F in music is what's bringing his GPA down! 
     Deanne told him it's his fault for getting in trouble and needing discipline all the time and to calm down and stop blaming us. When he refused to comply, I sent him outside for time-out. 
     When Deanne later expressed her concerns to me, I said it sounds implausible, reminding her of our family friends' daughter that got straight A's in one semester then straight F's the next but still graduated high school on time with a full-ride scholarship if she just maintained a C average or better in college, which she didn't. Whereas Braden, besides the F for music, has gotten all A's and B's “Flunking out for one F?” I said, “doesn't seem real. If you're still concerned, talk to his counselor and music teacher about it.” 
     Then I told Braden to quite talking to Mom about it and to contact the same if he's still concerned. 
     Because Braden and Deanne expected the worst, they both panicked. I, by contrast, expected the probable worst and thereby stayed calm, chuckling even. Further, I hoped (and still hope) that Braden would keep it together (his attitudes and behaviors have improved some) and pull his music grade up to C or B by quarter end, possibly even A if he can earn extra credit. Preparing for the worst (his flunking music) came easy as I imagined forcing him to switch music to Japanese next year—problem solved!  
     Funny thing, as I was composing this essay, he acted up again and so had to miss another after-school music rehearsal. I wrote another excuse note, but good luck with him pulling up his grade by quarter end now. His GPA may suffer, but if he finally learns the at-home lessons we've been drilling in him all all these years of character, integrity, competence, and responsibility, it will have been worth it. For what are grades but letters on a sheet of paper? It's what's inside that counts most. Always.


  1. Amen! In the end he all things worked out and he will always remember why you took the actions you did. Looking at the turn out. Finished product.

  2. I pray you are right. Sometimes I have doubts about what to do or what I did. But I never doubt God's infinite faithfulness and that He is good!