The Institute of Smashing by Chris M. '12
What do you think MIT and a garbage compactor have in common?
Webster’s dictionary has two entries for the word smashing when used as an adjective:
smash¬∑ing Pronunciation: Ààsma-shi≈ãFunction: adjective Date: 1825
2 : extraordinarily impressive or effective; a smashing performance
Here at MIT, you’ll find that both entries are equally applicable. In fact in studying here, no matter what major you choose I can almost guarantee one thing:
You’re going to be crushed
Now before you start letting sweat bead upon your brow and frantically asking yourself what you’ve gotten yourself into, let me assure you of another truth:
It’s good for you
You see, in the many conversations I’ve had with people from the MIT community, nearly everyone has the same first set of thoughts about coming here. Following CPW, you’re positively electric with the thought of classes and schoolwork. You think you’ll come here and quadruple-major, put your nose to grindstone, and crank out a few A’s. You’re on top of the world! You’ve proven yourself worthy of attending one of the most challenging and respected universities in the world. You’re an elite. You can’t help but pat yourself on the back a little–-and you absolutely should! Getting into MIT is indeed an accomplishment worth being proud of, but that’s where step one comes in.
Before moving on I think it’s important to identify roughly two types of people here. There are those who are brilliantly self-discipllined, and there are those who are billiantly talented. Of course that’s a generalization but let’s only pay attention to the dominant traits.
For students who are brilliantly talented, the very asset that got you in will be the biggest and most important change while you’re here. You’re used to being right, being able to just switch your brain on for a few minutes and crank out the answer before returning it to idle, listlessly day dream about the future or work through some crazy hypothetical situation and shunt your work until the next time you have to kick your brain on for some project (usually just before it’s due) and literally sprint through the work to finish with flying colors.
Sound familiar? It does to me, because that’s how I was in high school. I procrastinated like you wouldn’t believe, I’d do a weeks worth of BC calc homework less than an hour before turning it in and make better marks than my classmates who diligently plugged away at it every night. I’d write essays in marathon non-stop sessions starting with my thesis and not pausing until I’d filled 8 pages with my thoughts. I wouldn’t even reread or edit my papers, just turn them in and make A’s. I’d stand before a class and wing a 20 minute presentation with no problems. I wasn’t lazy, and it’s not that I didn’t care, but I just never had to work that hard. I was getting results I was happy with, and working harder for the sake of it seemed stupid (and I still agree it is).
But for those of you rolling your eyes and thinking right now I’m some self-absorbed egotist, here comes the crushing and perhaps a sweet sweet feeling of schadenfreude.
Two years here have all but ripped my weak academic workflow to pieces. It’s a tough blow to absorb to not be able to pull off the kinds of academic feats you’re used to. Working full-tilt in brief but insanely focused spurts becomes so common that it becomes taxing. And that’s when you start falling apart. You end up exhausted and defeated in a lot of ways. My grades in a lot of classes weren’t what I wanted, and by the end of it I didn’t feel very fulfilled.
But the good news is, like I said before, all this destruction is a good thing. Or more accurately, it can be a good thing. It gives you a chance to build something that’s better than what used to be there before (which in my case wasn’t hard). It gives you a chance to finally get those time-management skills you haven’t needed up until now. And while keeping your ego in check, you become a lot better at planning and working in teams. You gradually start edging closer to the performance you’re accustomed to and expect from yourself. That feeling, that feeling of growth is a new one. And it’s a thrilling one. I’m still putting on the polish, but I’m very excited to have a system that’s working for me now and impressing myself with the things I can do as a result. It may be a work in progress, but my academic career is leagues better now than it used to be.
So when you get here in the fall, don’t freak out about freaking out. It’s supposed to happen, and that’s why there are so many abundant resources at your disposal. Advisors, Office Hours, tutors, upperclassmen, and TONS more tools are waiting to help you remove the weak elements in your life (CAUTION: There may be a lot of them). You should strive to be a completely different person once you get out of MIT, because otherwise what’s the point? Make huge mistakes, be bold, be honest, let your ego shatter, get crushed and rebuild yourself into something better than before. Don’t be afraid to make huge and sweeping changes to try and find better ways to do things. Smash everything and start over.
You’ll do it again and again, at times where you think “ok, this it the last time FOR SURE”, but after a while you’ll find that all that smashing has left you rather smashing as well. : )