Before I dropped out of college I double-majored in physics and philosophy. I joked that I just flipped to the P section in the course catalog and picked the first two majors I found, but in reality I chose philosophy because I never knew what to do with life and I chose physics because it was the only subject I found challenging.
Well, that, and I had a phenomenal high school physics teacher that entertained my every question. I wanted to know how the world works and what to do when you’re stuck in it.
I had less luck with my college professors. The hardest course I ever took was a 2-hour electronics lab that was actually four or five hours on a good day. My misogynistic Russian professor that didn’t speak to me when I asked questions and answered to my lab partner instead. I was one of two girls and by far the least intelligent person in the lab. Most people interested in physics have a natural talent for it. I don’t.
At the end of the semester our final project was to build our own square wave oscillator. These circuits are used to generate time delays. We had to design it, pick out the resistors, and solder it to a little breadboard. The upshot of all this is that if we did everything correctly, a tiny red LED light on this breadboard would blink. The project took me about eight hours with the help of my lab partner, a future electrical engineer. I felt so accomplished when I finished the transformer that I ran to the dining hall and slapped it down on the table to show my friends.
“Look at what I built!!”
My friends were mostly Econ and History majors so I leave their blank faces to your imagination.
“Wow, Veena… A light that blinks… Great. And that took you how long?”
I had one friend that was a former physics major turned history major and he had completed the same lab in half the time it took me so his response was: “Oh yeah. I remember that lab.”
The budding physicist inside me was crushed. All that work and all everyone else saw was a dopey red light. I’d been hoping for someone to pin a ribbon to my chest or let out a war cry and carry me on their shoulders for a victory lap around the dining hall. That seemed fitting considering all the years of education it took to prepare me for this particular project.
I haven’t thought about college in a long time, but yesterday at the grocery store my husband said something pretentious and I DID’T correct him and STILL nobody handed me that trophy I’ve been waiting for.
Somebody get on that.
Every person in every relationship is nineteen-year-old Veena sweating through that transformer. You work late into the night, cry when the ukulele club starts practicing in the classroom next door (they sound so happy) and everyone else in the world glances over you and your hard work. Or they tell you they’ve completed the same task with twice the efficiency.
If you want fulfilling relationships, you have to be okay with this. It may take years of preparation to not scream in frustration when your child decides that it is way more fun to do naked somersaults around the house instead of get dressed for bedtime, but your child can’t know that. He can only know that he is loved — and if you’re really lucky, that it’s bedtime.
This is unconditional love. When we seek some kind of reward for a loving act, it’s not actually love; it’s a business transaction in which we hope to buy affection or goodwill. Our friends won’t know how much time went into that casserole we brought after they had a baby. Our spouses won’t know how difficult it was for us to get through a rough day at work or a long day with the kids. Our kids won’t know how much coordination went into those birthday parties. Our parents won’t know how much self-awareness it took to check in with them in the middle of our busy lives.
This is the way life is supposed to be. No medals, no trophies, no victory laps.
If this has you feeling down, you’re doing it wrong. Throughout this electronics lab I complained and cried and whined to anyone that would put up with me. No one forced me to major in physics. I chose to. I chose the college I attended and my parents even generously paid for it. The course was a major requirement, but I signed up for it. I could have learned something and prepared for a future career. I could have enjoyed myself that way. I still wouldn’t become an electrical engineer, but I could have used the challenge to become a better person and what’s more fun than that? Heck, I picked the major specifically because it was challenging. Caring about people around us seems like a chore only when our motivation isn’t genuine.
All around us are other little blinking LED lights, people who have sacrificed and fought for us while we’ve been blind to their gifts. We don’t need to go crazy with thank-you cards, but we will be so much happier when we are aware of those seemingly small gestures. Case in point: my husband made dinner tonight. He drove to the grocery store in the snow, spent an hour buying groceries, and another hour entertaining our daughter while cooking. I do not owe him anything for this gift that he freely offered, but I am so grateful for his thoughtfulness and effort. I may choose to express that gratitude to him with something slightly more direct that a blog post. We’ll see.
No one is ever going to appreciate all the work that you do. Revel in this and seek to serve.