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How I keep my focus in school.

I don't know if it's like this in other graphic design programs, but in mine, there seems to be a very sharp drop-out rate. We began the year with about 60 first-years, and now, halfway through the year, there's probably about 30. To give a sharp comparison, there are only 9 second-years.

You do have to petition to get into the second and third years, I know that much, but I also see a lot of people psyching themselves out and quitting early. Perhaps graphic design just wasn't for them. It's hard to tell.

I feel like... we're kind of in a competition. I mean, not really, but kind of yes. I know they don't have a set number of people who they let into the second year, but in a way, the more who drop out, the more pressure I feel. The ones who were here just for fun are slowly falling to the sidelines and now those of us who are left are in a more heated battle to the end.

Our teachers are very patient and gentle, but they do push us to try harder, be better, and think outside the box. No one is ever put down or made to feel stupid, which I really appreciate, and we all do generally help each other out when someone is stumbling behind, however... I do still very much feel like it's a competition. Not a zero-sum game, necessarily, but more like we're all racing to beat our own personal score. Some will give up and quit before reaching the finish line. Others will not run well enough and be cut, and those of us who keep our head down and our eye on the finish line will cross it. I can only pray that I will be diligent enough to stay the course and be one of them.

I look around at my fellow classmates, people who are quickly becoming friends and allies, and I secretly wonder who will drop out next. Who will let the forces of life beat down on them too much? Who will not take their classes seriously and be cut or held back from advancing to the second year?

When I start to think like this, I think of my favorite athlete, Nadia Comaneci. You may have heard of her, but if not, I'll recap her career briefly. She was a Romanian gymnast in the 1970's, discovered by Coach Bela Karoly (who now coaches the US Women's team). Nadia was the first Olympic gymnast to get a perfect 10. In fact, the scoreboards didn't have enough spaces in them to show a 10, so they displayed her a score as 1.0! She went on to win 3 gold, 1 silver, and 1 bronze at her first Olympic games. In the European championships, she won gold nearly every time she competed.

The thing about Nadia that really stood out to me though was that she rarely watched the other gymnasts compete! She stayed focused, determined to be the best gymnast that she could be. The fact that she really was the best was beside the point. Nadia knew that, at least for her, watching the other gymnasts compete was a great way to psych yourself out. Focusing on what you know, what you do, and how you perform... that's the path to greatness... not watching the competition.

As the pressure of my program builds, I remember Nadia and how she focused on the goal, not on the other gymnasts. Mentally, I work hard to maintain my focus and not worry about how the other students are doing and whether or not they're doing better or worse than I am. Honestly, the word on the street is that I am one of the better students in this year, but even that knowledge can be distracting if I let it. Overconfidence never helped anyone, and can be just as harmful as watching one's competitors too closely.

So that's that. Just some things I was thinking about lately. There were a lot of people absent today from class and it really made me realize how important being here is to me. I know it's either this or back to a data-entry/receptionist life for me. I absolutely love what I'm doing, and that certainly drives me, but I also know that I need to learn this the best that I absolutely can because it's my ticket out of here (as cheesy as that sounds). I have no problem being friends with my fellow classmates, but as they drop, one by one, I can't let their absence distract me from my goal. And likewise, even if someone is more skilled in an area than me, I can't let that distract me either.

Focus, focus, focus. That's the name of the game for me. Like Nadia, I tend to be quite competitive with myself, so I strive to absorb her wisdom and not let myself be psyched out by looking around too much. Whether or not I'm the best first-year is not the point. The point is guiding myself to be the best graphic designer that I am capable of being.

Are you more competitive with yourself or with other people?


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