Sunday, February 07, 2010

"That Guy"

I think that part of maturing is realizing the areas in which I am "That Guy." Who "That Guy" is varies, but people from at least some points of view will hate him. He might be "That Guy" who drives around and commutes in the city in a powerful sports car or a jacked up truck, or "That Guy" who runs out of gas on the freeway during rush hour or "That Guy" holds up the line at the supermarket checkout counter to go through every item on his receipt because he suspects the checker is trying to cheat him. I think that, at least from time to time, we are all "That Guy." And none of us want to be.

I've always been good at school, and there were a lot of classes in high school and undergrad that I could do well in with almost no effort. I don't think I was that good at concealing that, so in school I was "that guy" who doesn't have to work that hard but still screws up the curve. I even made a deal with my high school physics teacher in which I did only the problems with stars from each assigned homework section, rather than the assigned problems. The starred problems were, of course, the hard ones, but I was "that guy."

In undergrad, for the first few times in my life, there were exceptions. A couple of times, I couldn't just sit down and write the week's computer program in two hours, and lost points because of it. Most of the time I got away with it, though, and I was "that guy" who came to class once a week to get the homework assignment. In pyjamas. And while I managed to pass first-year calculus with about a 50% attendance rate, Multivariable Calculus defeated me.

One of the other aspects of growing up is failing at things. I don't think any of us likes to fail, but anyone who likes a challenge and attaches value to succeeding at something difficult will fail at something sooner or later, and probably more often when they find the level of challenge appropriate to their talents. Depending on one's attitude, a failure can become a learning opportunity facilitating success on the second, or third, or nth attempt. I was "That Guy" all through high school, and while I may not always have done well at all of my classes, I never did poorly at something I tried to be good at. That's true of college too, but I've had to admit that I blew it on Multivariable Calculus. If I'd tried to pass Multivariable, I might still have failed or at least had a hard time at it, but I might also have succeeded. If I was ready to work hard at an academic subject.

Part of falling in love with dance, for me, was that I wasn't "That Guy." Dance was a lot of work for me, and that made it much more compelling than anything else that I'd done. There were other things that I loved about it, but it was the first thing I've tried to be good at and not had come easily. Ultimately I couldn't make a career out of it and drifted into stagecraft and back into being "That Guy," more-or-less. When I took some courses to round out my knowledge, I was "That Guy" who remembered enough trig to understand rigging math (not a high bar, IMHO.) On electrics calls, I got used to being "That Guy" who could calculate Watts, Volts and Amps. There's a neat mnemonic for that - "West Virginia" abbreviated W.VA for Watts = Volts * Amps. I was always apologizing for being "That Guy" though. If someone commented on my ability to solve (easy) math problems, remember knots, use a ratchet strap, figure out weird ways to assemble disparate pieces of theatrical lighting equipment, etc., I'd shrug and act like it was a slightly shameful thing, maybe imply that I'd worked at learning my knots.

Anyway, I've always believed that my ideal career will exist somewhere near the intersection of what I love and what I'm good at. So I'm done being embarrassed about being "That Guy," whether it's being able to solve physics problems, knowing way too much about the sizes of bike parts for different applications, or not finding it difficult to remember how to tie a clove hitch. One of the results I hope to achieve in doing my current project is to find myself a context in which we are all "That Guy" and none of us are - where it takes vector calculus and differential equations to make us say "math is hard" (Zach, you seem to remain "That Guy" then too, and I hate you. :P) and we can all find some problems that are hard to solve and build some really cool stuff. After all, if everyone has a context in which they are "That Guy," then everyone has to have a context in which they aren't. For now, my classmates will just have to put up with me; I can only raise the mean by one point anyway.

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