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Not the brightest in the box

If I determined a motto for my academic life, it would be:

Not the brightest crayon in the box

Sure, I am grateful to be a crayon in a box, but to say that I am the crayon shining at the top ends as wishful thinking. I was late to the computer science wave, having grown up without internet or a laptop (at least until the tail end of high school, but with no internet who cares). My only interest in software came from a presentation in geometry class by the computer science teacher, after which I spent the last two years of high school huddled in the back with others who did not understand assignments. In the back the teacher would coach us through solving the problem, and I faithfully attended every gathering.

I did not catch a break in college. Sitting in class surrounded by people who have built their own computers and appeared to pick up instructions quickly discouraged me all the more. I spent hours trying to arrive at the same understanding that others needed only minutes for. While professors do not gather the weaker students in the back to work through an assignment, I always found myself at the bottom (or near it) of the barrel in group thinks. Peppering the smart classmates with questions only made me feel worse, but I comforted myself in the fact that I was putting in some effort to understand.

Years passed and I never really grew comfortable in the “not the brightest” category. For once, I wanted to be one of the smartest people in a group. Little did I know that years later, that dream would finally come true.

I expressed interest in taking a Teradata training course since I use it at work. My boss signed me up for the class he took a year earlier, about advanced sql. I was pretty excited to take my sql skills to the next level, and enthusiastically looked forward to the opportunity.

When I arrived for the first day of class, we went over how Teradata physically works, which I found pretty interesting. You do not get this kind of knowledge in a degree. That first day ended up being the only day that kept me engaged. For the rest of the training we went over the basics of sql, how to filter down results, and even how to use some basic functions. I had been exposed to almost all of the material before, as I had a few years of work experience under my belt.

It felt nice hearing others ask questions that I silently knew the answer to. My mind wandered back to college when I had the blank look in my eyes as well as the painful struggle I endured to keep up. Now, I could maintain being mentally distracted and still finish the assignments with ease. It felt great being at the top.

For about a day.

As expected, I quickly became bored and felt like my life was wasting away. I ran out of things to look up on the internet (how preposterous!) and books to read. Existential questions ran through my head as the glacial feel of the class made me wish for work. Even though I could consider myself one of the brightest crayons in the box, it did not carry the fun I thought was part of the packaged deal.

After that class, I told my boss about my experience, and it dawned on him that I was signed up for the basic sql class instead of the advanced one. When he started asking me questions about some advanced datetime functions I knew a disconnect lurked in the shadows. He thought he had signed me up for the right course, but instead I wasted four days learning concepts I was privileged to learn through work.

Suffice to say I have been hesitant to make such a lofty wish. I do not consider myself to be one of the brightest crayons in the box. However, life experience has taught me that this is a stupid metric to follow. Now, as I look back, I take pride in the fact that I have solved problems I thought once held no solution. I marvel at how my anxiety has dropped because past experience has taught me that I am capable of finding solutions. But most importantly, I have learned to desire a level of continually learning. No, I do not want to be at the bottom of the pack, nor do I want to be comfortable at the top of the pack. I want to always push higher, stretch my potential, and face challenges that will spur personal growth even if it requires temporary feelings of inadequacy.

Forget the brightest crayon in the box adage. As a wise man once said,

Stay hungry, stay foolish.