Halcyon Days

Columns and reflections by Terry Britt

Archive for May 2013

A few words on patience and perseverance

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(Reprinted with permission of Patriot Talon at the University of Texas at Tyler)

I am about to graduate college.
Finally.
Many years ago, I thought the walk I will be making in the Cowan Center on Friday evening would be a special but distant memory by this point in my life.
I also thought it would have occurred about 400 miles northeast of Tyler.
But if there is any kernel of wisdom I can offer my fellow college graduates at the University, it is this: No matter where you go from here, expect the unexpected to occasionally skew the nice, neat line you have drawn on your life map.
There is one primary reason behind it: Life isn’t fair.
Life never has been fair and it never will be. Anyone waiting for that to change is going to leave this life one very disappointed individual.
What I have learned in the last 30 years is a skill that I would advise you to cultivate for yourself. Simply stated, it is the ability to look beyond setbacks, failings and unexpected changes as opportunities to develop patience and perseverance.
Doing so could lead to rewards far greater than the ones you hoped to attain in the first place.
Some of you reading this were still years from being born when I originally started college at what was then known as Memphis State University in Tennessee. I had drawn my neat, straight line from point A to point B, looking at graduating with a bachelor’s degree in four years and moving on to a solid career in newspaper journalism.
But there is a well-known adage about the best-laid plans and mine certainly went astray, and I mean really astray. I did not finish college because I ran out of funding and could not maintain good grades alongside a full-time job, and my “solid career in newspaper journalism” never materialized, either.
Oh, I have had a career in newspaper journalism, one that included the occasional interview with a famous person and the occasional press award of which I could be proud. But tracking the path of my career on a map would create lines and angles so bewildering, it would send the best math majors at the University running for the nearest bottle of Excedrin.
Through it all, I came face-to-face with a lot of reminders that life isn’t fair, in jobs, relationships and most everything else. Learning to develop patience with myself and others went a long a way in getting me past such situations in a positive fashion.
Patience, sadly, has become a lost art in our 21st-century world of instant, on-demand and easy everything. My parents, though, instilled in me a belief that nothing good, certainly nothing worth having, comes to a person quickly or easily.
Holding to that belief has allowed me to keep calm in the most trying of circumstances in the last three decades, and given me the incentive to strive for better things instead of taking the quick and easy offer of the moment.
Perseverance is another quality my parents exhibited like no one else I’ve ever known. They had little choice for the most part, raising three boys on a very limited combined income that dropped lower when my father ruptured his side at his weekend job at a lumberyard and then suffered a complete nervous breakdown six months after surgery.
They plugged along, getting to their feet every time life knocked them down, and that included two house fires, periods of unemployment, a prolonged union strike at my mother’s workplace and ongoing health issues for both of them.
Some of that “never give up” spirit found its way into me, and I never gave up on the desire to eventually finish my bachelor’s degree. In August 2011, I became a University of Texas at Tyler student with that goal in mind, despite having to commute nearly an hour to and from classes and continue to work as a newspaper reporter and photographer in a less-than-ideal work environment.
In pushing back every time the strain pushed on me, something very unexpected happened.
I quickly became the excellent college student I wanted to be so many years ago. I notched a 4.0 grade point average for 12 hours in my first semester and a 3.69 for 13 hours the following semester. That is when a question occurred to me for the first time in my life: Why stop at a bachelor’s degree?
I started looking into graduate schools last summer. I returned to classes in the fall and pulled a 3.8 and – something really unexpected – hit the 92nd percentile in the verbal section of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). All of a sudden, graduate schools across the country began looking into me.
When all was said and done, about 20 graduate programs had sent recruitment e-mails, from as far away as Boston to as close to home as Austin. It was the latter, the University of Texas, whose offer of admission I cheerfully accepted and it is there I will begin my new quest, a master’s degree and then a doctorate, this fall.
I think I’ve got the patience and perseverance to do it, and I have my mom and dad to thank for that.
One thing I had always looked forward to was the sight of both of them sitting in the audience, smiling from ear to ear as I walked across the stage to receive my college diploma, whenever and wherever I eventually earned it.
But as I’ve stated above, life isn’t fair.
This column and my graduation from the University on May 10 are dedicated to the memory of John Edward Britt (1926-1999) and Ella Faye Britt (1941-2005).

Written by terrybritt

May 9, 2013 at 11:26 pm