Take Your Medicine

Earlier this month I traveled to the beautiful twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Though the trip was amazing, its what happened before I traveled that inspired this post. You see I still have my tonsils…which means that I am particularly susceptible to strep throat. I could take them out, but I have been told that as an adult it is particularly unpleasant, so that’s a no for now.

At any rate, I went to the emergency room and was prescribed antibiotics to clear the infection. On the bottle and in the instructions, which is pretty standard, it instructs the patient to be sure to take all of the medicine. If you don’t, you run the risk of feeling, looking, and sounding like you’re OK, but underneath it all the infection is still there. So whether I felt better or not, I committed to taking the full dosage, as instructed. Beyond not wanting to be sick again, I didn’t want to be “that guy” complaining to the doctor that I’m still sick – only to hear him ask “did you take all of your medicine,” in which I would have had to reply – no:( How then could I complain, be upset, or otherwise have any reason to be confused about why I’m still sick when I clearly didn’t follow directions.

I constantly look for leadership and success lessons in the mundane occurrences of life. So naturally I got to thinking about what else in my life could I apply this medical lesson – and of course academic success came to mind (me being an academician and administrator and all). So let’s apply this same logic to academic success, and beyond that to success in general. As part of a number of posts that I will refer to “getting back to basics,” I want to explore how students and others can benefit from this seemingly common sense principle of following directions.

Every semester, and every year, institutions across the country give their students tips, strategies, and advice on how to be successful students. And each year, students, some more than others, fail miserably and end up becoming academically ineligible and/or feeling completely deflated by their poor performance. Egos are hurt, careers fizzle before they start, and money is wasted all in one swoop. But why? Were the timeless research-driven strategies and tips not good? Were the students not listening or writing down what they should do? Was there a problem with understanding what was said? I don’t think any of this is the reason. I think it is a fundamental problem with the nomenclature we use when giving this information, and the perceptions of the students’ who receive the information.

The doctor does not suggest medicine for you to take. She does not give you tips on how to get better, or strategies on how frequently you could take a certain type of medicine. No, she prescribes you something, with the full expectation that you will take it – ALL of it – if you plan on getting better. I believe that students perceive the information they receive as just that; information. Take it or leave it, do it or don’t, apply it all or apply some – but its up to you. And therein lies the problem. When someone tells you to:

  • Go to every class, not some, but all
  • Meet your professors/teachers/instructors and get to know them
  • Go to tutoring before you need tutoring
  • Find a mentor
  • Get involved with an organization or peer support group

These should not be confused as tips for success, rather as a prescription for success. Can you see the difference? Not doing these things fully for the entire time you are in school is tantamount to you not finishing the antibiotics prescribed to you. You may “feel” OK after the first few weeks of school, and “think” you are OK because you have been going to class and met some of your teachers, but the reality is that you won’t know for sure you are well/on the right track until you take all of the medicine and get a clean bill of health (i.e., an A!) Here is a typical convo with students after a rough semester:

Me: You didn’t do too hot, this semester. I know you were shooting for a higher GPA, what happened?

Student: I don’t know.

Me: Did you do X-Y-Z, all the things I mentioned above.

Student: No.

Me: Ok, so what are you going to do now?

Student: I don’t know, what should I do?

Me: Do X-Y-Z, all of the things I mentioned above. All of it this time, not some of it, then call me at the end of the semester.

Zoom out now and apply this to almost anything at all. Anything that you have been given instructions on how to do: being a better leader, running a marathon, writing a book, building a successful business, etc. There are “self-help” books and guidebooks EVERYWHERE on EVERYTHING. Success is within your grasp. You can reach your goals, you can overcome, you can be better; you just have to take your medicine (even if you don’t want to!).

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