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The Column

The Finals Countdown
5/16/04

I was feeling stressed this past week. I'm in the process of moving, a few projects didn't go the way I planned, and with "Friends" gone, there's nothing to forget to watch on Thursday nights. So I visited my old campus during finals. Now I remember what stress really feels like.

At most colleges, finals are over by now. My old campus is no exception, as the last day for them was this past Thursday. But Tuesday afternoon, I was reminded that my life isn't all that bad. Because at least I'm not being tested on it.

I visited my old fraternity house, and I'm still young enough to know some of the guys. So I went from room to room to say hello, and I got one of two reactions. Either the guy was uber-stressed and was thankful for the five minute break my hello gave him, or he was uber-stressed to the point where he didn't even notice that I'm normally not there.

"Hey Steve. Can't really talk, I'm studying."

"That's cool. You know I graduated two years ago, right?"

College finals are a unique animal (though they are somewhat similar to rabid badgers). I know people who work 80-hour weeks in the finance sector, where their jobs could lose people millions of dollars. And none of them are as stressed as they were when they were taking finals. Part of that is because talking about being stressed during finals week is cool.

Stress is a mental condition, brought on by actual stress inducing factors, and worsened by a lack of time management. My worst semester, I had six finals in three days. Yet I still got eight hours sleep each night. Why? Because the day before finals week started, I uninstalled Instant Messenger from my computer. Otherwise I would have spent the most difficult week of the year, staying up until 6 AM chatting about how stressed I was.

I am now a standup comedian, so when I go to sleep Sunday night, it's with the express purpose of waking up by Tuesday. I rarely have to set an alarm, so one of my favorite things to do is to stay up during finals week and wait for my younger friends to IM me about how much work they're not doing for finals.

"It's awful," they say. "I have gotten three hours of sleep in the last two weeks! Now check out this website I found."

A large number of people I know have jobs in the fields they want to be in. It may not be the job they want, it may be a crappy salary, and it may even be in a place they have no family or friends. But the work they're doing is at least related to an interest of theirs. And that's the worst part about finals – that often you're studying something you care nothing about.

I took a class my sophomore year in American Sports History. We looked at gender, class, and race in America through the lens of sports; even though I am a huge sports fan, it was a very difficult class. But studying for finals was never that much fun. I remember sitting outside with a friend who was in the class with me, studying separately for other exams. Every fifteen minutes or so, one of us would stop and say, "hey, wanna study sports again?"

The main thing that got me through finals was my countdown clock. When I had four or fewer days left, I calculated the remaining hours until I'd be all done, and draw them on my wipe-off board. Every hour or two (okay, hour) I'd change the countdown. I knew that no matter what happened in those hours, when that clock ran out, it'd be too late to worry about it. And I could use Instant Messenger again.

I've thought of studying in my post-grad life. Studying things I'm interested in, like sports or comedy or Instant Messenger. But then I remember how much I hated studying, and I watch TV instead. That is my right as someone who has already taken all his finals. That is also what is preventing me from ever going to grad school.

Though if there was a graduate degree in Instant Messenger, I'd think about it.

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