On transitioning from high school to college

I took a phone call tonight from my old college fraternity. I’ve been trying to be nicer when they call asking for money. The organization and I see eye-to-eye on virtually nothing, but the poor pledges who have to make these phone calls every year have no control over any of that.

We actually ended up having a nice conversation about the transition from college to high school.I can’t say it’s something I’ve ever talked about, but the transition was a bit rough for me in some ways. I wasn’t valedictorian, but I generally took harder classes than many of the people who outpaced me in GPA. In some of my classes I was more like a teacher’s assistant than a student, because I knew the subject matter better than the teachers did, and they would readily admit it.

Frequently I was the smartest guy in the room, and I liked it that way.

In college, I was never the best at anything. I told him one of my classmates is now the beat writer covering the Cardinals for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That’s the caliber of person I found myself competing against.

It was hard to settle for being good, or very good, when I’d spent the previous 12 years being elite.

Yet, it wasn’t until I got over my ego that I actually managed to even be good. Considering my course load, my first-semester 2.8 GPA wasn’t all that bad, but it was a lot closer to average than I’d ever been. I never dropped below 3.0 the rest of the way, but I never approached my high school numbers.

I guess it was good preparation for adult life. There’ve been times when I was the smartest guy in the room again. But it doesn’t happen very often at work. But at work, the guys who are smarter than me who also have bigger egos than me also aren’t all that happy.

Give me a choice between being content and being the star, and I’ll take contentment every time.

I only talked to the 18-year-old pledge for about five minutes, so I didn’t go into this kind of depth. I don’t think he wanted to hear that kind of a lecture from a stranger 15 years older than him.

There are lots of other questions I would have liked to ask him, but I know the answers to all of those are the same as they were in 1993, and I can’t change any of that for him. I don’t know if that brief conversation that resulted from me asking how his studies were going helped him. But maybe it did. Or at least I didn’t make him feel any worse.

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