I remember the exact moment the cannonball struck. I was sitting in a large lecture hall filled with aerospace and mechanical engineering students, taking my final exam for the Dynamics course. It was May of my sophomore year in college. Though many initial factors prompted me to take on engineering in the first place, my pride and my unhealthy attachment to finishing what I started kept me in it for two years. The Dynamics course was the first time I really couldn’t do the work, however. In the previous course, Statics, every equation we had to solve equaled zero. My math-oriented brain understood that. In Dynamics, however, suddenly nothing equaled zero, and my brain couldn’t comprehend how to solve problems in motion. My stubborn nature refused to admit that I couldn’t figure it out in the end through sheer will and determination. My stubborn nature, much like St. Ignatius Loyola’s arrogance, needed a cannonball for me to see the light.
After a semester of intense struggle, that cannonball came in the form of a simple white stack of paper in a crowded auditorium. There were just four questions on the exam. But I didn’t know how to do any of them. I remember the panic rising in me as I flipped through the pages and glanced at my classmates. Each of them seemed to be writing furiously while I was struggling to comprehend the words on page one. It felt so unbelievably hot in that room and annoyingly quiet, save the scratching of dozens of pencils. I wanted to rip up the test and run out of there into the cool spring air, but I also didn’t want to fail. It was by far the longest 90 minutes of my life.
In the end, I handed in a paper that had one problem mostly answered and a few lines I hoped made sense on the other three. I felt such shame handing in that paper. I wanted to bury it in the stack—or throw it away all together. I managed to wait until I got out of the hall to run and hide and cry. My friend found me and suggested that maybe I should talk to the professor before the final grades were in. I agreed and walked into my professor’s office the very next day without much of an idea of what I would say. Surprising even myself, I immediately blurted out that I knew I had done horribly on the final exam and that I knew in my gut that I was not cut out for aerospace engineering. In fact, I was pretty sure I was not cut out for engineering, period. It was the first time I had said those words aloud. I promised the professor I would never design a plane or anything that would transport people if he just gave me a passing grade. I promised him, even though I had no concrete plan in place, that I would transfer out of engineering as soon as I could. In the end, probably through the massive amount of curving that always happened on engineering tests, the report card had a big fat D on it—the first and last D I had ever earned.
Looking back, I realized that exam and that D were the things that finally got me to be honest with myself. Though the impact hurt, it allowed for a recovery period I desperately needed. There was still a long road ahead after that leading to where I am today, but it was the first time I was able to admit a few important things that have guided me ever since:
- No amount of determination and will could push me through something I was not meant to do in the first place.
- I was no less intelligent and no less worthy because engineering was not my God-given talent.
- God didn’t spend all this time creating me for me to be miserable.
This was not my last cannonball by any means, but I think it was the most important of my life. It allowed me to make the very difficult decision to switch my major, which gave me the tools I needed to make future, even more important, decisions for myself and later my family as well.
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