Questlog

June 8, 2020

Derivatives

5:37 AM

It's almost six in the morning and I have an Economics final at noon. I have an A- in the class pre-final, and the final is actually now optional and I will retain my current grade as long as I complete 4 out of 6 problems correctly in a special "mastery" section. So, of course, instead of studying hard and making sure that I don't lose my A in the classs, I'm just going to write one of these things. Classic.

You may recognize the term "derivative" from your pre-calculus classes in high school (or more advanced ones in undergrad if you decided to major in a mathematics-related field, to which I will ask: why?) They are pretty useful whenever you're dealing with anything that relates to functions or having to find the instantaneous rate of change. Unfortunately, that's not really what I'm referring to when I made it the title of this post. A derivative is simply something that is based off or "derived" from something else, a concept which I feel applies to the bulk of modern society.

Now, I'm not trying to be all "we live in a society" or anything. My cynical and emo days were more than a few years ago, and I have no issue with the rise of technology, the entertainment sector, or anything else that my parents and many others like to complain about these days. I've just come to the realization that much of what we do as civilization, as well as most of what we know when it comes to conceptual and abstract topics, are just based off of other things. This final that I'm going to take is just something that was created for this specific class: Economics 101. Economics 101 in itself is just some random elective course I have to take to complete my major in Financial Mathematics and Statistics, a Bachelor's of Science that was literally invented at and only exists at the University of California at Santa Barbara, an institution that is only valid because of the concept of secondary school. And so on, so forth. Everything has its place, of course, and I'm not dismissing the need or value of any of these things at all. I'm just saying that everything seems to be stemming from a core concept of some sort. Survival, perhaps.

So what exactly am I trying to say with this? Well, I think I'm just trying to share something I've been thinking about. A new way of looking at things, maybe? While it's easy to stress out and meticulously plan every detail of my life and my aspirations and things, it's also pretty nice to remember that most of the things I try to do - as well as the things I strive for - are really just random things that were invented as part of other things. Some of what I want is real and raw - love, for example, or community, or friendship, or the like. I won't stop searching and fighting for those things. But this A in Econ 101? Nah. I could really care less about something so trivial and inconsequential. I don't really mind the blemish on my transcript. Because while I spent the better part of my childhood trying to make sure my previous transcript was as good as it could possibly be, I now realize that it too is just a derivative of some random concept, which was probably also derived from something else. Sorry to diss the entire American education system (it isn't my intention I promise), but you guys really overhyped the whole thing when you said everything was "official". Official transcripts and official acceptance letters and official awards and this and that. The National Merit awards program is a great achievement and you should be proud of yourself if you manage to become a Finalist, but it's nothing worth crying over. Hell, that entire institution only exists in the scope of academia, and you never needed it or any of its concepts to validate yourself. I've come up with tons of cool names for awards and programs and things, and even if I end up making it big and turning them into actual things and scholarships and what not, they still won't be anything worth devoting your life to.

But what about things like the Nobel Prize, you say? Surely long-standing and honored accolades like Oscars or graduating summa cum laude should be worth something, right?

And yeah, I'll agree with you that all of those are great achievements and something to be proud of. Everyone who has ever won an Academy Award or a Grammy or anything even remotely close to that scale of recognition is amazing and incredibly talented. But unfortunately, that doesn't really change the fact that those awards in themselves are kind of just trophies (literally). Winning a Grammy means you are an extraordinarily skilled musician, but the Grammy does not make you a great musician. Neither do you have to win a League of Legends world championship in order to be considered one of the greatest players of all time (respect to you, Uzi). These awards and programs that we take part in and receive recognition and honor from are amazing. It's simply amazing how we as a society have the resources and the attention to create "official" ways to acknowledge the effort and skill that others have. But somewhere along the way, people began to equate these awards and societal constructs with the underlying sentiments themselves. Perhaps this effect is not equal in every field, but when your GPA serves as a benchmark for how intelligent you are, you'd think that was a little suspicious.

Not suspicious as in possibly corrupt or illegitimate, but suspicious about the thought of people taking it to be true or using it as motivation for their actions. Don't get me wrong: it's very respectable to strive for a high GPA and try to do the very best you can in school (I have to put this in here or I'll get chastised by my seniors). I'm just saying that if all you care about is maximizing the number - and not your ability to learn and actually pick up the concepts you need for your career - you're going to be left with more disappointment than you signed up for. Not because you didn't acquire the skills you needed (using things like GPA or awards can actually be incredible motivation for people to go above and beyond), but because sometimes you'll get a B or something, and you'll think that you didn't do well enough and that you're not as good as other people.

I'll wrap this up because I don't really want to write about this again. I think my thoughts on this particular topic are pretty succinctly laid out here. Strive for things that aren't based off of other things. A B isn't even real. It's just a letter in the alphabet (also derived) that was assigned to a specific range of percentages (80 - 89.99), the percentage itself being determined by the concepts of tests and assignments, all of which do not exist without the underlying context of the educational curriculum and institutional environment. And you're probably thinking, "Okay, you f*cking weirdo." Which is why I'm just telling you this now so you don't have to explain it to someone else because you WILL sound like a complete idiot and socially uncapable person. Just remember that a B is not the end of the world. Neither is failing to get into a certain university, nor training for years and years and not placing at the Olympics. You can be disappointed, but you can also keep your head high because none of it is real. Go for the things you know and trust to be the source of everything else. Skill. Kindness. Love. Place your trust in the things you know will always be true. You can always randomly fail something and you can be cheated out of an accolade you deserve, but no one can ever take away your skills or the concepts you represent and strive for. You will succeed for a reason. You will be happy for a reason. Live for those reasons, and everything else will follow.

Receiving an A- is better than a B, so I'll be making sure my grade is secure by studying for the next few hours. But in the back of my mind, I know that this is all nothing. The grade I get in this class, the assignments I completed, even the concepts I somewhat learned (I will probably never use economics in my professional career) will all be a distant memory. And I'm not talking about "in ten or twenty years" distant. I will literally forget everything about Economics 101 within two weeks or so.

- Sam