Life Lessons from the Library: Sometimes It’s Okay to Give Up

I hate when a book goes missing in our library. I have a reputation of being able to find badly misshelved books–not because I’m more adept, but because I keep going long after logic and good sense dictate to stop. I’ll check behind the other books in the vicinity. I’ll check what could have been simple transposition errors–PS 3231 instead of PS 3321. I’ll check the DVD shelves for books and vice versa. I suppose it satisfies my inner private detective: The Case of the Missing Mystery Novel.

I thought about my shelf-wandering today when a student asked me if she should drop a course since the withdrawal deadline  is tomorrow. Now our culture likes to throw out the advice to never give up. And it sounds good as a slogan on t-shirts and posters.

But, in reality, it simply isn’t feasible. Students, especially community college students, often have no idea what college classes entail when they first come through the doors.  They have the best intentions, but they often also have jobs and families, all desiring their commitment and time.

Sometimes, you have to reduce your load so that you have a chance of continuing the journey. As I’ve told more than one student over the years, you’re not going to graduate any sooner signing up for five classes if you fail three of them.

Sure, some students are failing because they haven’t shown up for class, haven’t paid attention when there, and haven’t completed the assignments. But members of that subset probably withdrew long ago.

But for others, it’s a very hard call to make. These are the ones who are barely passing because they don’t have time to commit to a full load. There’s the student who needs no less than a “B” to be considered for the nursing program and is sitting on a “C” at the drop date. There’s the mom or dad who has to make the choice between coming to the Learning Center for math help or helping their own children who have fallen behind in reading skills.

It’s a swirling pot of goals, families, finances, and hopes. And there’s no advice that would fit neatly on a poster or t-shirt. When asked, I gently urge that they make the decision that will most likely allow them to return next semester and has the least disruption to family and/or job. Some go away dissatisfied, for they want to be told what to do.

But this is not a question with a one-answer-fits-all response. After all, this is not a lost book on a shelf; it’s people’s lives with all the messiness involved there.

So I always add one piece of advice: If you decide to drop, don’t feel like a failure or a loser. Sometimes it’s the smartest way to get where you’re going. And sometimes it’s the only way.

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