I wish I could visit with each of you personally to provide some encouragement as you prepare for and work through finals next week. Since I can’t, I have decided to send you all this little note of support. Some of you will be graduating on the 30thand I look forward to exchanging great big smiles and shaking your hand as you walk across the stage to receive your diploma. For those of you who have further to go before you complete your studies—please come back next fall. Please keep working toward your degree with us here at Southern Utah University.
It was not too many years ago when I was in your shoes. I remember watching the homework pile up and feeling overwhelmed as finals approached. (The truth is, some days I still feel overwhelmed.) May I tell you one of my favorite stories from one of America’s best writers of the 20th Century? Remembering this story always helps me feel better.
John Steinbeck wrote and published nearly 30 books. You might remember him as the author of Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath, for which he was awarded a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. In his last decade of life he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the President of the United States.
My point is—Steinbeck was a good writer. No, he was a great writer. In fact he was one of America’s best!
One of his last books is called, Travels with Charley. He had been writing for decades and was looking for something new. So he loaded up his pickup truck, with a camper on the back—you don’t see these so often anymore but these campers used to be very popular back in the day—anyway, he loaded up his truck and camper with a typewriter and paper and everything else he needed, and took as his only companion his dog named Charley.
His plan was to drive across American and write a book about his experiences. In total he drove about 10,000 miles.
Okay, are you with me? He was a great writer. He received the best awards a writer can be given. He was very successful! Keep this in mind while you read the next paragraph, which is from the book, Travels with Charley. (This is very cool.)
Steinbeck wrote, as he began his drive across America and felt overwhelmed about the project, “I pulled [my truck] into a small picnic area maintained by the state of Connecticut and got out my book of maps. And suddenly the United States became huge beyond belief and impossible ever to cross. I wondered how . . . I’d got myself mixed up in a project that couldn’t be carried out. It was like [okay—pay attention to this part] it was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure fall on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.”
Wow, did you get that? He was a great writer—the best. He had written almost 30 books by this time. And yet he still felt completely overwhelmed every time he started to write another book! The only way he was able to do it was to “write one page” and remove from his mind the “possibility of ever finishing.” It was too overwhelming. For some, things may seem easy, for others it is almost too much. If you are one of the later you just might become as successful in your life as Steinbeck was a writer!
If one of America’s best writers could feel completely overwhelmed doing what he did so well, then it is okay for you and me to feel overwhelmed. Remember what Steinbeck did? He stopped thinking about everything he had to do and just focused on one thing—one page. He just wrote one page. And then he wrote one more page. And pretty soon the separate pages came together to make a book—a fabulous book—one page at a time!
If you ever feel a little overwhelmed looking at all of the work you have to do. If you think you can’t do it all. That it is simply too much or too hard—stop thinking, as Steinbeck did, about the whole book—and just focus on one page. Take your homework one assignment at a time—one problem at a time—one test at a time—one day at a time. Maybe when it gets very hard, take things one hour at a time or five minutes at a time. Just stop. Take a deep breath and do one problem, read one page, do 10 minutes. You don’t do anything big and worthwhile all at once. Just take it one day at a time.
I promise you the reward of finishing this semester and coming back for another, and then another until you graduate will be worth it. Let me assure you—you can do it. Never give up.
With my warmest regards,
President Scott Wyatt
Learn more about President Wyatt here.