I’m Glad I Didn’t Pick the Nazis

If you’ve ever taken the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) then you know about the super horrible writing portion where they hand you a pair of random topics and tell you to write a dazzling essay on one of them in thirty minutes or so. No biggie though, right? We’ve all written tons of essays, albeit none so important as that thirty minute ditty that can potentially to dump our graduate school hopes into the crapper.

The question difficulty is a bit challenging to predict as they seem to be as arbitrary as anything you can imagine. To illustrate: imagine a continuum difficulty for GRE essay topics from one to ten — one being something like “Write your own first name,” and ten being along the lines of “Compare and contrast the courting rituals of the western Byzantine Empire with those of communist Yugoslavia.” Of my two questions — “Was there anything morally upright about the German citizenry during the Third Reich?” and “Do people always have a choice?” — I chose the latter, mostly because everything I know about Nazi Germany is from History channel dramatizations of World War II battles. Plus, I figured I could take a religious angle to the question as I’d always been interested the paradox of free will. Well that, and I often forget that I’m not nearly as smart as I sometimes think.

I started my essay strong, writing about how everyone has a choice in everything they do. Sometimes we may not feel like there is a choice, but that’s only because the choices we have are equally unpalatable. After a few lines I realized that I wasn’t really expressing myself in the way I wanted so I deleted it and started over. I started again, but it was just as wrong as the first try so I deleted it. I started again and deleted again. And again. And again. And…I looked at the clock.

Holy bejesus. I’d burned up fifteen minutes doing absolutely nothing. I started to regret not going with the Nazis. At least that essay would have had a cool story about the Battle of the Bulge.

When the clock hit zero I’d written the sort of essay that might have earned me a spot in a VCR repair program. Thankfully I’d been in the testing center for five hours without so much as a cracker so I couldn’t puke on the keyboard. I stood up from the desk, my blood sugar level making a coma seem likely, and wobbled to my car where I could lament my dark future in private.

Since that day I’ve thought a lot about my non-Nazi essay question and how it applies to my life. Nowadays, whenever I start getting all woe-is-me about how stressful my life is I like to take a few moments to remind myself that every source of stress I have is self-imposed. See, sometimes I forget that I didn’t have to take the classes I’m taking. No one was twisting my arm when I registered for classes. It was me. My decision.

So yeah, maybe passing on the Nazis was the right choice after all.


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