Stay on target!

Written by: Spencer Greenhalgh

Primary Source: Spencer Greenhalgh

Disneyland Paris starship in 1992

I’ll gladly go on record as identifying the Battle of Yavin, or what the uninitiated might refer to as the climax of the original Star Wars movie, as my vote for the most iconic science fiction battle of all time. I have a lot of reasons to love this particular scene, and you’d be surprised how easily I could relate some of these reasons to grad school:

For example, the music accompanying this scene is John Williams at his best and playing it in the background can make reading, writing, researching, or grading at least ten times more exciting. Lock APA style in attack position and keep editing that paper – the fate of the galaxy depends on it!

Another great example is a fantastic comic by Randall Munroe of xkcd fame that reinterprets one of the pivotal scenes of the battle as a struggle to stay productive when Facebook and Reddit are only a click away. What grad student hasn’t struggled with this?

As the end of the semester looms, though, that same scene that Munroe riffs on takes on another meaning for me. At a critical point of the Battle of Yavin, the ghostly voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi instructs Luke Skywalker to turn off his targeting computer, to “let go” and rely on his instincts to make an impossible shot and save the day. While the fanboy in me instinctively trusts the Force to guide Luke as he makes the shot, the rest of me screams about how counter-intuitive this is: Luke is turning off a machine whose sole purpose is to help him complete this kind of task and instead choosing to trust his gut at the very moment when it looks like he needs the most help.

Every finals week (and often as early as the week or two before), I find myself shutting off or ignoring many of my targeting computers. I stop thinking about what Lifehacker would recommend, I set aside some of my regular routines and procedures, and sometimes I even find myself taking more breaks at the very moment that everything I’ve learned about productivity says I need to be spending more time on task. This has been happening to me since probably my freshman year at BYU, and it terrifies me. What if I miss my shot because I decided to trust my instincts instead of the productivity techniques that I’ve been trying to read up on? A lot is at stake here, and I can’t afford to choke.

So far, though, my instincts have faithfully served me at the end of every semester. My subconscious seems to know just how much time to allot to each task (including writing blog posts that have no place on my to-do list), my body seems to know when to oversleep and when to get up on time, and things seem to just fall into place. I don’t advocate this approach — in fact, it scares me to death — but I’m uneasily coming around to the possibility that my gut can guide me through the end of the semester almost as smoothly as Obi-Wan guided Luke.

What do you think? Am I setting myself up for failure? Do you find “the Force” to be reliable enough when you really need to get things done? Or do you do a better job of sticking to your targeting computers than I do?

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Hi there! My name is Spencer Greenhalgh, and I am a student in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology doctoral program at Michigan State University. I came to Michigan State University with a strong belief in the importance of an education grounded in the humanities. As an undergraduate, I studied French and political science and worked as a teaching assistant in both fields. After graduation, I taught French, debate, and keyboarding in a Utah private school before coming to MSU, where I plan to study how technology can be used to help students connect the humanities with their lives. I have a particular interest in the use of games and simulations to promote ethical reasoning and explore moral dilemmas, but am eager to study any technology that can help students see the relevance of studying language, culture, history, and government.

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