To quote one of my professors, the feast day of misery and pain arrived this past weekend.
That’s right, this Saturday was Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day brings many things, depending on who you are and how you view it. It can bring anticipation and joy of spending time with your significant other. It can bring pressure to plan the perfect date. It can bring a painful reminder of your single status. It can bring the opportunity to remind those you love in your life just how much you love them.
This year, however, Valentine’s Day brought something else to Boston College: Kerry Cronin. Last Tuesday, the week before this fateful holiday, Professor Cronin assigned her Perspectives I class her dating assignment.Yes, the dating assignment.
The assignment seems simple enough—at its core, she assigns extra credit to her students who ask someone, in person, out on a date. It’s a Level One date, which means that it is 45 to 90 minutes at a location that makes you both comfortable and is reasonable for a Level One date (so no fancy dinners in the North End). This date is a lot of reconnaissance work, and has to strike a balance between getting too deep (“How many kids do you want?”) and staying too shallow (“Where are you from again?”). Yet this assignment only seems simple. It is not easy to ask someone out in person—to look directly at that person and say, “I would like to go on a date with you because I like you and want to get to know you better.” It is not easy to be vulnerable with someone—especially someone you don’t really know—even if it’s only for a few seconds. The assignment comes with a lot of what-ifs: what if you can’t find someone to ask? What if they hate the location you want to go to? What if they hate you? What if they say no? What if they say yes? But that is part of the purpose of this assignment. To push students out of their comfort zone and to do something they have never had the chance to do. To encourage students to be vulnerable and open with someone they may never have otherwise interacted with at that level. To move students to take on a challenge and, just in the effort to complete this task, to have them succeed. The assignment has high expectations for the students who choose to undertake this project, which can be intimidating. The possibility of failure is terrifying and the path of not trying all the more appealing.
But when someone has high expectations of you, this can make you perform better. In a study conducted in 1964, Harvard professor and psychologist Robert Rosenthal examined how teacher expectations affect student performance. To do so, he gave students a test that he said would identify the students with a bright intellectual future.
However, he lied: the test he actually gave the students was a regular IQ test, and the students that were distinguished by the test to have a bright intellectual future were, in fact, chosen at random.
But neither the students nor teachers knew this—the teachers still expected the students that Rosenthal identified to be on the verge on an intense, intellectual boom. And this impacted the student’s IQ. “If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ.,” Rosenthal said. The teachers’ high expectations for these students made the latter perform better. When someone has high expectations for you, you perform better. When someone has high expectations of you, you become better. A person who expects a lot from you recognizes that you are capable of greatness and is not afraid to push you to achieve it.
Ben Affleck was this person for Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.
Matt Damon, a mathematical genius, has the option to escape his current situation of working as a low-level janitor. Yet, he wants to stay in South Boston with his friend Ben and continue the life he has lived so far. “Look, you’re my best friend,” Ben says, “so don’t take this the wrong way, but if in 20 years you’re still living here, coming over to my house to watch the Patriots game, still working in construction, I’ll f—king kill you.” When Matt protests and says he doesn’t want to use his talents, Ben continues. “You don’t owe it to yourself. You owe it to me … I’d do f—king anything to have what you got. It would be an insult to us if you’re still hanging around here in 20 years.” Ben sees greatness in Matt. He sees in Matt the potential to do important things in the world and to be a better person. And Ben is not going to let Matt give up on himself without trying first. Ben is both willing to push Matt to take the first step, and support him on his journey.
A person like Ben cannot do the actual work for you. An assignment like the dating assignment cannot force you to actually undertake the challenge. These motivators will not be the sole reason for your success, but they can be the tipping point. If you can find these motivators and mentors—a person who is unafraid to push you to do better things and become a better person, because they recognize the potential in you and know you can do it—never let them go.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphics