About this time last year, little Year 11 me loved chatting to the Year 12’s to see what was in store for me next year. Conversation would often turn to which subjects I had chosen. And inevitably, when I mentioned chemistry, the Year 12 would let out a laugh. Of what, I wasn’t sure. Pity? Amusement?
“Have fun with organics”, they’d chuckle.
And like veterans reflecting on their time at war, they’d stare off into the distance for a bit, eyes haunted.
I walked into chemistry that first day with fear in my heart. When the teacher said we’d be starting organics, I was not the only one who groaned. This topic had gained notoriety, no doubt from those older students spreading their horror stories far and wide. And sure enough, when we started, it was horrible. It just made no SENSE. I was used to being pretty okay at chemistry, but I could go whole lessons without understanding a thing. Substitution? Reagents? Geometric isomers? It was all foreign to me. The questions in the textbook seemed to be in another language, and the answers weren’t much help either.
Chemistry quickly became my least favourite subject. Walking into the lab would instantly make me very grumpy (sorry to my friends) because no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t understand. And because of this, I just stopped trying. Those Year 12’s were right. This was hell.
One weekend, I decided that enough was enough (actually, full disclosure, it was the weekend before our first organics test and I was panicking). I sat myself down, and forced myself to face my fear. I watched countless videos, went through my textbook, drew out diagrams, read study guides, did practice papers. It was very unpleasant to say the least, but surprise surprise, I found that it slowly started to make sense. All the pieces began clicking into place. To my horror, I actually started to kind of enjoy it. It was like problem solving, like a cool puzzle – I loved puzzles! That organics test went okay. Not great, but infinitely better than I could have imagined it going only a few days ago.
Chemistry quickly became one of my favourite subjects again. Everyone gave me crazy looks when I said that organics was my favourite topic, but I didn’t mind. I always said it with pride, because I knew the work that I had put in to overcome that obstacle. Looking back, it seems silly that I got so mad at myself for not understanding it first go. It was an unfamiliar concept – of course I wouldn’t get it straight away. Giving up definitely didn’t make it any easier. My biggest problem, though, was that I was approaching it from a place of fear. All that scaremongering by the Year 12’s made me go into it assuming that it was horrible and I wouldn’t get it. And when, sure enough, when I didn’t, I accepted that that was just the way it was, and gave up.
This whole experience was a valuable and much needed reminder for me of the simple fact that practice makes perfect. No one can expect to be great at a skill first try, or understand a concept right off the bat. It’s okay to be bad – but you’ve got to focus on trying to be better, or you won’t get better at all. It takes a little pain, and a lot of perseverance, but it is possible.
So when I face something difficult in my life, I’ll think: If I can get through organic chemistry, I can get through anything.
Kate is a Year 12 student from Canterbury. She enjoys music, languages, sunny days, and a good book.