Balancing Uncertainty: How NOT to Deal with Things that Don't Match our Expectations | Felix Dragoi

Uncertainty Avoidance

It was June of 2018 and I just finished a class called Business Negotiation with the highest possible grade.

Fast forward to the next semester, I was able to take part into another Erasmus exchange in the same city of Poznan, Poland.

If you don’t know, as an Erasmus student you have the possibility to pick your own classes in the first 2 weeks.

My University has a policy of giving away scholarship if you have all your grades maxed out.

This is something that I’ve seriously taken into consideration in the past couple of years, especially since it gives me a chance to improve my finances, while studying.

As you can imagine, when you have this freedom to pick your own classes and you have to pick around 8 or 9, you try to balance their difficulty in such a way that you don’t overkill yourself, because you don’t receive this freedom of choice all the time.

While going over all the possibilities, there was a class that sounded familiar.

It was International Negotiation and Contracting. 

After going to the first class, as I expected, it was exactly the same one as Business Negotiations I had in the previous semester.

Different name for the class meant I would be able to take it.

I didn’t pass this opportunity as I was working on my Masters thesis as well.

Long story short, the class requires 2 things.

You receive 2 different assignments during the semester, where you randomly get matched with another student.

As you can imagine, the class had the same assignments like last semester.

Fast forward, when I get matched with my first partner, what do you think I do?

Well, considering I always try to give give and give, I did help my partner and gave her my 2nd assignment from last semester.

Keep in mind, I didn’t give the actual 1st assignment that we had to do at that time.

I still negotiated because I knew the value of going through the process.

Ok, all was going well.

2nd assignment, new partner.

Although I still negotiated properly in order to let my colleague get a feel of a real negotiation. I again gave my new partner some help, by offering the 1st assignment, as a helping resource.

Keep in mind that I took into consideration the fact that it was a time full of written exams for everyone and although this might’ve been simple for me, I knew the value of having someone giving you some help and that’s exactly what I tried to do.

At the end of the semester, I went to check the grades on the online platform and guess what.

Beyond belief

4/5

My grade was considerably lower.

That meant 8/10 in my home country.

I could not believe that.

Here I was, having taken the highest possible grade last semester, and now, with almost the exact same work, being graded significantly lower.

Although I didn’t change my actual text in the assignment that much, I did give it a visual boost and I invested enough time into actually helping my partners.

I was speechless.

I knew I lost my scholarship for the next semester.

I was checking the final grade again and again and again. I was hoping that everything was a mistake.

There wasn’t much I could do except send an email to the professor and try to find out what happened.

I sent the email on Wednesday, 23rd of January. Nothing to do but wait.

All the other grades were a 5/5.

8 classes with the highest grade and exactly the one which I thought was going to be the easiest, ruined it all.

The only thing that went through my head was “How could this happen?”

So much time invested, thinking that I did all the necessary work to get a scholarship, and then this happened.

If you asked me what could go wrong, I could’ve told you at least 99 scenarios, but this wasn’t one of them.

Exactly the class where I was extremely giving and caring for my partners, compensated me in this way – that’s what went through my mind.

There were many scenarios going through my head, but I still couldn’t find an answer for what happened.

  • Did any of my partners copy exactly what I gave them?
  • Was the professor unsatisfied with the fact that I didn’t add more to the files?
  • What else should I have done?

Maybe I had to make the papers from scratch?

But they weren’t going too be much different anyway.

Maybe the problem was that I helped my partners?

But I felt their struggle and if I didn’t help, I knew it was going to affect them in a negative way.

I was checking my gmail, not knowing what to expect.

It just didn’t make sense.

It was stressful and I was trying to find an explanation for myself and why I felt that way.

I didn’t even know what to feel.

  • Should I be angry?
  • Should I be surprised?

I was trying to justify what was happening.

We all need some uncertainty in our life. If we had total certainty we would get bored, isn’t that right?

But even knowing that, I didn’t know what was the problem.

“What did I do wrong?” was going through my mind at every couple of minutes.

I offered my negotiation partners certainty that I’ll help them and here I was, having total uncertainty of what was happening to myself.

  • Was I too nice?
  • Was I supposed to be an asshole and not help my partners, given the circumstance?
  • What would you have done?

I was writing each word of this post, while hopefully waiting for a response on my email.

A few hours earlier, at 2:30 PM I just finished my last written exam and I felt the relief of knowing that I did a great job in all the classes.

During the semester, sometimes I didn’t win on being the smartest, but I put in the effort and I wrote as if I was a full-time writer, in all my written exams. 

And honestly, the truth is, I’m not much of a writer, as I’m not a native English speaker and my brain does require some extra capacity to do all the translations in real-time.

I was left with a bitter taste.

You know that feeling of going from hero to zero? That’s exactly what it all felt like.

It’s just like working for a few months, thinking that you did everything to deserve a promotion, and then someone else gets it.

But 2 hours after sending the email, I receive an answer.

I open it carefully and I read it slowly.

 

First sign of relief

I didn’t expect this, but I realized what happened.

It wasn’t really my fault.

I beat myself up so much, and the problem was more technical than I thought.

You can imagine how I rushed immediately to check if I really sent the assignment or not.

It seems I did.

The next step was obvious.

Get back and explain the situation

Since the emails are probably received through the University’s system, I’m sure there was some kind of problem.

However, I wasn’t sure if it was possible to change the grade anymore.

After what happened initially, I wasn’t going to be 100% sure of anything, unless it would be official.

So I sent the email, explaining what happened, screen shooting my initial email and then attaching the files again.

I did this on the 23rd of February.

As you can imagine, I was waiting eagerly for a response.

Unfortunately, it was late in the day, so I didn’t get any message back.

Fine, I had patience.

However, the next day, I waited for a response.

Nothing.

I was waiting and nothing came in my inbox.

“What was happening?” was going through my head.

  • Was the professor not able to change the grade in the system anymore?
  • Didn’t he receive my email? 
  • Should I wait a little more?

You can imagine that all the things that went through my head were not so positive.

After initially thinking at the beginning that this might be the easiest class, I was proved wrong and I wasn’t going to do the same mistake again and get my expectations too high.

The day ended and I didn’t receive any reply.

Waking up on the 25th, I had a final class to attend, so at least my mind wasn’t that stressed with all this uncertainty.

While in the class room, at 8:56 AM, I receive an email from the professor.

A little anxious, I opened the email, without any expectation.

Then I see the following message.

*Sound of relief*

Who would’ve thought?

Everything was fine after all.

After so much uncertainty, it was finally over.

Everything seemed to fall in order.

But there is something to be learned from this.

Both uncertainty and disappointment can hit us when we have a certain set of expectations.

There were many scenarios that went through my head while all of this was happening.

  • I thought that maybe I was punished for helping
  • I thought that maybe I didn’t such a good job after all
  • I thought that maybe I didn’t put enough work into it

Most of them made some sense, but all of them went against what I thought was right to do.

Fortunately, it seems that I wasn’t punished in any way for the behavior I had, but it still gave me a lesson to analyze things more carefully.

It’s easy to look at something and be 100% sure that things are going to unfold just like you expect.

We all do sometimes, even if we know that it’s not the right thing to do.

Imagine if the fact that I helped someone with this assignment gave me a bad grade and made me lose the chance at a scholarship.

Do you think I’d be that much of a giving person anymore?

Probably not.

And if we look around us, that’s probably the reason why we look at someone’s behavior and think it might be wrong.

Rarely that is the case.

We are all the result of our experiences, which shape us.

Hence why there’s an old saying that we are the average of the 5 people we surround ourselves with.

With that, I’ll end this post, because by now, chances are that I made my point and there’s at least one thing you took away from this story.

And as always, for any comments or thoughts you might want to share after reading this piece of content, the comment section down below is open to everybody.