vibrations of life - blog post - Peter's Box


Last updated on June 2nd, 2023 at 07:19 am

Have you read my previous post, “Is Morality Objective?”
Read it to learn my response. In today’s post, titled “Vibrations of Life,” I discuss a paradigm shift on fear as a menacing agent and how to leverage it. In my third year of university, I had this eureka moment after failing an engineering course called Vibrations.

In my third year of Aerospace Engineering, just one course really clawed at my soul. The course’s name sent shivers down my spine. It’s no surprise that the course was named Vibrations. I knew I was going to fail the Vibrations course the moment I heard about it. Have you ever been so overwhelmed by fear that you never gave yourself the opportunity to try? Not to mention the chance of resigning along the way? You have to suppress any notion of self-motivation at times just to ensure that you must see yourself fail. Have you ever been certain that no matter how hard you tried, you would fail?

Vibrations Course

That was me in my final year in Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. 

I was gripped with terror. Let me explain how terrifying the course was for me. The nature of vibrations, their characteristics, effects, and interactions with simple and complex systems are all studied in this engineering course. It encompasses both free and forced vibrations, as well as undamped and damped vibrations. To anticipate the dynamic response of vibrations in discrete or continuous structural systems, you must use theoretical and numerical approaches. 

Solving an engineering problem with mathematical equations.

Fear grips me!

I was like water, and vibrations was like fire. I could only understand very simple equations. That was the end of it. The fear that consumed me was unforgiving. On the day of my final exam, I headed to the examination room with my colleagues. I simply had one aim in mind: to fail vibrations. I would have been better off if I had fallen ill that day. After all, I already knew I wasn’t going to write anything. 

As the start time for the exam approached, the invigilator cleared his throat and positioned himself in the middle of the room. He repeated his announcements: ‘Make sure you indicate your name and your index number at the portions provided. Read the instructions on the first page carefully.’

Students in an exam room

Start work!

Start work! The words I dreaded hearing were said. Under the sound of the whirling fans on the third floor of the new engineering building, I skimmed through the first page of questions, immediately marking the ones I thought I could confidently answer. I couldn’t answer any of the questions after roughly 10 minutes of examining them. I wasn’t feeling like copying either. Even if I copied, it would take a lot of work to remember what I had copied. I finally found solace in my failure. I didn’t even have to try. After repeating the first question in my answer booklet, I proudly handed in my paper to the invigilator. What was the point of waiting for the next hour or so without filling up my answer booklet? The paper really vibrated me!

A man sitting at a table writing an exam


I don’t recall the precise score I received in Vibrations, but it qualified me for a resit. I had ‘trailed’ the paper. I scored no higher than 30%. As a result, I had to stay on campus during my vacation and rewrite the paper. Something weird occurred this time. I wasn’t as afraid as I was at the start of the course. My usual apprehension now begged for signs of victory. Clearly, I couldn’t afford to fail again. My classmates leaving me on campus for the vacation was a sad and introspective moment. I intended to learn hard during my one-week stay on campus with other colleagues who had trailed Vibrations. I spent hours studying with colleagues. When a question or an equation baffled me, I summoned the guts to ask for clarification. I had to love the equations and diagrams. They had to be my friends, not my enemies. My self-esteem skyrocketed. 

Start Work!

The day of the resit arrived. I proudly walked from my hostel to the engineering faculty. The scenery was familiar. As I made my way to the exam room, I pondered how I had failed. That had never happened in my academic life. Did I fail because I was absolutely terrified? Or did I fail because the course was too difficult? As the start time for the exam approached, the invigilator cleared his throat and positioned himself in the middle of the room. He repeated his announcements: ‘Make sure you indicate your name and your index number at the portions provided. Read the instructions on the first page carefully.’

Start work! The words I dreaded once were now music to my ears. Under the sound of spinning fans on the third level of the new engineering building, I skimmed through the first page of questions, immediately marking the ones I thought I could confidently answer. After spending about ten minutes surveying the questions, I was vibrating with answers.

smile emojis

Vibrating with smiles

My lecturer repeated the questions. Those are the same ones I walked away from. Fortunately, I had already answered all of the questions during my revision. I asked for extra sheets as I meticulously produced equation after equation. I finished in no time but went over my answers again. I was vibrating with delight when I handed in my paper!

When my results came through, I had a score of more than 75%! It was so surreal! From less than 30% to 75%? What changed? Was I dumber when I initially sat for the paper? And did I grow smarter after having to repeat the exam? Or did the fear I once felt vanished into thin air? No, the fear didn’t go away when I sat down to write again. I remember having the jitters even though I was much more confident than before. A part of me still dreaded the prospect of failure. 

First score in vibrations and resit score in Vibrations

Elective Maths

I think that fear offered me the chance to fail but also to pass. Fear
is a natural emotional reaction to a situation. I am convinced that some of my coursemates loathed the course as much as I did. Yet, how I dealt with my fear decided whether or not I passed. I am convinced of this because, back in high school, I fared better in core math than in elective math. I was always excited to write my core math paper, but I couldn’t say the same for elective math. Elective math appeared to be too abstract for my liking. That alone did not inspire me to learn. One day, I received a horrible grade in my elective math mock exams. Thank goodness that wasn’t my final exam! That realization vibrated me! I did something unexpected during my vacation. I was really bent on not failing my
elective math paper. 
When I went home that vacation, I solved all the questions in Akrong Series, an elective maths textbook. This textbook contained over 500 pages.

Yet, I answered every single question in that book, from the first to the last. Every page I completed boosted my confidence to the point where I could solve certain questions in my head rather than on paper. Though it took time, it paid off. Elective math, particularly integration, and differentiation, became one of my favourite topics. It’s no surprise that I enjoyed Calculus in university.

mathematics equation

The good side of fear

My encounter with Vibrations was similar to that of elective math. I was
terrified of both subjects. These seemed too abstract to me. However, while I spent time practicing and learning my elective math, I spent time dreading failure in Vibrations. For elective math, I resolved to confront my fear by dedicating more time to learning. Vibrations, on the other hand, was a different matter. I resolved to address the same fear by panicking senselessly! I’ve been blaming fear for my failure all along, even though it wasn’t fear that wrote the paper. Why didn’t I thank fear when I passed my elective math paper if I blamed it for my failure in Vibrations? But it doesn’t make sense, does it?

Fear is widely perceived as a negative emotion. There is, nonetheless, a
positive aspect to fear. There will be many frightening experiences. Yet there is a silver lining. Despite the perception of fear as a menacing agent, we are confronted with two options. Either panic or start!

Panic or Start!

Panicking indicates that you have allowed yourself to be overcome by fear. When you feel afraid, it is usually because you are aware of the possibility of failing or succeeding. It’s that 50% likelihood that makes you uneasy and skeptical. In the absence of fear, the possibility of failure is not offered. You feel you have a perfect success rate. When you panic, you believe your chances of success plummet from 50% to 0%. There is no possibility in this case. You’re doomed to fail. That was my experience with Vibrations. Even though I had a 50% chance of passing and a 50% risk of failing, I felt I had a 100% probability of failing when I panicked. 

When you start, you do what you should have done regardless. Starting involves deciding to see past the fear and do whatever you need to do regardless. When you panic, you can’t start because your mind is preoccupied with fear. Instead of panicking about Vibrations, I should have started. Studying as I did for other courses. The course, not the fear, should have been the priority. Notwithstanding the nervousness, the habit of studying, asking questions, and so on, should be maintained. Remember that in the face of fear, you have a 50% probability of succeeding or failing. Starting implies clinging to the 50% likelihood of success and moving forward anyway. In other words, just do it! 

pink scrabble tiles spelling out the phrase 'Don't panic'
Woman on a track getting ready to run from the start line.

Flight or fright response

Before this seems like a typical motivational speech, let me inform you
that the panic vs. start phenomenon is validated by human physiology. The flight or fright response of the human body is what the panic vs. start
phenomenon imitates. The flight or fright response is a physiological reaction to danger or threat that causes one to either escape (flight) or freeze (fright) in shock. The following are the symptoms that the human body experiences during flight or fright: 

Both your heart rate and blood pressure rise. You have pale or flushed skin. Your pupils are dilated. Memories may be affected. You’re tense or shaky. Your bladder may be affected.

Remain calm

Because your memory may be impaired and you are on edge, you are more likely to make judgments that will either save or hurt you. The flight or fright response evolved to enable animals, including humans, to flee (flight) from danger. This appears contradictory given that the flight or fright response seems to be an unpleasant experience. But it can be deliberately employed to our advantage, particularly via rational thought. When you know the probable outcomes of a situation, you have a better chance of managing the accessible routes that lead to those results. The mere awareness of the probability might cause you to respond reflexively with a flight or fright response. This implies remaining calm! Instead of panicking, let’s consider some practical examples of where you can start. 

hyperlapse of a car at topspeed

The drowning car

Imagine you’re driving at top speed down a beach road. You lost control
of the steering wheel, causing the vehicle to veer off the road and into the
sea. You could feel the weight of the car steadily sinking into the sea. Fear takes over! Either you escape or you die.

The car has not yet been completely submerged. It is only half full of
seawater, so you can breathe. Your heart begins to race, and your only thought is to find the door’s handle. You unlock the door and try to push it open, but it is firmly shut. The door does not appear to budge, no matter how hard you push on it. In a split second, you reason that your hand may not be exerting enough force. Why not just use your leg, you reason? Your leg quickly thumps hard on the door, but to no avail. The door is still secure. You’re exhausted from using so much effort to pry the door open. In the end, you drown. 

white car sinking into the sea

Don't Panic!

Because of the laws of pressure, the door was unable to open when it was submerged in water. The water pressure outside the car is higher than the water pressure inside. If you’ve ever attempted to dip the bottom of a cup into a bucket of water, you’ve probably encountered some resistance from the water. This is due to the fact that the pressure of the air in the empty cup is less than the pressure of the water in the bucket at the bottom of the cup. When water is present in the cup, the pressure within the cup is raised, making it easier to push the cup through the water. If the cup is full of water, the water in the bucket will provide essentially no resistance. The cup would glide effortlessly through the water. After this lengthy explanation, the takeaway is that if you find yourself in a drowning car, don’t rush to open the car door. Wait until the car is entirely filled with water before attempting to open the door. Roll down the door window to help in swiftly filling the car with water. Now that you know this, you have a higher chance of surviving if you are in a drowning car.

Vibrations of Life - Just Start!

Understanding this, should you ever find yourself in such a circumstance,
don’t worry, despite the horrifying experience. Just start! Do what you should have done in your situation to save yourself. Don’t dwell on your fears. Just do what has to be done. 
That discovery has inspired me to remain calm in the face of fear rather than panic! Vibrations are present throughout life, just as they were at university. Vibrations are the obstacles we encounter when confronted with fear! Fear doesn’t care about you anymore, but how you treat it does. Always remember that you have two options: panic or start! Start anyway. It’s a smarter bet. In an interview with Caleb Nii Boye on 3FM, Dela Goldheart, an aspiring member of  parliament for the Anlo Constituency of Ghana’s Volta Region, said, “If you don’t start, there is no way you can even get to the finishing point.

Your Choice

Even though I passed the resit for my Vibrations paper, I was disappointed since it denied me a first-class distinction. I was 0.12 points behind a first class. The first-class mark was 70. I graduated from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology with a grade point average of 69.88. Imagine if I had ‘started’ instead of ‘panicked’. I would have most likely received the coveted 70 for first-class recognition. It could also improve your chances of survival if you are ever trapped in a drowning car. The difference between panicking and starting might be as little as a second. You decide how much you fear! 

Peter's graduating score in Aerospace Engineering

What’s next in Peter’s Box? ¡Hasta luego amigos!  

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