“Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is.” –Cake4
School is challenging. There’s no magic pill or shortcut that will make it easy, but there are ways to make it harder, and a surprising amount of students choose to do so.
Here are some common ways that students make their lives harder than they need to be:
- Not taking notes
- Not using a calendar or planner
- Not asking for help
- Not using available resources, such as the textbook or Khan Academy
- Not using proven study methods and learning strategies
- Not getting others to edit essays before turning them in
- Attempting to study or do homework in a distracting environment, such as a room with a television on
- Having a cluttered workspace or worse, no dedicated workspace at all
It’s common for students to take an odd sort of pride in their ability to get by without using organizational systems.
For some, this comes from their desire to look “smart,” while simultaneously looking lazy. They don’t want to appear to other kids like they’re too invested in school. It’s widely believed that being organized and working hard on your studies are signs that you’re a nerd, an overachiever, or otherwise “uncool,” so many students brag about how much they procrastinate or how they little they study.
For others, this strange pride is derived from a desire to be self-reliant. Some of the students who avoid using organizational systems and helpful strategies have the misguided belief that the way to prove you’re totally self-reliant is to use no tools at all. They don’t want to rely on other people for help, and they don’t want to use any resources other than their own brains. But actually, that’s not self-reliance–that’s self-sabotage. The self-reliant aren’t people who don’t use tools. Rather, they’re people who master the tools at their disposal.
A planner is a very helpful tool:
While it is important for young people to become more independent, it’s also important that they understand how this is actually accomplished. Independence is achieved through working harder and working smarter, and working smarter means using the resources at your disposal. Grit matters, but so does strategy. We don’t simply succeed in school through sheer force of will. We have to learn how to learn, which is what Northwest Educational Services is all about.
Furthermore, we are, by nature, interdependent.1
There are no successful people who are completely independent. Everything great that humanity has ever done was achieved by working together. No one, except perhaps the hermit forager living alone in the woods is actually completely self-reliant, and even that lifestyle doesn’t align with how our tribal ancestors lived.2 Thriving as a human has always depended upon both giving and receiving help from other people.3 The modern world is no different. For students, this means asking teachers and classmates for assistance, even though that means admitting a lack of understanding.
Don’t be afraid to raise you hand:
Doing the things that make school less difficult is another example of giving yourself permission to be human.
Some students learn to resist asking for help by observing their parents. Lead by example and help your children see that it’s okay to use tools, strategies, and other people to succeed. Ask for help when you need it, use a calendar to organize your schedule, and otherwise practice interdependence.
We didn’t evolve alone,2 and we aren’t meant to handle life’s challenges alone. We didn’t evolve without any tools or strategies. Rather, we evolved to use tools and strategies.2 It’s the only way our ancestors survived. We’re meant to use other people for help. We’re meant to use tools and strategies. If you don’t give yourself permission to use those things, you’ll make school–and life–a lot tougher than it is.
Chris Loper has been an academic coach for Northwest Educational Services since 2014.
Chris also offers habit coaching, helping busy adults with habit formation and productivity.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons.
He lives in Issaquah, WA, where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.
1 Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Fireside, 1990.
2 Zimmer, Carl. Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins. Harper Perennial, 2007.
3 Wright, Robert. The Moral Animal. Vintage Books, 1994.
4 Cake. “Tougher Than It Is.” Pressure Chief. Columbia, 2004.
Title Image: Grassi, Irene. “Isn’t easy to do homework with a cat..” https://www.flickr.com/. Creative Commons 2.0. Words added to image.
Planner: danyeela. “2014-10-planner-hinten1.” https://www.flickr.com/. Creative Commons 2.0.
Raising Hand: DucDigital. “Raise your hand!” https://www.flickr.com/. Creative Commons 2.0.