Build Up Your Calluses

A teenage boy using a wooden-handled rake

You’ll have far better luck toughening yourself up than you ever will trying to take the teeth out of a world that is – at best – indifferent to your existence.” –Ryan Holiday1

Here’s a metaphor for academic accommodations:

You’re a child who has to perform yard work using wooden-handled tools. But your hands are naturally very soft and prone to blisters, and the wooden-handled tools are quite rough. There are a few options to consider.

  1. You could avoid the work entirely. While an understandable desire, this will leave the work undone and leave you no stronger.
  2. You could ask to have the rough wooden handles sanded or wrapped in padding to make them easier on your hands. While an understandable request, the world is unlikely to grant you that accommodation. The work is the work; the tools are the tools.
  3. You could tough it out, doing the work despite the painful blisters. While one could applaud your grit, this just seems cruel.
  4. You could wear gloves that reduce the likelihood of blisters. This is clearly the best option, but you don’t feel good about it. Your peers don’t have to wear gloves, and you don’t like feeling different. Plus, you worry about what will happen if one day you can’t find your gloves.

The solution is to think long-term and gradually toughen up your hands.

Work without gloves when you can in order to build up calluses. When the work is relatively easy, you can skip the gloves, but when it’s hard, go ahead and wear them. Or start the work without gloves, go until your hands threaten to form blisters, and then put on the gloves. Over time, you’ll be able to do more and more without gloves.

This is, of course, not about doing yard work with rough tools. It’s about finding the balance between accommodation and remediation. And the answer isn’t to do just one or the other – it’s to do both.

If, for example, you have dyscalculia, you should get to use a calculator when you’re doing math. That’s an appropriate accommodation, like the gloves in our metaphor. But you should also do as much math as you can without a calculator to strengthen your capabilities. That’s remediation, building up your calluses.

1 Holiday, Ryan. The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Portfolio/Penguin, 2014.

Share this: