Finish Strong

A long-distance runner pushing toward the finish line

You’ve been running for miles. You’re exhausted. You can’t wait to be done.

You turn the corner and finally see the finish line.

What do you do?

Slow down and walk the rest of the way?

Or sprint to the finish line?

I know how a dedicated cross-country runner would answer: they would finish strong.

But this is an education blog, so I’m not really talking about running a race. I’m talking about school.

It’s May, so the school year is nearly over. For graduating seniors, high school itself is coming to an end. There’s an understandable temptation to start taking it easy.

Acting lazy. Coasting until summer vacation. Senioritis.

Whatever you call it, it’s a mistake.

I can already hear your objections:

But Chris, I’ve worked so hard this year, I deserve a break.

I have good grades. Even if I slack off for the rest of the semester, my GPA will be fine.

I’ve already been accepted to university. All I have to do now is graduate.

Fair enough. But the point of high school is not to get good enough grades to graduate and go to college. The point of school is to learn and grow. And you have the opportunity – the privilege – to use school as a mental training ground all the way up to the end.

Finish strong because you’re not “done” yet. You won’t be done when school is over. In fact, I hope you never stop learning and growing.

Finish strong because acting lazy is a form of arrogance, like the hare who took a nap near the finish line, while the tortoise labored on.

Finish strong because it sends your brain the right message about who you are, reinforcing a hard-working identity that will serve you in the future. Everything you do counts, even if it doesn’t affect the results people see on paper. The way you do everything matters, even – maybe especially – at the end.

So finish strong and carry that momentum into the next chapter of your life.

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.

Everything Bad About Homework is Good

a student feeling frustrated by their homework

Think of all the things you don’t like about homework: it’s hard, it’s time-consuming, it’s annoying, it’s boring.

All of these supposedly bad things are actually good.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s break it down.

Homework is Hard

Good. It’s supposed to be hard. Doing challenging mental work makes you smarter. It exercises your brain muscles.

Homework is Time-Consuming

Good. Putting in time to learn something or master a skill is one way to convince your brain to care about it, which is essential for memory formation. If you don’t put in time at home, you probably won’t retain what you learned at school.

Homework is Annoying

Good. That’s mental toughness training. It builds up mental calluses. It prepares you to do annoying things you actually care about, like doing the taxes for your side hustle or editing a video for your YouTube channel.

Homework is Boring

Good. In the modern world, people don’t experience enough boredom; we expect to be constantly entertained. Thus, when we have to do something boring or deal with a boring situation, we give up or have a meltdown. Homework is a way to regularly practice dealing with boredom.

Homework is Training for Life

I sincerely hope you do something meaningful with your life – work that you care about, work that you enjoy, work that matters.

But even if you get to spend your life on a career you love, there will be challenges. You will struggle. Projects will take longer than you’d like. Some aspects of the work will be annoying. Some aspects will be boring. These challenges also arise in the pursuit of athletic or artistic excellence, home ownership, marriage, and raising kids.

So the next time you sit down to do your homework, remember that it’s not just a way to earn points, and it’s not just preparing you for next week’s test – it’s also preparing you for life.