Apr 242009

Cal Newport over at Study Hacks just wrote a good entry on what to do if your dream major turns out to be a nightmare. One of his helpful observations was:

Observation #2: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but college is hard.

A new major is like a new boyfriend. At first, it’s all excitement and possibility. Then you find out his feet stink. For a major, this metaphorical foot odor comes in the form of decreasing novelty and increasing amounts of hard work. It’s like a one-two punch to your motivation: at the same time that subject loses its freshness (because you’ve been studying it for a while) it ramps up the intensity of the work it demands (because upper level courses are harder than intro courses). This shift is unavoidable. Don’t mistake it for a shift in your fundamental feelings toward the subject.

The key thing to remember is that nobody loves a subject during the process of mastering it. Have you ever seen Rocky 4, where Stallone has to retreat to the mountains of Russia to prepare to fight Drago? He drags carts, and rolls boulders up a hill, and, in one of the most subtlety-crafted moments in cinematic history, he does inverted sit-ups in a barn while Pauly hits him in the stomach with a stick.

This sucked for Rocky. But it doesn’t mean that he didn’t respect the art of boxing or the dedication required for mastery. It’s just that the process of mastery itself is not consistently pleasant. This is probably the first time anyone in the history of education has ever said this, but your junior and senior year of college are a little bit like Rocky 4.

That’s partially why doing something you are actually interested in or enjoy is so important: you’re actually driven to master it. You may not consciously set that goal, but your actions such as reading about your subject matter on your own time are the actions of someone mastering a goal.

I added my observations to that post here:

“I wanted to add onto your comment about majors being hard. Though I doubt many of your readers feel this way, there are some people who believe majors should be easy. (Some people life should just be easy…but then it’d be so boring!)

To them I say, The sooner you let go of the expectation that it SHOULD be easy, the sooner you’ll do a lot better and stop procrastinating. If you’re always holding the expectation that there has to be an easy way, then you won’t wanna get started and your work will seem as it is being inflicted on you. If not by your parents, then perhaps by your prof or even by yourself. You will suffer from deep procrastination and the difference between what your belief of how the world is and how the world actually is will crush you.

I like to think of it a bit like this: your major and college SHOULD be hard. I’d rather live in a society where the rewards of higher pay, greater prestige, etc go to the hard working, rather than some arbitrary thing such as who your parents were or your body. I mean, those things have value, but I’d rather live in our society which has about a 0.6 correlation between intelligent (IQ), hardworking (trait conscientiousness) and creative (trait openness to new experiences) and success. I definitely don’t want to live in a society that arbitrarily and randomly hands out success.”

So, my advice? If you believe life should be easy or some aspect of it should be easy and you’re just not getting anywhere in that life area, give up that belief. Some aspects of life can become easy and you can make life much easier, sure, but making something easier isn’t necessarily an easy process. My experience is that most things that are worthwhile aren’t easy, but they’re often worth it! In fact, I try to strive to find things that aren’t easy (but not too difficult) because that’s where the most personal growth is. Of course, you may have just picked something that’s too difficult for you right now, so perhaps you can scale things back so you’re still improving and learning something without getting crushed.

Ironically, despite the initial discomfort of hard work, it’s a lot of fun! You can learn to love working hard, as long as you know that YOU chose it, that you WANT it and it’s for a greater purpose.

  2 Responses to “Why College is Supposed to be Hard”

  1. I agree, i struggle alot with discomforts when trying to get something more out of my life. It’s as simple as that, if you aim high, you need to apply those same standards to yourself first!

  2. Hey, great article.
    I really agree with you, you have to accept that a major means hard working, and there isn’t always an easy way. Since I accepted that, I can do a great amount of work, because I know I have to do it to succeed.


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