The sun shines not on us but in us. - John Muir
A childhood friend and I were talking about the learning challenges we faced in elementary school. I, for one, was never great at math. It was an annoying stumbling block in elementary and high school, and I remember worry incessantly about not getting into university because of my grades. I even dropped an elective to take it a second time, hoping the averaging of both grades would bump me into the B- or (if I was lucky) B category. It didn't help that my grade 7 English teacher told me I wouldn't be more than a B student in the subject anyway. Some people need a lesson on how to deliver bad news lightly.
I felt frustrated by this learning challenge, and somewhat inadequate because I just couldn't ever really get it. I was OK at memorizing formulas for tests, and chemistry started to make sense if I studied hard enough, but by the time I started Physics in grade 11 I realized math related subjects just weren't for me.
What was I doing taking chemistry, physics, and math anyway, when I wasn't even good at it? Well, for one thing, I was told I needed to keep trying at it because that's what you do. Persistence is key! For better or worse, many of us are raised to believe that overcoming our learning challenges is one of the major keys to success.
As William Edward Hickson made famous the proverb:
"Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try, try again."
While I feel there is no harm in defining success as overcoming our challenges, I do find it harmful when we persistently focus on our challenges and become stressed when we can't seem to overcome them. Sometimes, after hitting our heads against a brick wall for the hundredth time, is it not better to acknowledge that we can't overcome every learning challenge we face, and instead, start to focus more on our strengths?
In the article "What Teens Learn by Overcoming Challenges," on Psychology Today's website, Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell writes that when teens overcome obstacles, they learn initiative, "the ability to propel life forward in purposeful directions." My own reflections teach me that overcoming some challenges has been a great opportunity for learning and self-growth. Others, not so much.
Take for example my experience in graduate school. I finished my Masters degree and overcame the challenge of completing my research and coming up with a (somewhat) comprehensible report for my committee, Yet, I didn't find the experience of completing this challenge (and there were a lot of learning curves along the way) very significant to my personal growth, or find as an outcome, great success or initiative. Perhaps I was too burnt out to realize skills had been developed and life experiences gained. Personally, I felt it was anti-climatic and unrewarding.
In comparison, completing my diploma at George Brown College had quite the opposite effect. I graduated with a great sense of initiative and success, feeling enthusiastic, rewarded, and motivated. In completing this diploma, I did not have to overcome the same big learning challenge as I had while completing my Masters degree. Granted, the programs were different, and so were the demands. Yet, it really had nothing to do with the dynamics of each program, but more to do with me. While my contemporaries thrived in the Masters program, I hadn't. They had a skill set and personality suited for that kind of work. I didn't. While studying to become a career counsellor, I felt I had found my niche. The program enabled me to discover and develop strengths and abilities that weren't as applicable to my Masters program. Demonstrating these strengths through course work, work placements, and eventually work in the field fulfilled me in a way that overcoming learning challenges in my Masters program couldn't.
My question then, is this: if overcoming certain learning challenges won't lead to feelings of success or initiative, is it safe to say we can step away from the challenge and focus on our strengths and abilities that are more innately ours?
My experience has taught me it is not only OK to walk away from a challenge I didn't want to overcome (this being my PhD), it also welcomed opportunity and time for me to explore my other strengths. While I don't endorse walking away from every challenge that faces us, I do think that some of the challenges we face in life aren't always worth our time and energy.
Besides, how often do I use physics and chemistry in my daily life anyway? :)
The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life. - Jessica Hische
I spotted this quote in a trending article about two anonymous students who call themselves Dangerdust. They sneak into classrooms at night and design, by hand, inspirational drawings/quotations on blackboards.
What I find so awesome about this quote is that it made me think about why I procrastinate. It also made me think about the activities I choose to do when I procrastinate, and how they relate to the kind of work I like to do.
Most of the time procrastination holds a bad reputation and most of us use it negatively, such as "quit procrastinating!" or "I shouldn't have procrastinated so much!" or "Why don't you just get your work done instead of procrastinating all the time?!"
Even if we are doing something we love or enjoy in lieu of something we don't, we place judgement on ourselves and others for not getting the 'important' stuff done first.
Thinking about why we procrastinate leads us to consider what drives and motivates us to get things done. What kinds of activities do we find more rewarding in a moment when we don't want to face a goal we've set out to accomplish? My own experience with procrastination is what some people would consider the kind of work they try to avoid: I like to clean. I remember in university sitting down to write an essay, and suddenly getting distracted by the pile of clothes on my bed, or the dirty dishes in the sink. I would jump at the chance to get things cleaned and organized. When I reflect as to why, a few things come to mind.
The last two bulleted points is where I really see the value in exploring why we procrastinate. Doing more pleasurable things that motivate us is something we can all relate to. As a career counsellor, I'm curious as to why we choose different kinds of activities when procrastinating, and what this says about the kinds of work we might enjoy doing.
Understanding Procrastination as Work
Not all kinds of procrastination can tell us about our work related interests. The ones that can are often activities that provide more than an immediate satisfaction. An example? Snacking on chocolate versus baking a cake. I snack when I want to avoid the work I have to do. Chocolate becomes my best friend in these moments. I'm not interested in baking a chocolate cake, I just want to satisfy my procrastination craving. If I was more interested in baking, scouring recipes online and choosing to spend an hour in the middle of my day trying one out, that may say something about my interests and skills.
When thinking about why you procrastinate, it's best not to view your procrastination activity as any specific job. Think for a moment about another example. If a person loves to exercise, and he/she does it to procrastinate, does this mean he/she should be a professional athlete? Maybe a personal trainer? What if these options don't appeal?
What if we understood our procrastination as the strengths within us that connect our interests and abilities, and in doing so tell us more about the activities we like pursuing, the ideas we like to think about, and the interests we like to explore?
When you think of procrastination in this way, two things may happen:
You may start to feel less like your procrastination is a burden on you, and instead, an opportunity to further explore what you like doing with your time. This can translate into what you like doing at work. Again, it's not a literal translation (ie. I like to exercise therefore I would like to become a professional athlete, personal trainer etc.) It is more about the skills and talents that are involved in the activity, and what attracts you to it.
Break it down. Exercise can equate to:
You may also begin to see your procrastination as an opportunity to develop specific skills that come naturally to you, and that you enjoy performing. We all want to work with a skill set that demonstrates, to ourselves and others, our strengths. It's great when you can identify what these skills are, and even better when you get to see them in action in the workplace. Try to keep a list of the skills you are practicing when you procrastinate. Like I said before, not all activities will provide you this kind of feedback (like taking a nap, which we have all done as a form of procrastination!). However, the activities that do demonstrate your skills may surprise you, and as your skill list grows, so too may your job options.
The next time you start to procrastinate, clue in to why you are doing it, and what you can learn about yourself from the experience. Although not all kinds of procrastination will offer insight, we tend to procrastinate in all sorts of ways. What if one of these eventually led to you pursuing your dream job?