Is Grit Worth the Hassle?

The topic of grit has been much discussed here at the real life home of Apt. 11D for the past week, so I thought I would put it out on the blog.

When presented with an opportunity of “gimme points” in history class in the form of easy homework assignments, Jonah said, “nah. I’m done.” He simply didn’t turn in nine homework assignments this spring. It took a while for the teacher log those zeros into the online grade portal. So, we didn’t realize that he was in deep shit until it was too late. After a lot of yelling, he was urged to ask his teacher if he could hand them in late. She said no. Then there was more yelling and a week of grounding.

Yes, we’re the worst parents on the planet who can’t possibly understand the God-given right to stop doing work in your last semester of high school. As a result of this slacking, Jonah will pass the class, I’m sure, but just barely.

From Jonah’s point of view, it makes absolutely no difference if he gets a B or a C or even a D in this class. Why work for no reason? From our point of view, ARG! DO THE DAMN WORK! IT ISN’T HARD! CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT! LEARNING! CHALLENGE YOURSELF! HIGH EXPECTATIONS!

There are all sorts of books aimed at parents and educators about the value of “grit” and not eating that marshmellow.  These authors maintain that kids who know how to delay gratification and work through obstacles grow into successful adults. Jonah’s method is to weigh the pros and the cons of working hard before exerting himself. Hard work simply for the sake of personal perfection is a fool’s game.

I’m not entirely sure that Jonah is wrong. I come across people every day, who favor Jonah’s strategic effort method. Sure, they aren’t usually the ones who make it to the top of their profession or make news headlines. But they find those jobs that pay well with mediocre expectations and then hunker down until retirement. Sometimes they even accidentally do become wildly successful, because of luck or bullshitting skills. I suppose Donald Trump is an example of an accidentally successful type of slacker. He’s playing golf, not reading presidental biographies, over his weekends. And I know plenty of people with insane amounts of grit and work ethic, who complete PhDs and marathons, and have much less success.

So, who is right?

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55 thoughts on “Is Grit Worth the Hassle?

  1. You said it yourself… do you want your kids to became low successful PhDs or high successful Trumps? It is not all about success but the kid of peerson you are. People that value hard work tend to became better persons… I think…

  2. I’m all in favor of hard work and grit, but there’s something to be said for recognizing when something is genuinely pointless. That is, Jonah’s admitted to college now — anything that happens to his grades (short of whatever it would take for Rutgers to rescind the offer) isn’t instrumentally important anymore. So… the only reason to work on anything academic is if it’s actually educationally valuable — if he’s going to learn something interesting or meaningful from it. And that’s a judgment call.

    To put it another way, deciding that a task doesn’t need to be done at all doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a solid work ethic. Everyone chooses what they think is necessary. This seems like a kind of reasonable thing for him to have just decided wasn’t worth doing.

    1. That’s true, but ignores uncertainty and risk. That is, you only need a small risk that the offer gets rescinded to make it worth putting some minimal effort into doing the extra credit. You don’t want to “just barely pass” a class you need to graduate. The extra credit wasn’t worth doing well, but it may have been worth half-assing.

      1. Oh, definitely. Part of good judgment in this regard is to have a reliable sense of what’s a respectable safety margin. I was figuring from Laura saying “a C or even a D” that he was probably still in the C range, but if we’re talking possibly failing the class, that’s a bad idea.

      2. I blame Yoda and his “there is no ‘try’, do or do not do.” Half-assing something is really a useful skill, when paired with knowing when your best effort isn’t required and when doing nothing will be taken as a slight.

      3. If he showed up more places, he probably could have met somebody to date that wasn’t his own daughter.

    2. I agree with elizardbreath. I don’t think grit is “[h]ard work simply for the sake of personal perfection…” I think grit is pushing toward a goal even when it is hard. The goal is the point, not the hard work. I think it is entirely reasonable for Jonah to stop working on classes if it doesn’t get him closer to the goal.

      I think your post is setting up a false dichotomy between hard working perfectionists who are not monetarily rewarded and mediocre slackers who are. That’s too simplistic.

  3. Great topic!

    Some thoughts:

    1. Boo at J’s teacher for doing the big last minute bad grade dump.

    And boo at all teachers who enable senioritis.

    2. “To put it another way, deciding that a task doesn’t need to be done at all doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a solid work ethic.”

    Yeah. My husband, for example, has a very selective work ethic. That sounds bad, but it means that he exerts himself mightily for what he cares about, but is otherwise happy to put in a solid 20% effort that gets him 80% of the results.

    This is a stereotypical smart girl versus smart boy thing–think Hermione Granger versus Harry Potter. Harry does exert himself–but only selectively, where it really matters, whereas Hermione is trying to be good at everything, and without Harry’s unique gifts. (Of course, Harry would be high and dry without Hermione’s grunt work.)

    Problems arise is when the kid makes poor choices about what really matters.

    3. We ran into some issues with grade motivation in 7th and 8th grade for C. She was bringing home 89s and 91s in courses that she should have been crushing. (I know that sounds like a total Tiger Mom thing to say, but she really should have been doing a lot better in those courses.)

    Our family’s solution has been to pay our big kids for grades. We give $5 for each semester grade in the 95-99 range and $7 for 100+. This was instrumental in helping C understand the difference between an 89 and a 95, as previously, her attitude for classes she wasn’t that interested in was “close enough.” We wind up paying each school age kid $35-40 a term and C is currently carrying an improbable 100% in algebra/trig. It’s also helped a lot that little brother is a bit of a grind, so that C has gotten to see him making more than she has a couple times.

    (C is mostly saving for her senior trip to Europe in three years, so this doesn’t mean that she has a lot of pocket money.)

    1. This really resonated: This is a stereotypical smart girl versus smart boy thing–think Hermione Granger versus Harry Potter. Harry does exert himself–but only selectively, where it really matters, whereas Hermione is trying to be good at everything, and without Harry’s unique gifts. (Of course, Harry would be high and dry without Hermione’s grunt work.)

      Here’s the problem — when Harry and Hermione are both 40, she’ll still be the grind doing grunt work (or making sure others do their grunt work) for someone who has figured out what work *really* counts. I feel this personally.

      Knowing what work is important is part of the hustle. And it’s hard to learn. As long as Jonah passes (the important bit) he’s fine, and has learned a good lesson.

      1. Here’s the problem — when Harry and Hermione are both 40, she’ll still be the grind doing grunt work (or making sure others do their grunt work) for someone who has figured out what work *really* counts. I feel this personally.

        I have feelings too.

  4. My sister just completely stopped showing up. I was in an elective class with her, and about a month before the end of the semester Mrs. Warner called me over and said “Tell your sister that if she comes to me and talks about it, we can figure out a way to make her pass.” So I passed the message on. Two weeks later, Mrs Warner said “Tell your sister that if she turns in all the back homework, she can pass.” And I passed that message on. The day before the end of the semester, Mrs Warner told me “Tell your sister that if she returns her books, I’ll pass her.” And she did.

    The eighties were a gentler time.

  5. I’m in favour of grit but applied in what we call in our family “the lazy man’s way”. There has to be a point to the grit.

    For example, chipping away at piano practice a little every day? Lazy man’s way. Leaving it all to cram the night before your lesson? The opposite. Too much effort for much less return. Or at university, I studied in the same manner for tests/assignments. Ahead of time, a little here and there. Never did the all night studying – too much work and I’d rather sleep.

    Being organized? Lazy man’s way. Scrambling at the last minute? The opposite.

    I think grit has to be discerning wrt the outcome. If J isn’t a huge fan of history, it isn’t going to affect his Rutgers admission, and it wasn’t part of some negotiated with you ahead of time required mark? Fine.

    For me it’s also about ensuring that they can put in the work for the delayed gratification of skill acquisition, whether it’s music or art or sports or some other skill/learning. If it’s because they only perform for the immediate head pat or only if they get some head pat/cookie, that’s a problem. If they can work at something and improve because they love to do that activity/thing, because they get pleasure from it – that’s a great ability to have. In other words, the intrinsic motivation rather than only an explicit extrinsic motivation.

    Of course you do need to be able to suck it up and buckle down on occasion.

    Thinking as well back to my articling days in the 1980’s. I think millennials are much smarter than we were. They aren’t as accepting of the premise that you have to put in your time/appear to be putting in your time doing menial tasks. And I think we appeared the same to the old guard who would tell us that they had to PAY to article, none of this getting a salary while articling. They’ve grown up seeing the lack of job security and loyalty of many of their parents’ employers. And that’s made them question more the value of the indiscriminate grunt work.

    1. My guess is that this rebranding — consistent regular effort v massive effort — will either work for your child’s personality, or not or for a project, and they will develop their own style.

      Some projects (piano practice or other skills practice, and depending on how your brain works, memorizing lines, facts, etc.) really do benefit from regular practice. Others (computer programing, craft/art projects, some kinds of math, some kinds of writing, again, depending on how your mind works) are better done as massive efforts. And, depending on what one’s personal style is, one might prefer to concentrate on one activity or another, because they can be done either in regular, consistent effort, or by clearing space in your life to do nothing but the project.

      1. bj said:

        “Some projects (piano practice or other skills practice, and depending on how your brain works, memorizing lines, facts, etc.) really do benefit from regular practice. Others (computer programing, craft/art projects, some kinds of math, some kinds of writing, again, depending on how your mind works) are better done as massive efforts.”

        That’s a very valid distinction. Language is probably in the first category.

      2. I write in sporadic periods of massive effort, and it’s something I vacillate between working on changing vs. accepting it’s who I am. I attended a dissertation writing support group, and the postdoc psychologist who was monitoring it said to focus on being productive and not to worry about the form productivity took. So if it means writing in a 24 hour stretch once a week vs. 4 hours a day six days a week, one is not inherently better than the other. I think there is some truth to this, I sort of need to be “on,” and if I am I can produce 25-40 pages of solid material in 20-40 hours. If I’m “off,” I can write the same sentence or paragraph over and over again and make little progress. Obviously I have some control over feeling ‘on’ or ‘off,’ and I should definitely push myself more.

        I am also a person who really gets little value out of outlining, and who has to think through my argument through writing. 99% of the time I write, I realize my main point about 2/3rds of the way through, and it’s usually a much better and more interesting argument than the one I thought I was going to make. Conversely, I have friends who can write outlines that are almost the length of the paper, and writing is then just filling the outline in with prose.

      3. I’m like that for most work also. I can usually force myself to be “on” if I have to, but the work is never as good as when I’m somehow in the mood. Having had 7+ hours of sleep for four of the past five nights appears to be a very strong predictor of me being in the mood.

  6. The eighties were a gentler time.

    I don’t know that the eighties were a gentler time at all. My admission to the University of California made it clear that it was contingent on maintaining the same academic performance that I had at the time my application was submitted. I don’t know *how much* I could have slipped and kept my spot but I wasn’t really excited to find out.

  7. Oh, hey, Elizardbreath! Good to see you again!

    Part of the problem with this AP history class is that it is a forced march through time. He has to memorize vast amounts of information without any time devoted to a topic to make it stick in a teenage boy’s brain. 20 minutes spent on the ideas of Karl Marx is a wasted 20 minutes of time. I needed at least three days on Marx when I taught it at the college level.

    The other part of the problem is that the teacher is herself a slacker. She doesn’t input grades for months and shows no interest in the kids. She doesn’t return e-mails to me who has politely inquired about Jonah’s effort level during the year. Kids put in the same amount of effort as their teachers.

    But that aside, let’s just talk about goals. Goals are in the eye of the beholder. I was talking to one of his classmates who got into an elite college ED. She had her college locked in by October. I asked her if she was going to take it easy for the rest of the year. She said no. She wanted to see if she could still get good grades, even without the pressure for college. That’s a goal.

    I am running every morning, which at age 51 is a shit show, let me tell you. I signed up for a 5K in two weeks, and I have to be able to run 3.2 miles without stopping in 2 weeks. There’s no real reason to do this, but I’ve chosen to make this my goal.

    We all set goals for ourselves that don’t have any monetary or quantitiable benefit. We set goals just because.

    And Jonah does have goals for himself. He wants to raise his karma level on reddit. He wants to beat the high score on FIFA soccer for the Xbox. He wants to bulk up with weight lifting. He wants to get a job at the fancy steakhouse in town. I would just like to add “passing AP Euro History” to that list of goals.

    1. Laura said:

      “The other part of the problem is that the teacher is herself a slacker. She doesn’t input grades for months and shows no interest in the kids. She doesn’t return e-mails to me who has politely inquired about Jonah’s effort level during the year. Kids put in the same amount of effort as their teachers.”

      Yeah.

      C has one teacher like that, but fortunately it’s not AP anything.

      “I would just like to add “passing AP Euro History” to that list of goals.”

      Yeah.

      I can’t even wrap my mind around the idea of a slacker AP instructor–but we only had two APs when I was in high school, so it was a plum assignment.

    2. Are these really J’s goals for himself, or is that middle aged exasperated parent talk? Recently, it seemed to me that my kiddo’s goal was to spin a pencil as many times as he could. But, I don’t think that’s what he’d answer as his goal. And, he has really spent time on other goals, even if some of them are pretty short term, like figuring out how carbonless paper works.

    3. “I was talking to one of his classmates who got into an elite college ED. She had her college locked in by October. I asked her if she was going to take it easy for the rest of the year. She said no. She wanted to see if she could still get good grades, even without the pressure for college. ”

      Honest question – what makes this behavior better than Jonah’s behavior. I know many people that seem to implicitly think it is and I don’t get it. The young woman isn’t writing a novel or creating a work of art or trying to build new tech. She’s pursuing grades. High school grades do not matter once you have been accepted to college. So why is this better?

  8. Sure, setting goals for yourself is important. But Jonah is (I say as the mother of someone pretty much exactly his age) in the beginning stages of transitioning to adulthood, which means that you don’t get to set his goals by default anymore. You’re still there for advice and pressure about the practical repercussions about decisions that are genuinely going to do him harm, but (assuming that we’re talking about the difference between a good and a bad grade, rather than literally failing) if he thinks this is an area where not prioritizing AP History isn’t going to do him practical harm, he’s probably right.

    So — I’d worry about his work ethic if you thought he had trouble putting in effort on things he cared about, and I’d worry about his judgment if I thought he was choosing things to care about in a way that was going to do him damage long term. But slacking on a badly taught AP History class, spring of senior year? Wouldn’t make me worry on either ground.

  9. I don’t think handing in assignments is a sign of grit. It’s a sign of compliance with adults. The school system is set up to reward compliance. Good, obedient children get prizes. I would worry more about his putting his college acceptance at risk. The actual grade in a particular course doesn’t matter; choosing not to do something trivial, which could endanger his future, does matter.

    It got your attention, though. There is a theory that sometimes negative attention from parents is almost as rewarding as positive attention.

    I recommend talking with him seriously, without blame, about the lack of support a student receives at college. Students fail at college all the time. No one is looking over their shoulders. Large lecture courses are impersonal. This happens at small liberal arts colleges too. They market themselves as more personal, but they are not high schools.

    Find an example to talk about, some local student or relative who had to drop out of college for academic reasons. This is to move it from the realm of “my parents think I’m a screw-up,” which is needlessly emotional, to “my parents know more about adult environments than I do.”

    1. And, please don’t blame the teacher. It is not appropriate for a high school senior’s mother to be running interference with the teacher. You know he could have done the work and turned it in, but made a choice not to. She knows that too. AP means, or should mean, that the students are able to function autonomously.

      It is crucially important to persuade your son to sign documents allowing you to receive his grades, and allowing you to receive medical information. Find out how his university handles Ferpa waivers: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/01/your-money/when-a-child-legally-becomes-an-adult.html?_r=0.

      1. I don’t believe the school should release the grades to the parents. I think parents and students should have an agreement where students share their grades with their parents. The students are adults. They can and should be obligated in some way in exchange for financial support. Their parents financial support is at this time in life, elective.
        Health / medical records are another story.

  10. I’m done with the word “grit” which seems to have turned into a catch all term for qualities we desire.

    So, using different words, I see several issues I’d be concerned about if my 18 year old (I don’t have one yet, so I’m talking about a theoretical child, and I think that’s always really dangerous, so big grains of salt flakes) missed assignments to the point of “barely passing.” The first, most practical concern, is that it is very easy to tip from “barely passing” into failing. And failing has significant consequences, always. Another is the betrayal of trust — since I would have been assuming that my child would have been doing this work. I would also be concerned about risk assessment and executive function for the future. I think many freshman enter college without understanding that no one is watching over your shoulder (or, particularly concerned about whether you fail) and poor risk assessment regarding the effort required can have significant consequences, life altering ones if you don’t have people to pick you up when you fail.

    Would I be worried about the unwillingness to do the work when the consequences didn’t seem significant (say, a grade slipping from a A to a B?). I think it would depend on the work. If it really was meaningless busy work, I wouldn’t see a moral crisis. If the work was more meaningful, or if others depended on the work, I’d be more concerned.

    Many high pressure schools seem to have recognized that seniors won’t work after march, and have designed their classes with that understanding in mind. Creates issues when kids in lower grades are taking classes also populated by seniors. My kiddo is taking a CS class with seniors in it, and says that one has to write of the seniors (even though they could do the work).

    1. bj said:

      “Creates issues when kids in lower grades are taking classes also populated by seniors. My kiddo is taking a CS class with seniors in it, and says that one has to write of the seniors (even though they could do the work).”

      Yep. That’s C’s instrumental music class. It’s been mayhem almost since the seniors got back from their senior trip to Europe.

      I mentioned that to her private music teacher (a savvy old guy), and he mentioned that once senior trip is over, there’s nothing to hold over the seniors’ heads.

  11. I’m with elizardbreath, “slacking on a badly taught AP History class, spring of senior year? Wouldn’t make me worry on either ground.”

    it’s a poor choice to not turn in easy work in my opinion but I’m not Jonah..
    I am puzzled though, an AP class is surely pass/fail based on the results of the AP test itself, not the class ?

    as bj says I don’t accept the term or idea of ‘grit’. These days it’s mostly used to mean ‘the poor don’t work hard enough’.
    The Common Core charlatans, Arne Duncan etc, like to use the term: which is enough to convince me ‘grit’ means only compliance and brain-dead acquiescence to senseless edicts.

    it’s not worth much either. In school and university I always did the extra credit work, always turned everything in on time and complete, but it’s never been worth anything to me then or since. At work I refuse nothing and take on extra work based on what needs to be done even if it isn’t in my job description. That hasn’t resulted in any faster promotions or raises either.
    I have run over sixty marathons, fifteen ultra marathons, qualified for national and world championships in triathlon: based mostly on training more consistently and longer than the competition. All this is mildly gratifying to me personally but it hasn’t been worth anything to my career or success.
    Basically I’ve been deploying ‘grit’ all my life and it hasn’t paid off.

    My older boy is self-motivated (lucky for him, he takes after his mother) and figured out the need to work hard sometimes, all on his own. I praise and support him as best I can.
    My younger boy is too smart for his own good and sees quite clearly what is going on – he doesn’t want to go to college since ‘it is a bourgeois scam’. Hard to argue with him, since he is right.. load up on student debt to get a fairly useless credential for jobs that don’t exist ? not sure how any amount of ‘grit’ is going to help with that.

    1. dotkaye said:

      “My younger boy is too smart for his own good and sees quite clearly what is going on – he doesn’t want to go to college since ‘it is a bourgeois scam’.”

      As they say, the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.

  12. It occurs to me that millennial “smartness” in doing what is required and rewarded could be seen as a reciprocal of the gig economy. I think it is uncritical to talk about trends without knowing the history better than I do, so, again, salt flakes. But, my perception is that an aspect of the current economy is extracting as much efficiency out of the system as possible. The expectation is that workers will be paid for their highest value work, and only when they must be paid for that value, and as much of the productivity transferred to profit as possible. Only giving what you have to might be the logical conclusion.

    I’m saddened, though, because I think it’s the passion and perfectionism that creates the beauty, in teaching, in producing community, in words and music, and science and knowledge. I also believe there are many people who will create from inner light, but far fewer if it means significant sacrifice rather than making choices about values, but still having good food on the table and comfort and opportunities.

    1. as #2 son says, “the people who tell you to work hard are the ones trying to get rich on your work, and they aren’t working hard.”
      I think the gig economy and the general precariousness of the working life these days, is precisely what teaches our children that hard work doesn’t help. They are young but not stupid.

      The gig economy celebrates working yourself to death – see the New Yorker story,
      http://www.newyorker.com/culture/jia-tolentino/the-gig-economy-celebrates-working-yourself-to-death
      and

      Passion and perfectionism is still there – #1 son stuck to his piano lessons, still practices and plays regularly even in a massively overscheduled college career, while under the gun to get academic results good enough for med school. I am proud of him and deeply saddened that there is no time left in college for anything but desperately chasing credentials.

      I follow a lot of wildlife biologists on twitter. They work hard for love alone, as best I can tell. As the women in that group say, girls just want to have fun(ding for their research projects).

      When eight men own half the world, there just isn’t much left over for everyone else. Working hard seems beside the point.
      https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2017-01-16/just-8-men-own-same-wealth-half-world

  13. Can I just say that all of this is profoundly comforting to me? I am dealing with middle school kids who should be crushing it, but just can’t get their shit together. I think part of it is because they haven’t found a system to deal with their shit. But the other part is they’re not motivated right now – as they say to me – Mom, no college looks at middle school grades. They’re right, but I worry that they won’t be able to get their shit together for when it does matter. At any rate, social media always makes it seem like everyone’s kids are crushing it, so even though I know every kid can’t be #1, it’s nice for me to know I am not alone with struggling to get my kids to get it together.

    1. Shannon said,

      “But the other part is they’re not motivated right now – as they say to me – Mom, no college looks at middle school grades. They’re right, but I worry that they won’t be able to get their shit together for when it does matter.”

      C is a 9th grader, and it’s been really gratifying to see that she is getting it in gear.

      But she’s a girl and we don’t do a heavy extracurricular load and your mileage may vary, etc., etc.

    2. Shannon, both my sons struggled in middle school and first year of high school.. #1 son had the highest reading score ever recorded at his primary school, until #2 son beat it a few years later. Yet #1 son had a 3.0 GPA in the first year of HS, #2 son failed English while simultaneously scoring in the 99th percentile of the standardized tests for reading..

      I have decided just to have faith in them and support/encourage them as best I can, not going to be able to change them now.. praying hard..

    3. I could tell you long stories of the stupid shit that Jonah has done. Well, the stuff that I know about. Probably there’s more. Like the time that he decided he was hungry at 2am, so he longboarded along a highway to the drive thru window at McDonald’s for an egg McMuffin. Then instagrammed it, so his cousin saw it; she told my sister, who told me. There’s more, but we can’t put those stories out on the Internet. Of course, I could tell you worse stuff that I did at that age.

      I totally ignore “my kids are crushing it stories” on social media.

      1. “Like the time that he decided he was hungry at 2am, so he longboarded along a highway to the drive thru window at McDonald’s for an egg McMuffin. ”

        I don’t think that is that stupid. I mean, when you need an Egg McMuffin, what else can you do? Did he sneak out of the house to get it?

  14. I’ve seen a number of kids step up their game when they hit high school, I suspect both because they were more developmentally ready and because they saw that it counted. Being with kids who are looking ahead (i.e. seniors) made a difference, too.

    But, I do think that it’s a mistake to imagine that behavior will change *just* because it matters. Past performance isn’t a perfect predictor of future performance in a nonstationary system, but it’s more of a predictor than kids imagine it is.

    1. One of my younger male relatives was a bit slump-y as a high school sophomore, but has gotten serious as a junior, now that the finish line is in sight.

      But then there’s his old friend (also a junior) who is using the car given to him by his parents to smoke pot during school lunch.

  15. I think Denise Pope made the point in _Doing School_ that the theater geeks in high school did not “phone it in.” They were engaged in their projects, i.e., putting on a production. Characteristics of this work?

    They chose it.
    It was meaningful to them.
    Others were depending on them.
    Their role in the production was known to others in the production (i.e., avoiding the “group work” trap of one kid doing all the work, and others freeloading.)
    The final production was presented to the entire community.
    There was a firm deadline, and a very busy schedule.

    None of that applies to senior Spring assignments. Even the exam for an AP will not influence seniors’ grades, as the scores come back in midsummer, too late for high school grades.

    Different professions have different expectations. It’s wonderful that everyone doesn’t have to fit the same mold of behavior. For businessmen, being able to golf is very important. There is a benefit to being able to spend hours nearly alone with a client. That’s why restrictions on golf club membership are not desirable. Many executive contracts include payments for memberships in private clubs, even though the executives are so busy they don’t really have time to use them.

    Some people will thrive with a very predictable work schedule. Some of them are fantastically successful, such as accountants and surgeons. Others do well with an unpredictable, flexible work schedule. Some of them are fantastically successful, such as serial entrepreneurs or consultants.

    I just think you can’t make someone into a Type A personality if they aren’t. Some things are not subject to change.

  16. I argue about this with my husband. I’m definitely the sort of person who does the work required, even if it’s not immediately beneficial.* My husband basically just does the work he’s interested in, even if it gets him into trouble. I graduated high school with straight A+s, he failed out of high school in large part because he didn’t know when to pick his battles and he wasn’t willing to do obvious busy work just for the sake of busy work. My feeling is that at least to a point people need to learn how to deal with a certain level of busy work and boredom and to learn that some times you have to do things even if you don’t want to, because competent adult life requires a certain amount of busy work, boredom, and getting stuff you don’t want to do done. Paying bills, paying taxes, researching credit cards or health insurance benefits or navigating any sort of bureaucracy requires working hard at something that is objectively boring. Most jobs, even amazing dream jobs, involve some sort of drudgery.

    *If I have an external deadline, that is. I am a procrastinatory perfectionist, so I’ll sit on things and then put in immense effort right before the due date to get it done on time.

    1. There is a difference between boring drudgery and pointless. Paying bills, cleaning data are boring drudgery, but they have a point. Pursuing grades for the sake of grades, doesn’t really.

      1. It depends on how good of a teacher you have, or how much you trust your teacher. If those assignments are reading and writing on Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, it may seem like drudgery at the time, but it has long-term value, so completing it counts as grit. If it’s doing one of the endless busy-work assignments (which my brilliant teenage nephew – also a hardworking theater geek – has no patience for), then it’s worthless drudgery. As a high school student I readily did both kinds, bright-girl-style.

        Interestingly, I’m dating someone who is bad with paying bills on time and cleaning, but is an extremely hard-working musician. His high school anti-BS attitude was more like Jonah’s, and it’s stuck with him.

  17. You mentioned earlier that one of your son’s goals was to get a job. That’s not a bad idea. We have various summer interns starting soon at the big bank where I work. One group are in a program for students who have just finished their first year of college. The main factor we had in choosing them: references from former employers. This was followed by how they interviewed. Volunteer work counted if it was a long term commitment. Get him a record of showing up and doing the grunt work when needed.

    1. Marianne said:

      “You mentioned earlier that one of your son’s goals was to get a job. That’s not a bad idea.”

      Yes. The glorious thing about real work (as opposed to school work) is that you do the work and you get PAID. So it’s inherently much more motivating than the school environment.

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