When Was the Last Time You Had to Do Something You Didn’t Want to Do?

When you’re a kid, part of you believes that being an adult means being able to eat a cookie whenever you want to. That is the allure, the power, the pull of adulthood; from the outside, it looks like being in absolute control of your world. It means staying up late or eating an entire bag of chips, and choosing what to buy and when. It looks pretty awesome.

Of course, once you become an adult, you realize that growing up is a process of discovering how little control you actually have, and how instead of becoming more free, you become more limited, more burdened. This is true; we all know it. But admittedly, there are some great things about being an adult, and one of them is eating that cookie whenever you want to. You really can; no one can stop you.

This aspect of adulthood is what has me interested today. I started thinking about my students and how I had the power to make them do work. If I wanted to assign an essay, I could, and the students HAVE to do it, or face consequences. There are whole areas of life that I haven’t HAD to face or work with since I left high school or college. I don’t have to do math problem sets; I haven’t had to do calculus; I haven’t had to use test tubes, or memorize the dates of historic events; I haven’t had to write academic essays (at least, not since grad school), or any of those other grinding things that I had to do as a student. And I’m probably a little worse for it.

Make Yourself Do Something Hard

The point I’m getting at is that as students, we’re pushed to learn and keep our minds open to a diverse array of disciplines. As kids, if we grow up in certain kinds of driven environments, we’re pushed to try drawing or music or math camp; as students, we have to think about history and biology even if it isn’t our forte. We have to do our best, even if we don’t like it. One privilege obtained by adults is the ability to turn away from the things that we’re not good at. We can narrow ourselves to the sphere of our strengths; we may have to work plenty hard at that, but if we’ve chosen the career path we want, then we don’t have to do the things we don’t want to do anymore. We don’t have to struggle and fight to understand.

But maybe we should a little more. I hear my friends or older adults talk all the time about how they feel like they are incapable of learning at the rate and capacity that they did as students. The difference, of course, is just that we’ve shut ourselves off from that kind of learning. It’s understandable that we have, because it’s hard. But it’s also very good for us. Maybe it’s time to get back into something that you aren’t good at. This could apply within the field of writing as well. Maybe you shut yourself off from poetry a long time ago because you just couldn’t hack it. Maybe you closed the book on the last historical novel you ever wanted to read a decade ago. But if we try picking these things up again, our writing and our thinking and our ability to learn will be re-vitalized. Why not challenge yourself this week? What hard world will you attempt to re-visit?

One comment

  1. Anna M says:

    This is a great reminder that being a writer is more than just mastering a particular skill. They say that if one wants to have friends, one should learn to be the kind of friend one wants– and I think that you are right in pointing out that if one wants to write (and have readers) one should grow into the type of knowledgeable, flexible, interesting person whom one would want to sit down and listen to.

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