Type A+ People: The Struggle Is Real
Sarah Mulchand ’14
Picture the smartest kid in school. Did you think of someone who never does his or her homework, effortlessly getting As on every test without lifting a finger, understanding concepts instantaneously and executing flawlessly? The rest of us mortals toil and grovel with homework and study guides, asking “obvious” questions and seeing teachers after class, only to receive a worse result. We often regard these struggles as a negative thing. Struggling means someone had issues, a kink in the process. One certainly cannot be as smart because he or she had to work (hard!) for that A.
Psychologist Jim Stigler at the University of Michigan hypothesizes that the disparity in academic accomplishment between children in the United States and those in Asian countries results partially from a different perception of “struggle.” Rather than regarding struggle as an indicator of weakness, many Asian cultures see struggle as a measure of strength. Struggling is an expected part of the learning process, and the more a student perseveres in overcoming a difficulty, the stronger the student is. The value of an accomplishment stems not from the prestige of the award or accomplishment itself, but in the work that a student puts in to get there.
At SI, we carry the heavy weight of being the city’s “best and brightest.” Often, this means that we fear struggle even more. To us, showing our struggle would expose our insecurities: maybe we’re not as good as everyone makes us out to be. Maybe we didn’t understand the math lesson on Thursday, but didn’t raise a hand to clarify for fear of looking dumb. Occasionally, we feel the sting of a casual remark: “You have a tutor?” or “I can’t believe you actually studied for this test!” Then, we cop out: “Math is not my thing” or “I don’t care about this class.” We go to extraordinary lengths to avoid showing our struggles. We even give up altogether.
Cultural change is never simple or easy, and I’m not saying that you should become that kid who asks ten questions every minute of class. However, struggle, once embarrassment is discarded, can be immensely rewarding, like the feeling after running a half-marathon rather than just a mile. Yes, you’re sweaty and ready to collapse, but you know you hit roadblocks and pushed through them. Overcoming challenges gives you an intrinsic feeling of self-worth. You start to know your own strength.
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