There’s no escaping it. There will always be times when you’re forced to do something that simply doesn’t interest you. In school, it might seem like this is all you spend your time doing. Regardless, though, you still have to do it – unfortunate as that might seem.
So how do you deal with schoolwork that feels mundane and irrelevant? In other words, how do you make yourself work through assignments that in no way relate to what you plan to do in the future?
Personally, I have three answers to this, and each of them has worked at different times to help me get through school with my motivation (more or less) intact.
Any of this could be relevant someday; stay focused on it now to benefit yourself in the future
I know it’s absurd to think that everything that you’re being taught will one day have a use, but it’s equally absurd to think that none of it will. Whether it’s weeks or months or years from now, at least some of what you learn in high school will serve a purpose – and serve you well. You never know what you might end up doing, and anything could be relevant someday. It might be difficult for you to believe that, especially considering that in a previous post, I spoke about a similar idea in an almost opposite way. In that post, I wanted to highlight the fact that not everyone is great at everything or will use everything they learn in high school. I stand by that, but I also know that, on the flip side, there are things that we learn in high school that might seem irrelevant at the time but are useful later.
There have been many times in college that I’ve looked back at what I learned in high school and realized just how much I gained from my classes. Sure, there were the useless bits of information – I will never in my life need to know the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks (I hope) – but there are also classes that serve as a solid background for my studies now. For example, I took a government class in my senior year of high school, which focused on the political system and the way in which the government is set up and functions. At the time, I had absolutely no interest in government or politics, and even though I found parts of the class interesting, overall, I assumed I’d need to know very little about the setup of the federal and state governments. But now I’ve decided to go to law school. I’m taking a course called “Law and Politics,” and some of what we discuss in class and need to know for tests and papers is content I already know because I learned it in high school.
This is only one example, but I could give countless others to help you see just how much you will take from your high school education despite what you might think now. Thinking of my classes this way in high school got me through many assignments because, even though I felt that I would never need to know the things I was learning, I had plenty of teachers telling me how they continuously use random knowledge sets to their benefit. Especially in college, I’ve constantly assumed that everything I’m learning will be useful – if even just for a test or to apply it to another class. If you can think of what you learn that way – as a means of understanding a bigger picture or succeeding in a class in the long run, this just might help you work up the motivation to finish an irksome assignment on time. It’s not the easiest way to motivate yourself, and it’s definitely not the most attractive, but it’s something to keep you going if these next two options don’t help you stay focused.
Find something interesting about what you’re learning, and make the most of it
You might be thinking this just sounds like a half-baked excuse for advice – if you don’t want to do something, there’s a good chance it isn’t interesting, right? But everything that is boring or annoying or just unpleasant either has interesting aspects or can be made interesting. It’s a cheesy concept, but it’s honestly helped me get through classes in which I struggled to pay attention – science, math and history, to name a few – and finish the work assigned for those classes. In classes like these that hold no interest for me, I’m always searching for something to keep my attention.
While in class, I focus on things like the way a teacher speaks and presents and the way other people react to what the teacher says. While doing homework and in class, I try to pick out small bits of information that are interesting and focus on those when I can; I find something that interests me within what I’m learning, even if it’s small, and I latch onto that. In an economics class in my senior year of high school, I was bored so often. There was no getting around it. But at least once a class, the teacher would say something that either related to me or intrigued me or went against something I had previously thought was true. I really knew nothing about economics, and I really didn’t want to, but I ended up enjoying several sections of what we learned because I focused not on the boring aspects (of course you have to pay attention to those to understand them) but on the parts of our discussions and lectures that interested me. When I felt I could let my thoughts drift a bit – if the teacher was still explaining something I understood or had stopped to answer a question that I knew the answer to, or at any time where I knew I wouldn’t miss something I needed to know – I would think about that small piece of information that interested me and try to apply it by scribbling little notes all over my notebook. Ultimately, I found that fixating on pieces of information this way helped me understand the concepts to which I paid so much attention as well as the concepts surrounding them, which usually played a role in my understanding.
Sometimes, though, I never “find” anything that interests me, so I make something up. I take each question and wonder how I could make my answer as extreme as possible – the wildest answer my teachers might get but still correct. I try to think of ways that something my teacher is saying might not work or be true. I treat my homework with a sense of sarcasm when it doesn’t interest me, making most of what I do into a joke. Even if it means I’m not taking a concept seriously, it at least means I’m paying attention to it, and it means that I might be able to push through an assignment by making my answers more of a joke, more sarcastic, and as outlandish as possible (though still right). But that could just be my sense of humor talking. If making a joke out of your work doesn’t help you get it done, try taking it more seriously. Try finding something about it that interests you because it’s so true you can apply it to your own life or so wrong that you can find no application. Overall, the goal when finding or making something interesting is to make the time go faster and to hopefully give you something that you can think about to keep you focused.
Keep the end goal in mind
What you have to remember while you’re getting through school is that you’re not just getting through to get out. You’re getting through to get somewhere better – to open the door at the end that will lead you to your future. No matter what’s behind that door, keeping it in sight is always helpful. All through high school, I was kept motivated a lot of times by the thought of graduation and college. I knew that, at the time, it didn’t really matter if I failed or succeeded, but I wanted to go to college, so I knew that my GPA mattered – I knew that how I performed in high school would affect my chances of getting where I wanted to go later. This was probably the best method of motivation I had and still have. It helps you focus on why you’re doing something; and when you have a reason, it’s much easier to do it.
If you’re hoping to get into college, if you’re hoping to get a job that expects you to have a relatively high GPA, or if you’re planning on doing anything that will want proof that you can succeed in an environment where you have to do things you don’t want to and you have to complete assignments on time (pretty much every job, ever), then what you do in high school matters. How you do in high school matters – at least to some extent. So keep this in mind always. If you can’t wait to graduate, don’t just think about not being in school. Think about what’s beyond that. Think about what comes next for you and how you can ensure that you get there. Because if you stop caring about where you want to go and focus only on why you want to be done with high school, chances are you won’t do as well as you could – because you won’t have any motivation to do well.
How do you stay motivated to stay focused and finish your work? How do you make learning interesting for yourself?