I’ll start off this post with a couple of questions: What comes easy to you? What comes hard to you?
Hopefully you have a good answer to these questions. Or several good answers to these questions. Pretty much everyone has things they do well, and things that they screw up royally when they try them. Usually they know what these things are.
This may be a harder question, though: Have you admitted to yourself what comes hard to you?
This is a different question entirely. Knowing what you’re not that good at is one thing. Fully embracing that fact and writing it off is another. Doing that takes more time and more soul-searching, and is a bit more painful perhaps, but it can freeing to do this.
Math always will be hard for some people
I recently tutored someone in a college math course. (I’m good at math. I actually like setting up solids of revolution with the shell method, and pulling colored balls out of urns, if you can believe that. And if you don’t get it, no problem.) This is this guy’s third time taking the course, and there were still some big holes from previous courses. Nice guy and all that, so no problem.
I thought, OK, they’re giving it a good shot and hiring a tutor, and I thought sure we had scheduled again for this week. Well, I arrive up there, and the father is a bit surprised to see me. Well, no, there wasn’t a session tonight, he thought he had made that clear. (Not clear enough, apparently!) He went down to ask his son if there was anything else he needed help with, and no, there wasn’t. They were playing it by ear, and they’d let me know when they needed me again.
Maybe he’ll get it this time. But if not, when will he learn?
So, on the way back home — and over a $6 toll bridge — I thought a lot.
First, I thought about how to make sure that this kind of miscommunication never happened again. I don’t have time and money to burn like that.
But secondly, I thought about how foreign this kind of mindset is to me. The guy’s on his third time through this class, and the father is incredibly ambivalent about the whole thing. I know my parents would have been pitching a fit well before this point. It’s probably the reason I assumed that they wanted regular tutoring, and why I was practically dumbfounded when they didn’t.
It could be that he will actually get it this time with the current level of effort he’s putting into it. But it could just as easily be the case that they’re not admitting to themselves that he isn’t really cut out to do this kind of stuff.
“You’re just not scary.”
Mike Wazowski, the eye-conic main character of the animated films Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University is voiced by real-life comedic icon Billy Crystal. Wazowski plays the coach for elite scarer James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) in the first movie, but Wazowski himself is much better suited for other tasks than scaring.
Just about anything except scaring. Because, just like some people just aren’t athletic, some monsters just aren’t scary. Wazowski comes to terms with this in the second movie, but not before going through a lot of disappointment and frustration. And a full semester plus at MU.
It’s a bit like this guy I tutored. If he ends up not passing, will he take it again? Pay another round of tuition and spend another term trying to pound it into his head instead of doing something he actually is good at?
Those are the costs of fighting a clearly losing battle:
- Time cost. This is the most important cost. It’s irreplaceable. Time spent on one thing can’t be spent on another. Time spent in fruitless pursuits can’t be re-spent in fruitful ones.
- Money cost. A big consideration. It’s more replaceable than money, but for most it takes time to replace the money. Far better to spend money on something that has a positive return.
- Opportunity cost. By doing one thing, you sacrifice the opportunity to do another. Choose opportunities wisely.
Frankly, I hope he gets it this time. But if not, I hope that he gets that he won’t get it, and moves on.