The Fear of Working “Too” Hard

     Just about every high school student has said these lines: “I always procrastinate.” “I didn’t even study.” “I don’t want to go to class.” “I have no idea what’s happening.” “I didn’t pay attention.” 

     Sometimes, these statements might be true. After all, high schoolers are still teenagers who are justified to be wanting breaks in life. They seem like the right things for teenagers to say. It’s always portrayed this way: in movies, novels, shows, students complain when works are being assigned, sigh when school starts the next day, and, of course, cheer like the whole class has just won a lottery when classes are canceled. Aren’t these the most normal reactions, though?

     Yes, this attitude is normal in our times. It feels weird to want to attend classes, finish homework ahead of time, and pay attention, and even weirder to want to do extra work, attend extra classes, and exceed teachers’ expectations. But does it feel weird, or is it that your peers will consider these things as weird? Or, are you afraid that if your peers find out about these “sins,” they will see you as weird?

     This is where the reversed “peer pressure” comes in: you are not pressured because everyone is working so hard, but because everyone seems to not be doing so. So you stop trying, or at least, you stop looking like you are trying. We have now encountered high school survival rule No.1: fit in and be like everyone else.

     It’s the mixture of academic and social pressure that turns “trying hard” into a minefield. If you want to work hard, you have to take social risks. If you cannot afford those risks, then you can no longer try hard. Academic and social success become incompatible. One of the reasons why it’s so hard to attain popularity and a 4.0 GPA at the same time.

     For who, or what, should this be blamed? It’s hard to find an answer in a loop. Fiction comes from reality: movies might dramatize certain facts, but they have their origins in real events. Fictionalized high schoolers are not usually hard workers because real high schoolers are not. Yet because of fiction, the belief of high schoolers never wanting to work hard in society is strengthened. Then there comes more pressure, and thus more efforts, of looking like one “anti-work” high schooler in order to “fit in.” And, repeat.

     This toxic circle skews high school ethos. Since we can remember, people who work hard are being mocked as “nerds,” going to an optional class should be done in secrecy because exposure brings judgments, making a homework slideshow that looks “too good” will get people to backbite, and actually reading the book is not right.

     This improper mentality in high school increases students’ disability to handle stress and organize work. Some take advantage of teachers’ flexibility to make up excuses for their laziness. Sometimes students plainly forget that high school isn’t supposed to be easy, and only hard work brings you to success. Gradually, a little work becomes too much, and those who did not try their hardest cry “hard work never pays off.”

     Such a learning attitude is not healthy. Academically, mentally, physically, socially unhealthy. Real academic interests might be ignored because one is scared to delve deeper into topics discussed in class. Students learn less because they do not complete their work, so teachers cannot proceed, and thus involuntarily cut part of their teaching plan in order to keep moving. Those who are learning more have to simultaneously worry about “faking” as if they are not. Those who failed to fake it have to deal with socializing and friend group issues on top of all these.

     This unhealthiness does not bring any positivity to the lives of teenagers, and certainly does not cultivate a learning environment where everyone is motivated by the betterment of their own future. The problem is, everyone knows the actual right thing to do. It’s wrong to be ashamed of trying hard. It’s wrong to worry that you are working “too” hard. We all know that. We just never take action. Education is about learning new things, not avoiding them. Procrastination, slacking, and weariness should never be the set standards for high schoolers.

    We can do better. We should do better.