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What’s the point of studying so hard?


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Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees.

We get so caught up in the day-to-day of worrying about the next class, the next homework, the next midterm, the final grade, the next semester… that we sometimes lose sight of why we’re doing it in the first place.

“Why am I studying so hard again?”

But by doing this, we’re missing out.

So I asked you guys,

What do you want to do after college?

Where are all of your hard-won test scores taking you?

What do you want to do AFTER you get your degree? And why is it important to you?

And the answers were amazing.

Understanding the WHY of college is a huge motivating factor.

(Photo: reddit/r/reactiongifs)


Here were some of the best from your fellow readers:

  • getting a PhD in Mathematics
  • becoming a doctor
  • developing automation systems for small scale industries in developing countries
  • getting a job so you can support your future family, or your parents as they move into retirement

Little do we know that fleshing these things out – even just thinking about them – ends up having a profound effect on the way we view the work we’re doing and on how we perceive the path ahead.

Big lofty goals matter.

As entrepreneur and journalist Shane Snow explains in his recent book Smartcuts:

“…research actually shows that we’re less likely to perform at our peak potential when we’re reaching for low-hanging fruit…

…The “high-hanging fruit” approach, the big swing, is more technically challenging than going after low-hanging fruit, but the diminished number of competitors in the upper branches provides fuel… and brings out our potential…

…The simple explanation is that human nature makes us surprisingly willing to support big ideals and big swings.”

And not only that, but big motivational goals also inspire others to rally around you.

“People are generally willing to support other people’s small dreams with kind words. But we’re willing to invest lives and money into huge dreams. The bigger the potential, the more people are willing to back it.”

In most cases, the bigger the better.

So this goal from reader Cristian S., a Mech E. Senior from Texas A&M, really does the job:

“SpaceX, renewable energy, and rotor dynamics… Combine that with the R&D department, give me a machine shop, a team of creative makers and you’ve got the formula for my dream job… something that progresses humanity (for the better, no oil-centered innovations for me, green sustainability please!) and doesn’t rehash old techniques.

Yup there’s my dream job. Saving the world through engineering.”

Now granted: maybe not all of us are like Cristian. Maybe your goal is more modest, or personal. But you have to admit, a goal like that can inspire some serious and fiery determination to get to work and finish your degree.

And not only that, but big goals that are meaningful to you also provide additional energy.

Energy for getting up every day and going to class.

Energy for staving off boredom during long monotonous lectures.

Energy for those long-ass problem sets.

Energy for putting in the repeated, hard practice for midterms and finals.

As peak performance experts Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz write in The Power of Full Engagement,

“Purpose creates a destination. It drives full engagement by prompting our desire to invest focused energy in a particular activity or goal. We become fully engaged only when we care deeply, when we feel that what we are doing really matters.”

And as Nietzche famously said,

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

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So yes, stepping back, taking some time to dream: it does take the focus away from your work, at least for a short period.

But if you do, I think you’ll find it’s some of the most productive time you ever end up spending.

(Feature Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)


  • Ken May 14, 2015, 9:22 am

    Hey Tom,

    This is a really good point that a lot of students need to think about when they are planning there future and figuring out what the heck they want to do with their major. I have proposed (and frankly preached) the idea of thinking big and aiming for the stars with people before and I got the response “well the discouragement of being disappointed outweighs the reward from the slim chance of success”. It’s frustrating to get that response because it is so anti-inspirational and is not going to move me, anyone, or society as a whole forward. The argument you kinda make about how you achieve the low hanging fruit in the process is spot on. I watched an interview with Kevin O’Leary from shark tank and his advice was that if you work hard enough and live passionately in your goals, one day you will just wake up rich. I think there’s a lot of truth in that and can apply to everyone.

    Also, I’m an engineer and totally agree with Christian. Why should any engineer settle for something other than changing the world?!?

    Sorry for the long response, but keep up the good work Tom!

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