Do you have any advice for someone who doesn’t mind studying but hates doing assignments, especially when they are more difficult and outside my comfort zone?

A student asked:

Do you have any advice for someone who doesn’t mind studying but hates doing assignments, especially when they are more difficult and outside my comfort zone?

I think for starters, it will help to approach assignments with a less negative perspective. It’s not useful to think about whether you love or hate doing something. Telling yourself that you hate it just increases the disdain you have for the assignments. There are a lot of things that I don’t like doing (writing essays included), but I just resign myself to doing it because it’s beneficial to me (or other people). This is something I actively tell myself: that the mark of a responsible person is one who goes beyond one’s likes and dislikes to do the things that’s required of him/her.

Anyway, it’s important to recognise why assignments are painful. They’re painful because they challenge us to go beyond our existing state of being, to grow and develop intellectually, emotionally, and even socially. They’re what I call growing pains.

If there’s anything I learnt from my years of work, it’s this: the experts, the big names in academia and industry, all continue to struggle with this “pain.” It never gets easier the higher you go. Well, it’s easy when you do similar tasks as before, but it never gets easier because, if you want to go far in your career, you need to constantly improve yourself, to do more than what you are currently capable of. So it’s going to be decades of productive struggle that will mould and shape you into a better, more capable person, and one that I hope will make a big difference in this world! This is the way to greatness.

If you continue to shun away from difficulties or the struggles of work, you will deprive yourself of these opportunities for growth. So embrace the struggle and the difficulties that comes with your assignments. It’s training that will prepare you for the bigger challenge to come after graduation.

A hot cup of toffee nut latte on a cold rainy day

I love how Christmas is coming. Every year Starbucks will offer its special Christmas brew. I look forward to it every year.

A cup of toffee nut latte with its fragrant smell and taste brings me so much happiness. And especially on a cold rainy day, this drink is the perfect beverage to compliment the lovely chilly weather. MMMmmm…

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t particularly like the drink so much anymore now. I guess as one grows with age, one outgrows one’s liking for sweet drinks.

So why do I still drink it? Mainly, for the nostalgia, but also as an annual reminder for what it now represents.

This was the drink that has accompanied me for so many cold and rainy nights back in my undergraduate days, where at the end of the semester (well, at the end of every Semester 1) I’d spend several, almost-consecutive nights in a row, working overnight on campus to write papers after papers, until the sun rose at about 6+am (no kidding!).

It was the drink that in many ways, stayed beside me, sitting with me, keeping me up, keeping me going. The fact that it was a seasonal brew made it all the more special. It also, in a way, gave me something to look forward to at the time when assignments are aplenty, and where stress is high.

Now that I have graduated and don’t need undergo such academic toiling, this drink brings me lovely memories of the those times where I stayed up to write papers. While in some ways, I hated the experience, I still loved it for the kind of peace and quiet that I enjoyed. There’s something really wonderful about sitting in a dim room in the middle of the night, with a small desk lamp over your head, with another one or two other students working in the study room. Maybe it’s the combination of the lack of sleep, stress and the caffeine, but the experience of solitude as you think and write is magical… But I digress.

More significantly, this drink stands as a symbol of the silent companion who stands by your side, cheering you, giving you (mental) strength to keep going, to keep thinking, to keep writing. That you’re never alone even as you’re writing at 4am in the middle of the night, where everyone else is asleep.

That companion, who transforms and gives new meaning and understanding to the experience of the toil and suffering of work; transforming toil into toil-AND-pleasure, adding an element of joy – sips of joy full of flavour, stimulating your senses as if setting off a series of fireworks in your mind – with every small sip I took, as I wrote my papers with frustration.

Toil transformed into toil-and-pleasure.

It is a hopeful drink. It serves as a reminder of those moments, and how I overcame those moments year after year till graduation, with this simple seasonal drink.

To drink it once again, today, on a cold rainy day in December. A timely reminder. A comforting thought. A heartening sip.