What’s the point of school? How to find meaning in your studies when you have no motivation
At a time when young people are more stressed out than ever, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of why school matters at all. In this piece, we’ll explain how to find purpose in your studies when motivation is running low.
Having meaning and purpose in your studies is crucial to your grades and wellbeing. There’s a great deal of research proving that when high school students really think about how they want to contribute to the world, they end up more motivated and engaged.
But we all know that schoolwork is sometimes just straight up boring. No one at school tells you why learning this complicated algebraic equation actually matters, or how it will make a difference to your life.
There is a point to school, it’s just pretty hard to find when you’re not looking for it. The skills you’re building at this point in your life are key to a successful future, whether it’s in a valiant career in environmental activism, or a quiet life of domestic bliss.
Below, we’ve outlined some simple things you can do to help find your “why” at school.
1. Know Thyself
People get meaning from drastically different things. One student might be dreaming of becoming a professional football player, while the next might find kicking a ball around a field about as exciting as an unseasoned bowl of oats.
In order to get meaning out of school, you have to know what makes you tick. Even the most unmotivated students have things that excite them.
Try to remember the last time you felt a rush of excitement at an activity you were involved in. This could be anything from finally landing a kick-flip at the skatepark to signing up for a nighttime pottery class.
Now, work out why you were excited. For example, let’s say you recently learned a song on guitar.
Why did I enjoy learning that?
Because I like music, and it made me feel competent
Why did it make you feel competent?
Because it was a challenge, and I enjoyed mastering it. Plus I got to test my creative skills.
Why do I enjoy creative challenges?
Because I like watching my own progress, and I want to be able to support myself professionally in a creative career when I’m an adult.
Or perhaps, you were recently a part of a Feminist initiative to raise funds for the Rape Crisis in your city.
Why did I enjoy being a part of that?
Because I felt like I did something good.
Why was it something good?
Because it was a team effort for a good cause.
Why is that important to me?
Because I want to live in an equal society, and use my position to help others.
And there you have it – it might not be your “true calling” to become a professional guitar player or a social justice activist for the rest of your life, but it’s something you’ve found that you’re passionate about. Having a passion is the fist step towards making school more enjoyable.
Imagine you’re living in the future, as your best possible self 10 years down the line. What are you like? What are you doing with your life? What are your passions, and what are your skills? Use the answers to work out what you really value in life.
If you really, truly can’t think of anything you do that rows your boat – it might be time to do some soul searching. Sign up for some new clubs. Volunteer for a charity. Dive into the depths of YouTube for inspiration. Pick up a sport. Research, research, research – and then try, try and try again. You need to experiment with lots of different interests before you find your “calling”.
Explore lots of fields, and then listen to what your gut tells you.
2. Trust the process
Once you’ve identified an interest, or multiple interests, the next step is finding how to apply that passion to your studies.
Let’s face it, we can’t persuade you that your essay on Macbeth alone will score you a job as a professional skateboarder.
But what if we told you it wasn’t your grades or the final product that helped your ability to succeed in that field, but the skills that you gained in the process?
Let’s go back to the aspiring skateboarder. They’ve just handed in an exceptional essay on Macbeth that not only earned them some excellence credits, but also, genuinely enjoyed writing.
Perhaps, as it turned out, the skateboarder’s understanding of Shakespeare didn’t really matter that much in the long run. But, their ability to write persuasively about a text helped them to become a better communicator.
This person gained the basic writing skills from high school English to start a blog about skateboarding, which blew up across the globe, and connected them to a world of important and interesting people in the industry. They continued to work hard at their passion (skateboarding) while contributing to the conversation via their work – eventually getting noticed by a big league brand who offers them a world-class sponsorship.
Had that student not had the confidence, writing skills or self-independence to start their own blog, they would still be skating their local skate-park in a small town, working a boring desk job in the city.
Don’t underestimate the power of skill-building. Every challenge you encounter, at school and beyond, offers you the opportunity to gain something from it. Even the most futile, tedious tasks in the world can pave the way for a world of knowledge, opportunity and connection that you can barely imagine, let alone predict.
To truly embrace this perspective, stop trying to find motivation in what other people tell you to. Ignore your teachers draconian lectures about Generation Z being too lazy. Don’t study because your mother tells you to, or because you’re worried that you’ll be perceived as “dumb” if you don’t get the grades.
Instead, you have to source inspiration from your own goals, your own passions, your own values. This is the only way to ensure your motivation lasts.
Every time you feel like giving up, ask yourself:
How can I use this challenge as an opportunity to improve myself? What can I gain from achieving this? How can this help me to get to where I want to be?
3. Celebrate the good stuff
It’s easy in this first-world existence to get caught up in the bad things about school. Your teacher shut you down when you tried to answer a question; you’ve just watched a 100-second snap-story of a fun party that no one invited you to; you got an Achieved on the only internal that you studied super hard for. The weather’s getting greyer by the day, and your willpower to even show up is rapidly depleting.
These things all suck, don’t get me wrong. But they are
1) impermanent, and
2) meaningless in the scheme of things.
When we dwell on these minor things, however difficult they are, they gain precious space in your mind that could be much better used elsewhere. Your perception of their weight overtakes reality – making school a lot worse than it needs to be.
Focusing on the negative side of things runs the risk of you missing out on the really great stuff about school – like the fact that you were born in a country that provides public education for everyone.
Don’t get us wrong, this isn’t one of those awful “other people have it worse,” lectures. Mental health, motivation and meaning are all important pillars of a happy school experience, and they don’t come easily to a lot of us.
But that’s exactly why it is important to give yourself the permission to celebrate every small victory in your school life – no matter how small.
Had a nice, sunny walk to school this morning? Splendid! Got a Merit for a test you thought you failed? Wonderful! Finally grasped a concept you’ve been struggling with for weeks? Go you!
Don’t underestimate the power the small things. When you add up all of your positive high school experiences, you’ll find that they often amount to something significant. While school isn’t for everyone, and is by no means a perfect institution, we shouldn’t write it off as a soul-destroying institution that feeds on the tears of stressed students either.
The golden truth is: school is what you make of it. It’s not inherently evil, and it’s not a golden ticket to a successful and happy life either. It’s what you make of it.
Great students make their own meaning out of school, and get their own return from the opportunities that it provides.
Go get yours.