Tutor: Love The Parts That Aren’t Fun

I lost a student last week.

No, I didn’t lose her in the terminal sense, thank you for asking. Rather, her father emailed me to say, “after multiple discussions, she is absolutely opposed to continuing with the SAT program with you.” Ouch, right?

Don’t worry… I’m not abandoning the tutor life just yet. Chemistry does matter in the relationship between student and teacher, and inability to establish an effective rapport often signals the need for a change. Anyone who knows me personally can attest that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Knowing this, I assign my students to different team members based on personality and am quick to reassign when chemistry is the problem.

Chemistry is not the reason I lost this particular student, but rather commitment: she did not want to do the work.

More specifically, this student–like far too many–had no compunction about putting time into the parts of test prep that she enjoyed or came naturally to her. What drove her away were the parts that challenged her, made her feel clumsy, and required commitment and grit. Basically, she only wanted to do the fun parts.

Writer Billy Oppenheimer shares some perspective on this phenomenon by way of professional basketball:

“I got to be a fly on the wall for a conversation between Ryan Holiday and Chris Bosh. They talked about something I think about often. Chris said it was something he learned from Kobe Bryant: you gotta love the parts that aren’t fun, you gotta love a little struggle. Playing in the NBA is fun. Practicing and conditioning and sacrificing enough to make it to and in the NBA is a struggle. Publishing books is fun. Writing and researching and thinking and rethinking is a struggle. Filming a scene (when you’ve got all the lines in your head) is fun. Memorizing mountains of lines is a struggle. Acing a client presentation is fun. Preparing and ideating and considering that you might not ace it is a struggle.”

For some students, working through diabolical math problems represents the height of entertainment. Others find that labor comparable in unpleasantness to a needle in the eye or worse. Either way, an exceptional score on most admissions tests depends on problem solving acumen along with exceptional reading, writing, executive function, and assorted other skills.

Students that want to excel have to learn to love the studying, the struggling, the retrieval practice and review.

Tutors that want to excel have to learn to love the hard conversations, the marketing and sales, the relationship building and never-ending education in business, finance, and operations.

If you settle for focusing on the parts you naturally enjoy, you’ll reach a limit that may not satisfy your ambitions. To reach the next level–whatever that means to you–you have to love the parts that aren’t fun. You have to love a little struggle

— Mike Bergin

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