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Balancing on the edge of effort

Sam Blanc

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This is really hard for me to admit, but I have a problem. I’ve been struggling for a while, but it’s really progressed in high school and, honestly, it’s scaring me a little.

Well, here goes: I’m addicted to…doing my homework.

Now it’s not so much doing the homework as much as it is getting the homework done, checking that box in my assignment notebook.

Studies have shown that checking something off of your list actually has palpable effects, and boy do I feel them.

Checking items off of a checklist releases small amounts of dopamine, a chemical in our brains connected to feelings of pleasure, learning and motivation. Basically, checklists are my cocaine.

*Let the record reflect that this is not meant to be disrespectful to anyone struggling with addiction.

You’re facing a difficult struggle and I admire your courage and perseverance. You are brave; I am just a nerd. That is all.

Strangely enough, my homework obsession has not made me wildly popular among my peers. In my friend group, I am sometimes known as “the one who actually does her homework.”

It’s all in good fun, of course. No offense taken, but it always feels a little weird to me when doing your homework is something flippantly referred to as generally not done.

Maybe I’m just living in a bubble, but as annoying as homework can be, I’ve never had a huge issue with it.

From what I’ve gathered from my years of living among teens, this stems from what I call “balancing on the edge of effort.”

See, failure is cool, but it’s only cool until you’re actually failing. Getting a bad grade on a test is funny.

This is good, I suppose, as it allows people to laugh at themselves. As someone who relies heavily on self deprecation, I understand the temptation.

But I’ve heard people brag about failing as if it’s a symbol that they’re more important than the test, that they have better things to do than associate with their school materials.

This coolness only lasts, however, as long as they can keep up their grades. Failing a test is cool, but failing a class makes you stupid. That is the line.

The goal as far as I can tell is to fail as much as you can while still succeeding. This is where I’m the odd man out. I’ve tried to not try. It doesn’t work.

There are so many ‘second semester senior’ jokes going around about how no one does anything anymore, how once you get into college there’s no point.

I laugh at those jokes. I make those jokes. I see those jokes ring true for people all the time.

But when it comes to slacking off myself, I can’t seem to get into the second semester senior spirit.

I don’t know what makes one a “try hard,” whether it’s genetic or trained into you or an infectious disease, but either way I seem to have it.

Doing anything less than my absolute best feels sacrilegious.

It’s not that I like homework any more than the average student, either.

I’d much rather sleep or hang out with friends or marathon the seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I bought last week (best $40 I’ve spent in a while). But when I haven’t completed everything I have to for school, I just can’t concentrate.

I’m overwhelmed with the idea of being overwhelmed later, so scared of falling behind that I have trouble enjoying myself in the moment.

There’s something really satisfying to me about getting organized and getting stuff done. I’m going to college next year. COLLEGE!

I have to figure out what I’m gonna do, set myself up for what could be the rest of my life.

Those goals I have to set are so far ahead that I don’t even know where to start.

That’s what’s so comforting about homework. As annoying as it is, I know what the endgame is. I can see the finish line. I can check off that box on my to do list.

Homework helps give me the certainty that I can accomplish something and I’m going to cherish it while I can because I know I won’t have that kind of certainty forever.

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The student news site of New Trier High School.
Balancing on the edge of effort