At the end of each semester, students start appearing in professors' offices clamoring for higher grades. One of their favorite arguments is "But I worked so hard! I should get a better grade!" Let's leave aside the fact that the professor has no way of knowing whether such hard work really took place and that, in my experience, students who make this statement are the ones who never show a speck of interest in the course during the semester. What I wanted to discuss today is the pernicious idea that effort should be rewarded irrespective of whether said effort produced any results.
Our goal as educators is to prepare the students for grown-up realities. We are to assist them in their passage into adulthood. The students are hoping that their education will allow them to find good jobs and be successful in the workplace. However, in a real workplace nobody cares about effort unless that effort produces what's expected. If you go to a restaurant and get served a horrible, burnt, nasty-smelling meal, how much will you care that the incompetent chefs worked their asses off to prepare it for you? More importantly, how likely will you be to pay for the fruits of this hard labor? If you buy a car whose brake system is faulty, will you care that the engineers who designed this car slaved over it day and night? If my students show up at the lab today for their final exam and discover that the CDs containing the exam do not work, how much will they care that I worked super hard to create these faulty CDs? I wrote an article that has been rejected by two different journals because, in spite of the work I invested into it, it's still not good enough. Do you think I can write on my retention review: "My article was rejected but I worked hard!"?
The problem with the "reward me for working hard" philosophy is that it presupposes a lack of controls. For many students, working hard means opening the book, staring at it for a while, scratching their heads in befuddlement, and closing the book. However, even if we all could agree on the definition of "hard work", unless this work produces actual results, we cannot expect the world to care. People keep beating the dead horses of their romantic relationships because Dr. Phil told them on television that if you "work" on it hard enough, a dead relationship can be resuscitated. They keep pursuing careers to which they are completely unsuited because they believe that if they kill themselves to achieve something, it will eventually happen. As a result, they turn into a modern day Sisyphus whose hard work never ends and never brings any rewards. Sadly, people often find it easier to beat their heads against a wall than ask themselves whether this is really the right person, the right job, the right Major for them. Maybe all this hard work leads nowhere simply because the goal that they chose was wrong from the start.
I'm all for effort, hard work and achievement. However, life is not supposed to be about pain and suffering. It is not supposed to be about endless exertion that is neither rewarded nor rewarding. Life should be about enjoyment, happiness and fun. If what you are trying to achieve - be it a relationship, a career, a degree, a certain financial status, or anything else - requires constant struggle and brings no rewards, maybe it's time to revise your goals. Hard work is great, but unless you are having a blast while doing it, there is something seriously wrong with the whole thing.