The Least Resistance

I met with my 8th grade student last night. He’s an unusual kid for his generation—he reads books like they’re going out of style and has the vocabulary and intellectual curiosity to prove it. Here’s an actual snippet of conversation from our session last week, wherein we got off on a tangent about animals on the verge of extinction:

Him: Or you could clone them so they wouldn’t all die.
Me: Oh, like in Jurassic Park.
Him: Yeah, but that actually wouldn’t work, because DNA breaks down after about 9.6 million years.
(beat)
Me: You’ve been saving that one up for a while, haven’t you?
*cue shit-eating grin that quickly turns into the giggles.*

As you can probably tell, this is not a kid who usually struggles for ideas. But last night was the exception. I don’t know if it was a combination of being 14, being tired, or something else, but we were dealing with massive, massive homework resistance. The assignment was to write a diary entry for one of the characters from The Outsiders (and this kid finished reading the book the same day he got it, so that wasn’t an issue). You’d have thought he’d been asked to scale Everest in 20 minutes.

I tried lists. I tried dialogues, recorded on his iPhone. I tried everything I could think of, but nothing worked because my student just could not get out of his own way. It was almost painful to watch this incredibly bright, clever kid get stuck behind roadblocks he put up for himself. And he’s written plenty of fiction before, but that was for me, not for a grade, so it was easier. If he’d let himself play with it, or even just accepted the notion that it was okay to write something completely crappy for his first draft, he’d have been off to the races in no time flat. But as soon as you put the grade into the mix, and the fact that he just did. not. want. to do this assignment, everything changed. He became the Resistance Poster child, and almost every phrase out of his mouth was, “I don’t knowwwwww!”

The next time you’re running up against resistance, ask yourself where your roadblocks are, and who put them there. How much harder are you making it just because you’re telling yourself you don’t want to do it, shouldn’t have to do it, and really want to find a way not to? How are you psyching yourself out with expectations and comparisons? Some of these things will be of questionable truth. Some will be outright lies. Sorting them out from the actual truth is critical. (And sometimes you just need a nap. Because, yes, it really is okay to rest!)

In the end, the Borg were right, in their way. Resistance really, truly is futile.

12 thoughts on “The Least Resistance”

  1. Great article. I think at times we can be our own worst enemy. Trying to hard to be perfect instead of just being who we really are.

  2. Resistance really is futile! But, it is so hard sometimes to push through it. I love that you ended this post with acknowledging that it’s okay to rest. I think sometimes we push too hard and that creates a needful resistance, one that involves a need to recharge.

  3. The idea of resting is a gift from my student, because he was so clearly exhausted that he just didn’t have the energy to get out of his own way. Every so often he’ll be really tired and I always want to tuck a blanket around him and tell him to sleep! We all forget that we really weren’t made to go 24/7, and trying to anyway is not good for us.

  4. We can definitely be our own worst enemies. There is no perfect. There is only who you are, and it is more than enough.

  5. The dreaded inner editor can strike at any age! It sometimes takes quite a leap to just let go and write, even though you know first drafts are supposed to be bad.

  6. So true! I actually gave a student a copy of Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” a few months ago (with her mom’s permission). We’re raising little perfectionists, with standards no mere mortal can live up to, and it’s not doing any of us any good.

  7. When you stop and think about it, feeling guilty about taking care of yourself so you’re able to do your best work is clearly ridiculous. But we’ve built up this idea that we have to be superhuman, and that falling short (into actual human capabilities) makes us failures. It’s crazy, but we’re wired to believe it. Maybe we need to start a movement in favor of napping!

  8. I’ve been where your 8th grade student has been – in that “I don’t know” phase. It can be heart wrenching and sometimes requires taking a break and sitting back. Then, I think the next step may be taking a deep breath (or a few), putting your hands on your heart and going inside for an answer. It ain’t easy, but it’s worth a try.
    Thanks. ~Debra

  9. Hi, Debra,

    I have a feeling it would be hard to find someone who hasn’t been where my student was last week. It happens to everyone. They key is to get out of that rut, even just for a few seconds–long enough for something new to sneak into the process. I’m not sure that putting your hands on your heard would work for a 14-year-old boy, but it might very work well for more mindful adults. 🙂

  10. There may have been something in the air about resistance last week, it’s true! Or it could be that it’s such a common problem that we all hit on it at the same time. (Or perhaps those are two ways of saying the same thing!)

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