Lessons from the 9th Grade

By Monty Hagler
Like most parents, I think my children are smart. And funny, attractive and polite in a Lake Wobegon sort of way. They’ve certainly always done well in elementary and middle school. Now Julia is a freshman in high school. Reality is setting in.
Don’t get me wrong. Julia’s still smart and making above average grades. She’s just competing at a different level, and she’s finding out that what worked for her before isn’t going to get the job done now. This was made abundantly clear in our parent\teacher conferences at the end of the first quarter. In all of her classes – particularly the honors courses in English, biology and math – her work might best be described as “adequate.”

There’s a straight-forward solution for what’s needed — more effort and sharper focus. I’m surprised she has done as well as she has with study habits interwoven with Snapchats, FaceTime, Instagram, text messages and phone call interruptions at all hours of the day and night. Plus playing on the varsity tennis team (which did win the North Carolina state championship), running indoor track and being a world class sleeper.
I want Julia to be active, engaged and busy. But I also want her to understand that there are three components to being successful in school and in life. There is work; in the classroom and at the office. There is homework; specific assignments from school or work to complete at night, over the weekend or during breaks. And then there is studying; the ongoing learning of concepts, exploring new ideas, gaining perspective and absorbing information. Going to school and completing specific assignments after class are the table stakes. They have to be done. It’s the studying that sets you apart in school and in life.
This is not about grades. Lord knows, I was not an outstanding academic student. It is about effort. It is about cutting out distractions, focusing on what’s important and acknowledging that work and life are made up of thousands of small steps. And if you don’t learn to put in the effort and develop sound routines while you are young, they don’t suddenly come to you as an adult.
I need to reapply these lessons to my own life as well. More effort and sharper focus will benefit my agency, clients, outside interests and family. I have many things I want to achieve, and my excuses for not accomplishing them are as feeble as Julia’s reasons for not doing as well in school as we know she can. I often jokingly say “work harder, not smarter,” but the truth is you have to do both.