November 7, 2023

They pay me to travel, but I sing for free


Homework has been clinically proven to cause burnout, reduce sleep, increase stress and take time away from family and extracurricular activities.

It’s not associated with a higher level of academic achievement on a national scale. And if you ask most children, it’s typically the worst part of school.

Finland, interestingly enough, has nearly zero homework in their country. And they have one of the top education systems in the world, ranking number one with the highest rate of high school completion.

Personally, I didn’t mind homework that much when I was young. I didn’t always do every assignment, and usually focused more on that the completion of the work rather than the quality of it. But while it wasn’t necessarily something I looked forward to, I did accept homework as part of the process.

Honestly my main pet peeve was schlepping all of those stupid, heavy textbooks back and forth to school each day.

That laborious process was far worse than the assignments themselves. Homework was physically strenuous before it was mentally taxing.

And then one afternoon at my locker, I had this brilliant idea.

What if I stole an extra copy of each of my textbooks from school and kept them in my bedroom? That way, I wouldn’t have to carry such a leavy load in my backpack. Better yet, having the reserve copy meant I’d never get stuck in that fateful moment after dinner when I realized I wasn’t equipped to finish my tasks, and felt like a total idiot.

Quite the ingenious move, if you think about it. This strategy reduced my cognitive load, eliminated decision fatigue, created redundancies against predicable user errors and optimized my academic workflow.

Now, such words may sound way too clinical for a sixteen year old to use, but some part of my adolescent brain knew that my backup books were a smart decision. In fact, I soon discovered that telling my fellow students, teachers and parents about this brilliant life hack made me feel clever, creative and special.

Because who the hell thinks of stuff like that? What kind of disturbed, geekwad teenager do you have to be to shoplift from your own classroom, solely to ensure your shoulders don’t hurt, and your homework process is more streamlined?

I ever remember a few of the stoner dudes who ditched class to smoke pot everyday made fun of me for doing this. And I didn’t care. Because it’s the perfect story for who I was, and who I ultimately became. I may not have excelled at doing other people’s math equations, but boy did know how to solve my own efficiency problems.

I possessed an innate ability to create simple systems that set my brain and body up for creative success. And that’s a skill that’s served me well for a lifetime.

I now have portable creative environments in every area of my life. I’ve equipped myself to make meaning at every turn. I know how to superimpose layers of creativity and joy over any work I’m doing, even if it’s mundane and stupid.

That, in my estimation, is the secret to homework. You have to frame it within a larger context so it’s uniquely appealing to your own preferences.

For me, I’m a curious person who enjoys learning and values preparation. I like practicing. Finding clever ways to give myself greater context ahead of time is fulfilling for me.

Back in my first career as a public speaker, doing rehearsals the night before my presentations was always a highlight of the work. Ordering room service, turning on a big budget action movie and pacing around my hotel room memorizing my lines, it was bliss.

Made me feel smart, grown up and brave.

Truth is, that was the job. Standing on the stage the next day was just a fringe benefit. As many a touring musician have quipped before, they pay me to travel, but I sing for free.

Even today, in my second career as a corporate marketer, the same strategy applies. During a job interview once, a hiring manager asked me what I would do on my first day of work at their company.

And I explained to her:

Well, my first day of work would actually happen a week before my effective start date. I will have done my due diligence ahead of time. That means reading every piece of content on the company website, taking notes on business growth opportunities, connecting with soon to be coworkers on social media, and reading top books on the new industry of which I am a part. By the time I show up work on day one, I told her, it will feel like I’ve already worked there for a week.

Now, does that make me an overachiever? A brown noser? A workaholic?

It definitely could, depending on the mindset with which I approach such efforts. But my love of homework doesn’t come from any unwholesome places. There’s no fear of being found out, no lack of belief in my own worth, no desperate attempt to win approval from my team.

I just like being prepared. It’s fun for me. It gives me energy. Like stealing textbooks from school and keeping them in my room. There’s no guarantee that my overall performance will improve, but at the very least, the experience will be more fulfilling.

And that’s all we can really control, isn’t it? Input over the outcome. Routine over result. Mindset over metrics.

Who knows? Maybe we increase our chances of success, or maybe not. But what ultimately matters is that we feel like the best version of ourselves along the way.

Naturally, there are many things in life that happen so suddenly, and there’s not always time for preparation. Which is fine. I still trust myself enough to execute when the pressure is on, even if I haven’t spent a week educating myself first.

Preparation isn’t an absolutist demand. I know I’ll be okay without it.

But when given the chance to do homework ahead of time, I’m going to take it. The greater the preparation, the more fully I will be able to notice and take advantage of opportunities when they arrive.

Preparation is what allows me to bend unexpected events to my advantage. I know that the more homework I do, the more I heighten all of the other chance factors around me.

Which reminds me, I’ve got a few math problems to finish before I go to bed.

What kind of relationship do you have with preparation?