How Reuven found his motivation for studying - after leaving school

Written by: Maggie Shui

Reuven - Cambridge (CAIE) English & History tutor

Reuven left high school at the end of Year 12 - that is, as soon as he was allowed to. Reuven never saw the point of school. It was just something he had to do.

And so, he spent his high school days biding his time until the day he could leave. He played video games, did his homework occasionally (but usually not), and scraped through by doing the bare minimum.

That was Reuven in high school. The Reuven of today is startled by the fact he did so little homework in high school. Present-day Reuven has also just finished a year of postgraduate study, and is planning to pursue a Masters and then a Doctorate (or two). So, what changed?

Reuven’s original grand plan

Reuven’s plan was to: “leave high school, be a writer and work on the side.”

After leaving high school, he went to work at a restaurant as both a waiter and kitchen hand. “I was a sort of jack of all trades; they’d throw me in wherever they needed me.” After toiling a few weeks at the restaurant, Reuven decided he'd better go to university instead.

“My parents both rolled their eyes because they knew it was coming.” Then he adds, “It serves me right.”

The restaurant job wasn’t the best work. It was hot and messy, and it left Reuven “perpetually exhausted.” However, in the grand scheme of things, this was tolerable. What wasn’t tolerable, however, was that Reuven wasn’t being mentally challenged.

“I’ve learned that I’m a person who can’t stand not taking in new information. I’m always reading. While I’m driving, I’ll be listening to podcasts.” At this restaurant job, however, he was in a state of stagnation.

And what about the two days he had off work each week? “I just flopped at home, ate bad food and played video games.”

Lounging on the couch, munching on Doritos and playing Skyrim is perhaps not the creative writer’s nirvana he envisioned for his post-high school life. Reuven admits he’d been a bit unrealistic: “I was a bit of a fool and a bit naive.”

So, a couple of weeks into the job, he decided he would enrol for university (he met the CIE student requirements for standard entry by, in his words, the skin of his teeth), pursue the same subjects he’d liked in high school, and see where it could lead him.

Reuven realises that he can’t avoid hard work

After he’d made the decision to enrol for university, he still had nearly six months to marinate in anticipation for the start of the semester while working in the kitchen. This gave him time to reflect on his motivations for going to university, and gather his determination to not end up back in the kitchen. “It gave me a bit of a kick up the bum.”

The key realisation that he gained during the kitchen job, and was reinforced during his years at university, was this:

If you take your dreams and passions seriously, you need to work hard.

Reuven admits the value of ‘knuckling down’ and working hard is, “a really ‘parent’ thing to say.” He certainly wasn’t oblivious to the notion as a high school student. But, like most common-sense lessons, they are best gained through lived-experience. And, Reuven also admits, “parents do know it all.”

“I think I had this idea that I could make a good living for myself without doing hard work.” He had an idealistic picture of living a writer’s dream once he was free from the shackles of high school. This idealistic picture quickly dissolved once he experienced the reality (i.e. exhausting kitchen work, and video games and Doritos when not doing exhausting kitchen work).

When he entered university, wizened through hard kitchen labour and some self-reflection, he reaped the rewards of his new mindset towards hard work.

Reuven works hard and realises he likes it

“I flourished and thrived at uni,” says Reuven.

Reuven began university by drawing up a schedule, taking notes during class and setting the conviction that he was going to take this semester seriously. All of the above are things that Reuven did not do in high school, but were incited by that aforementioned “kick up the bum.”

At university, Reuven found what he calls, “that wonderful sweet spot.” At high school, he enjoyed history and, sometimes, English. At university, however, this enjoyment was multiplied. The content was more in-depth, and he was able to hone in on the topics that he was most passionate about. He had “cream of the crop” lecturers who inspired him, and he was being challenged.

“I enjoyed the feeling at the end of the day. I liked having an aching right hand and a head bursting with information. I loved it.”

The deeper he delved into his studies, the more he improved and the more he enjoyed it. “I got better and better, enjoyed it more and more, and kept on accumulating my skills and knowledge. I decided that if I build my skills and knowledge, I will find a way to apply it.”

Reuven has just completed his Honours degree (first class honours) with a dissertation on the fall of the Roman Empire. Now, he has plans to pursue teaching and further postgraduate study.

Reuven’s advice to his 16 year old self

If you’re a high school student who can’t quite see the point of learning about titrations and parabolas and Othello… well, we can’t give you the answer, because the answer is different for everybody. It’s something you have to figure out for yourself.

But, Reuven has some advice to his 16 year old self that you might find helpful. He says, “take some time, a week or a month, and really think about your future. Think about what you’re passionate about and talk to people to find out about all the options available. Then, once you have a goal to work towards, knuckle down and do the hard work you don’t want to do.”

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