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Motivation Sometimes You Need To Connect The Dots For Them

The AE Team

The AE Team

7 min read
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When I was in high school I found Geography to be an exceptionally boring class. My teacher was awesome, and he did his best to make it interesting, but, sometimes, there’s only so much you can do when it comes to memorizing countries and capitals. On one fateful Thursday I was sitting there, wriggling around in my tan plastic chair trying to get comfortable, when the assignment of the day slid onto the desk in front of me. Apparently, I was expected to label, color-code, and memorize all the regions of Antarctica.

I don’t know if it was lack of sleep, a still-developing teenage brain, or just a general love of all things rebellious, but seeing that seemingly pointless assignment in front of me ignited a spark of defiance. I scrawled across the top of the page “Dear Mr. Feingold, if you can provide me with a compelling reason for why I will ever need to know this information in my adult life then I will do this assignment.” I then read Harry Potter for the rest of class and turned in my little declaration of independence at the end.

Not surprisingly, at the end of class the next day, Mr. Feingold stopped me before I left, and asked if I could come back to see him at lunchtime. He wanted to have a talk. I felt an icy thrill of fear, but I agreed, fearing the worst.

Later that day, I walked into his classroom, sat down, and waited in apprehensive silence. My Antarctica assignment was out on Mr. Feingold’s desk, and he sat there looking at me steadily. Then he took a deep breath, smiled, and proceeded to change my life.

“You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you wrote here, and I think I have an answer to your question for why this is important. Do you want to hear it?”

I nodded slowly. “Go for it.”

“Thank you. Okay, so first of all, you’re probably right that memorizing the geography of Antarctica won’t make a big difference in your adult life, unless you’re planning to go on an expedition there someday. However, this is still important, albeit in a more subtle way. I’m assuming you want to have a career someday?”

I nodded.

“Any particular field?”

“I love psychology.”

“That’s awesome! What do you love about it?”

That was a long list, so I told him the short-and-sweet version.

“Right on. Well, in the psychology field, you’re probably going to need some kind of advanced degree, right?”

I nodded again.

“Okay, then I have some cool stuff to teach you”

Mr. Feingold’s “Deep Explanation” of Why Antarctica Homework Isn’t Totally Pointless:

Part 1: The History Lesson.

The U.S. public school system really came into being a little under two hundred years ago during the Industrial Age. Then it really picked up speed about a hundred years later when Child Labor Laws were passed. Children couldn’t work in factories anymore, but many of their parents still did, so all the children needed somewhere to go during the day.

Those that first designed the school system did so with the “industrial” mindset of that era. Most children were expected to grow up to become factory workers just like dear old mum and dad. It may or may not have been intentional, but the school system created a “factory-like” culture in the classroom. There was a strong emphasis placed on rigid routine, strict adherence to certain educational standards, and unquestioning obedience. Many aspects of that culture still persist to this day.

That’s where we get the traditional classroom where the students sit in rows, keep their heads down, and do their work. It’s straightforward and efficient, just like a factory. Because of this underlying cultural bedrock, the system can often get confused about its true purpose, and it frequently places a higher premium on obedience and routine, rather than on learning and education.

Part 2: Cool Story, Bro... So what?

That means that because of the industrial way the education system is designed it will ask you to do a lot of things you don’t necessarily want or need to do. Factories aren’t supposed to be fun or flexible. Additionally, if you don’t jump through the system’s hoops then, because of its rigidity, it will try to prevent you from getting where you want to go.

In other words, if you choose not to do pointless or difficult assignments (such as the Antarctica one) then you risk getting poor grades (another problematic system unto itself), and not graduating high school, or not getting your GED. If you don’t have one of those certificates (plus decent grades) then it’s very difficult to get into a good college, or even any college. Society will try to push you into another career path that you may not be as enthusiastic about, like being a truck driver for example.

Oh, and that’s not all! If you do choose to go to college you’ll still run into the same problem. You’ll be required to take certain “general” classes that may or may not have anything to do with your future career, but you will still have to take them and pass them if you want the degree that will ultimately allow you to be a psychologist someday (or some other degree-requiring job).

Are there exceptions to the “you-have-to-have-a-degree” rule? Absolutely! Some of the most brilliant, knowledgeable, and capable people I’ve ever met don’t have degrees, and yet they still have very successful careers in their field. Yes, even fields like psychology, medicine, or computer science. These individuals are still very educated, they’re just self-taught. In my opinion, that’s really the best way to learn, but it seems that most of society is still in the mindset that you have to have a formal degree in order to work in certain fields. If you ever find yourself job hunting as an adult you will likely have to do battle with that expectation.

Of course, you could choose to go the truck driver type of route. That’s not a bad path at all. My dad drove a truck for his entire career and he’s one of the finest men I’ve ever known. Many trade jobs like that can make really good money, and there’s usually a high demand. Ultimately, all of these are valid options, and there are pros and cons to each of them. If you don’t want to play by academia’s rules, then you don’t have to. There are plenty of other paths in front of you that won’t require you to do this Antarctica assignment. To the best of my knowledge, however, the “psychology path” isn’t usually one of them. You don’t have to do the assignment if you don’t want to. I can’t force you. It’s just up to you to decide whether or not the psychology path is worth it to you. My only purpose today is to present you with this choice and make sure you fully understand all sides of it. Now the ball’s in your court.

Part 3: Now What?

Now I had a choice to make. In life, each of us will arrive at moments where our desires and priorities conflict. On the one hand, I was principally opposed to the idea of doing pointless things, and I greatly preferred comfortable, easy things (I mean, who doesn’t?). On the other hand, I was passionate about psychology, and helping people, and I would really love to be able do that as a career someday.

Near the end of our discussion Mr. Feingold said something that has burned into my memory: “You have to decide what it is you really want, and what you’re willing to give up to get it. I don’t know the answer to that because that’s something you can only decide for yourself.”

Was I willing to give up my dreams of being a psychologist in order to be more comfortable and not do homework ever again? Or was I going to bite the bullet and just do the difficult, pointless tasks in order to ultimately achieve my dream? In the end, I chose psychology, and I did the stupid assignment.

The point being, sometimes when you are talking to people with Asperger's, they might not have already connected the dots between A and B. Be explicit. Lay it out. Help them connect the dots and don't assume they already can.

Note: This was an excerpt from our book "7 Easy Ways To Motivate Someone With Asperger's". Get the whole book here.

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