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Mastering Difficult Subjects

When you start banging your head against the wall, trying to learn something new--be it art, math, foreign language, science, or that tuba you picked up at your neighbor's garage sale last weekend--can be, well, frustrating. (Not to mention headache-inducing.)  It feels like you'll never get the hang of it, even when you try over and over again to get it perfect.
 
Trust me, I know exactly where you're coming from.
 
See, when I was in high school, I struggled with English. No, really! My English literature classes felt like a complete joke. Everybody knew you just wrote a bunch of b.s. that parroted back what the teacher said, you'd get a B--an A if you could use semicolons correctly--and that was it. I couldn't even spit back what we were told in class because I thought none of it mattered, that it was all arbitrary and my teacher just enjoyed being the god of his own little kingdom, giving out Cs to students who never gave him chocolate for Teacher Appreciation Day and As to suck-ups.
 
Almost ten years later, I'm tutoring very smart folks who have the same attitude. (I guess what they have to say about karma really is true.) There is, however, a very, very simple fix for this.
 
You have to approach every subject, from English to math to--I dunno--tennis with the same mindset: everything you do is for a reason.
 
It can be tempting to throw out the 'stupid' or basic stuff when you're trying to learn a skill. I've heard it all before:
  • "I don't want to do my scales, I want to play Rihanna!"
  • "Why do I have to do these multiplication worksheets? You're trying to help me pass the SATs, not do this worksheet well!"
  • "Why did my teacher ask why the curtains are blue in The Blue Curtain? It doesn't MATTER why the curtains are blue!"
 
(Actually, it does matter why they're blue and not, say, green or pink or aquamarine, but that's a blog post for another time.)
 
What students--me included!--often forget is that everything builds off what came before. I can't teach you algebraic equations and reduction of fractions if you can't tell me what six times five is without a calculator. I can't get your glissandi to step right if you don't know the notes from the beginning to the end (and in this key signature!). And if you're reading a work of literature that has blue curtains, there's probably a very good reason why they're blue.*
 
So if you're struggling with a new topic, let me give you two pieces of advice. First, go back to the basics. There's probably something you've skipped, overlooked, or crammed for a test that's now disappeared into the etherworld.  
 
The second is, have a great attitude about what you're learning. You can do this. You can. The instant you say you can't is when you let it beat you, and that's no way to be. Find a cheerleader--a friend, a parent, a tutor, even!--and have them cheer you up that mountain, because let me tell you, there's no greater feeling than conquering a troublesome subject.
 
*Special note for students of English, writing, and other rhetorical disciplines: This is a very good philosophy to keep while reading works of literature. Writers often spend years crafting every page, every paragraph, every comma of their masterpieces, so paying close attention to seemingly insignificant details is important. Nothing is written accidentally. A writer did not just sit down at their desk and slam their fingers into a keyboard or ink pot, magically producing a work of lasting merit. Dismissing 'stupid' details can land you in hot water, fast.