“It’ll all be worth it in the end.”

We’ve all heard variations of this phrase — it’s the backbone of every motivational speech about overcoming adversity, driven into our minds by the education system until it punctuates every grueling moment of doubt and struggle. Its effectiveness is undeniable, seeing as how it’s been the driving force behind my late-night cram sessions for as long as I can remember. I’ve lost count of the times it’s been just me and this quote doing laps around my mind at 3 a.m., silent save for the thready hum of my computer screen and deadened clicks of the trackpad as I traverse my 17th Khan Academy video. 

It might be comical if it weren’t so glaringly concerning, the way a meager string of eight words has somehow become the basis by which we consistently rationalize and dismiss long-term unhappiness. Admittedly, such a statement intuitively makes sense, as it’s virtually impossible to disprove simply because we are incapable of predicting our future. We don’t know if our efforts will ever culminate in some glorious moment of triumphant satisfaction, yet it is this vague hope in achieving prospective success that keeps us trudging forward. That hope, coupled with our intimate familiarity with and fear of the soul-crushing disappointment and guilt that comes with abandoning something we’ve devoted so much of our lives to, is reason enough for most of us to just suck it up and continue along. 

It’s not a stretch to attribute the growth of this mindset to America’s hustle culture as a whole —nowadays, there’s undeniable pressure for adolescents to pinpoint their professional aspirations by the end of their four years in high school. Extracurricular consistency is rewarded by the most prestigious and desirable institutions of higher education, yet such consistency is contingent on students either knowing their precise long-term goals by the beginning of high school or simply sticking to a particular path they landed on by coincidence. It seems ludicrous to think that any decision made in your freshman year of high school can have any bearing on your future, let alone dictate the rest of your life, but the reality is that it’s a slippery slope — the more time we devote to studying a particular subject or advancing through a particular career path, the more pressure we feel to not give up and let our time go to waste. By the time we come to terms with the fact we may not actually want to spend the rest of our academic careers on a particular subject or professional pathway, it seems far more logical to simply follow through with our original commitment (after all, we can’t get the time we spent back, but we might be able to delude ourselves that we actually do want to pursue something if we just think about it really, really hard).

That being said, making these decisions about our long-term efforts is still something that necessitates a fair bit of deliberation — in other words, this is not to say that we should jump ship each time we feel doubtful about our commitments. Rather, it’s to advocate looking inward and examining the reasons behind our actions, and to avoid blindly following a path solely to fulfill some sort of preset cookie-cutter pathway. While it’s human nature to feel attached to an endeavor we’ve devoted hundreds of hours to, it certainly helps to try and adjust our mental perception of progress. We must recognize that “giving up” on something does not immediately characterize the endeavor as a failure; instead, we can understand it as a step forward in a continuous yet nonlinear search for the things we feel truly passionate about. 

Ultimately, it is the breaks in linearity, not blind consistency, that enrich our lives with meaning — that make our final destination (if it exists) all the more rewarding.

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Editor’s Note (5/4/24): This article is no longer being updated. For our most up to date coverage, look for articles…