It is the boring stuff in life that buildeth character

by Anita Menon

The idea for this post came about when I was at the gym and my instructor was making me do some triple lunge – walks along the length of the gym. I hate this exercise and  I always make excuses to my trainer so that I can avoid doing it. In my head, it is a pointless exercise but my trainer swears by the benefits of it. On the day when I made a face at his suggestion to do the triple lunges, he told me that the most boring of exercises are the ones that are the most effective and will stand me in good stead in the long run. His words swiveled my world around and I found myself sitting across the table, facing my mother, 16 years younger. I had tears streaming down my face and I looked at the clock to check the time. It was nearly 3 am. My mother cleared her throat and motioned me to stop looking at the clock and focus on my Chemistry notes.

As a child, moral science was a subject I hated the most. This is a confession. Even my parents don’t know about this. They would have all the reasons to believe otherwise because as a child my moral compass always pointed north. To study moral science for examinations was something I loathed the most. I never showed it openly because when you are a 7 or 8 year old, you do everything to please your parents. So I studied Moral Science without really understanding the meaning of any of the lessons in it. Words like truth, honesty, discipline, character-building etc were only instruments to get good marks. To my great relief by the time I reached high school, the subject was off the course and was replaced by even more boring subjects like Chemistry and Civics ( Social Studies). My mother made sure I was disciplined about my home work and studied hard for exams. She personally ensured I was always well-prepared by asking me questions and unless she was satisfied she wouldn’t let me off the hook. To all my Indian friends, it may seem like a scene from their own childhood because this is how typically an Indian child spends his /her formative years while in school.

Today, when I sit back and think about those countless hours I spent pouring over books, formulas, dates, and other memory pruning activities, there is nothing in terms of information that I still retain. What instead flows back through my memory’s sieve is the discipline. The incessant and rigorous discipline that my parents inculcated in me that became so ingrained that it is my natural state now. As a child, I always wondered how hours seemed like seconds when I was playing basketball with my friends or watching my favourite cartoon show on TV but each minute studying Chemistry felt like a million light years. To make matters worse, I wasn’t fond of my Chemistry teacher at all. A sum total of the hatred for the subject and dislike for the teacher made me push back Chemistry to be dealt with towards the end. Always.

During my 12th standard prelims, I found myself struggling to complete the Chemistry course and on the day previous to the exam, I had a melt down. I couldn’t recollect any formula or equation and was certain about failing the subject. I informed my parents that I was ill-prepared and it would be better if I skipped my Chemistry preliminaries. It would all work out well, if they wrote a note to the school making any excuse explaining why I was skipping the exam.

Source: getty images

Source: getty images

My dad was nearly convinced because he always thought of me as a sincere student who wouldn’t make such excuses without a valid reason. But my mother put her foot down and urged me to get back to my Chemistry books. I struggled and struggled the entire evening and by 10 pm, I started crying and pleaded to my mother to stop being so adamant. I assured her I will be well prepared by the time the board exams were due. She wouldn’t hear of it. The more I looked at the books, the letters and numbers and diagrams seemed to be floating around me and I couldn’t grasp anything. Oh the drudgery of it! Chemistry was boring beyond comprehension. I just couldn’t get past a single page without my mind travelling to far off places where there was no trace of the dreadful subject. My mother realized this and after she wrapped up her chores for the day, sat with me at the dining table where I was praying hard that I should miraculously fall sick. I tried to make several excuses and told her I was sleepy, hungry and too tired. Nothing got past her. I cried my eyes out because was genuinely scared that I would flunk the exam. She didn’t budge. She sat with me until the wee hours of the morning though the next day was a working day for her ( she was a banker). My eyes were red and my body hot from staying up all night. However, the next morning I went to school and wrote the exam.

When the results were out, I had top marks!!!

I came home and hugged my mother and thanked her for being that stubborn. I would have missed the exam for nothing. My mother is the type who does not believe in giving sermons. She just made sure her children did what they were supposed to do- however boring the task. I learnt how to cook at a very young age. I also learnt how to do all the boring household chores too. Not just me, she made sure my brother learned them as well! How much ever we hated something, she made sure we sat through it. What we did not realize back then was  that, she was consistently and painstakingly building discipline into our system.

If you take something up, do it anyways. Nothing half-done ever does your soul any good. It will keep bothering you.  Although years may pass, but that half read book, the unfinished project or that unimplemented idea will be at the back of your head. Nothing goes away ever. Finish it anyways whether you think you like it or not. With every boring yet necessary task you finish, you are cementing your character, making it stronger. She never said any of this personally to us but I understand these lessons from her actions.

When friends and family compliment me about being so disciplined about blogging and writing, I wondered what keeps me going. It is easy to slip out of discipline because nothing is ever mandatory in life. How did I end up being a self-starter? How did I develop this ability to screen out the crap that life throws at me and focus on the task at hand? Well, I have only one person to give that credit to and that is my mother. She made me sit through the boring stuff in life so that I could jump across the treacherous trap of the mundane to get to more interesting and glorious milestones of life. I hope and pray that I have the same patience with my daughter who has 1/10th of my attention span and a million new distractions every day. Parenting is very challenging and as I watch my daughter grow up into her own person with each passing day, I feel nervous about how I am going to instill into her these values that my parents helped me absorb. Thankfully, these days I have them ( my parents) visiting me and all these childhood life-lessons are coming back to me.