Frustration, Meaning, and Perseverance

In the introduction to his book, “What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy,” James Paul Gee states that “learning is or should be both frustrating and life enhancing” (2003, p.6).

This idea resonates deeply with me and brings up related questions I have pondered through my life, such as, “Can there be true greatness without pain and struggle?” and “Don’t the things that have the most meaning in our lives come from or via difficulty?”

I do believe we need to consider what we mean when we mean when we use this word “frustration”. Obviously, busy work can be frustrating and working on tasks that are not possible to achieve is frustrating. My initial thought was that these are not the types of frustration that we are talking about. Doesn’t the frustration we reference have more of a feel of inspiration and greatness in it? But as I continue to think about the examples of “busy work” and “impossible tasks” that I just mentioned, I begin to realize that this might be exactly how truly great struggles feel at the time. Tasks that require our best work and most perseverance may at the time feel impossible and require multiple attempts. Work that seems mundane, repetitive, and initially meaningless may be what is required for great breakthroughs.

I am still conflicted about whether it is possible to always turn learning into what feels like a game or a fun challenge that draws us in to working on a task without realizing we are doing so. While I certainly believe there are serendipitous instances that this can be achieved, I worry that this may not be the best preparation for some of the realities of life. We may not often have employers who seek to make our work responsibilities feel like a game (or even an enjoyable challenge). Some may, or we may be able to simulate this experience for ourselves in some ways, but in other instances I believe we may simply have to slog through our responsibilities with perseverance and a good attitude. Certainly one can argue that if we are doing something that we love that it will not feel like a chore, but some of us may not be in a situation in which we are able to do what we love as a living. Even if we are in that fortunate position, we will encounter elements of our jobs that are more “frustrating,” boring, or simply not to our liking, but still need to be done.

With these thoughts in mind, I believe that the challenge for us as students, teachers, and employees, and employers is to find the meaning and life enhancing qualities behind the work and learning we are doing. This awareness of meaning is a significant motivator to persevere even when things are not enjoyable. Gee summarizes this idea perfectly by saying “The key is finding ways to make hard things life enhancing so that people keep going and don’t fall back on learning and thinking on what is only simple and easy” (2003, p.6).

I recognize that I am struggling right now to meld the ideas from many of our readings and videos in this class thus far with other values that I hold (when the two may not end up being in conflict at all). I would welcome thoughts on how to incorporate the idea of creating more engaging opportunities for learning with the benefit of teaching/learning the character traits of perseverance and hard work even when one encounters tasks that are not enjoyable.


Gee, James Paul. 2003. What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

4 Replies to “Frustration, Meaning, and Perseverance”

  1. I like the four purposes of lectures outlined in the reading. However, I also think this is subject and level contingent. I think experiential learning is something that is done after foundations of knowledge has been developed. I look at chemistry, calculus or some engineering, you need to get the rote knowledge, and then experiment. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I don’t want us to throw the baby away with the bath water because there is something new and novel.

    • I appreciate your response and the reminder that there is a time and a place for different approaches to teaching/learning. One method may be helpful for building a foundational knowledge of a topic and another approach may be best for further exploring applications and possibilities within the same topic.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. All I can really offer at this point is validation of the tension you identify and the assurance that just recognizing that “the struggle is real” will likely help you figure out how to teach in ways that are challenging and collaborative and that build resilience and fortitude. And I agree with Davon as well — some level of basic content mastery is necessary. How a learner develops that may vary, but foundational knowledge / skills are always going to be essential.

    • Thank you for your response. I appreciate some of the language you used – “challenging and collaborative,” “resilience and fortitude”. These are all words that resonate with and inspire me and that I hope will be descriptive of my teaching style.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.