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On motivation

We invited IB Diploma Programme (DP) graduates to reflect on their lives and studies as part of a cohort of contributing authors. This is Byron Dolon’s third story of the series. Learn more about the IB Alumni Network at

by Byron Dolon

The 70% on the top of the page narrowed my vision, filling me with a familiar sense of resigned despair. “Aren’t you tired of having this conversation?” my dad asked after I showed him the math test. I had been doing well in the first semester, ending it by acing the mid-term exam. Come the second semester, I was back to failing. “If you need help, you have to ask. Ask, Byron, when you need it. Otherwise, you’ll never get better,” my dad remarked, before lapsing into silence. I stood in front of him awkwardly, thinking that this was not the first, second or even tenth time we’d had this kind of talk.

I had one last shot to make it count, one final opportunity to change my habits.

Habits shape who you are. I, for so many years, had cultivated a habit of letting my grades slip, panicking and studying hard to bring them up again, only to revert to letting them slip once again. I became accustomed to seeing difficult concepts and not going to someone to get help because it would always feel too daunting to attempt. To me, this felt like a trivial problem; one that could be overcome with the right amount of will. But the true cause of this laziness was a lack of purpose. I was not motivated to maintain high grades because I didn’t know what the point of it was.

Shortly before IB exams, the realization hit me that the past year and a half of the Diploma Program was about to end. Having all your teachers go into “exam-prep mode” at once made it very apparent that the end was nigh. In a sense, purpose was forced upon me. I thought to myself that if I didn’t try now, there would be no chance to do it again in the future. High school was ending, and I had one last shot to make it count, one final opportunity to change my habits.

I did. To start, I learned the value of scheduling. I printed out two-month long calendars, figured out to the hour how much time I would be spending every day on studying all my different subjects. I allocated extra time and took away time from certain subjects as it became apparent that I had gaps in knowledge for some classes. I learned the value of, to be blunt, studying with kids smarter than I was. Sometimes, having a teacher explain material is not enough, and it helped to have a friend coach me through certain subjects. I committed to getting back in shape while studying for exams, finishing a 60-day workout program that I had tried and failed twice before. I learned to smile and sit away from the entrance of the exam hall with a friend, away from the frenzied panic that surrounded it.

The last two months of IB were by far the most hectic. They were also extremely fulfilling (I almost wrote enjoyable, but I don’t relish the idea of having to do them again). What made that time incredibly satisfying was the fact that I had drive. I had a clear, albeit abstract, goal in mind: to prove to myself that I am what I believe I can be. Everything I did for those two months was aimed at contributing to this goal. The journey to achieving it required breaking old habits, sweat, bubble-tea, and a whole lot of persistence. Finally, when studying, I felt like I was studying with purpose. I knew that every time I opened a textbook, it was not only to pass a test, but to prove to myself that I was capable of making new habits, getting rid of bad ones and becoming a better version of myself.

Not having purpose makes life difficult. Finding purpose is difficult. And even when you’ve found it, sticking to your purpose is also difficult. That elusive, better version of myself that I strive to be is always just out of reach. I’m not surprised then that I’ll fall back into time-worn habits of slacking off. Every time I do, however, I know why I want to get back up. Those productive habits that I built are still in the recesses of my mind, waiting to be filled once more. If ever you wake up in the morning and don’t know why you’re getting out of bed, you need to find that reason. Studying, working, exercising; everything in life is made easier if you know why you’re doing it.

What’s your why?

Alumnus Byron Dolon received his IB diploma from the Shanghai American School, China. He is currently a student at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands.


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