Don’t Be Your Own Worst Enemy by Kara Kinney Cartwright, book excerpt, Just Don’t Be An Asshole

  1. The goal of school is to get the heck out of school, preferably by graduating, so you can get a job that pays money, move out, wash your own underwear, and get a sex life.*
  2. The best way to graduate is to not fail.
  1. The best way to not fail is to do the work.

Granted, there are more fun things to do than schoolwork. It’s easier to play video games than to write a paper. Is it, though?

If you choose gaming instead of writing a paper, or if you choose mostly gaming but squeak out a shitty paper, you’ll have to deal with the consequences: anxiety about procrastinating and/or doing poorly, dealing with your disappointed teacher and screaming parents, working harder to bring up your grade, begging for extra credit, etc. So maybe doing your schoolwork is easier than gaming?

Do you need a moment to recuperate from that mind-blowing realization?

Now that you’ve decided to do the work, you’re going to need some discipline. Not the familiar screaming-parent “You’re grounded” kind of discipline. Self-discipline. You being the self in question.

* Or even just a second date.

The bad news on this one is that the cards are stacked against you in a way they weren’t for your parents.

Social media, gaming, streaming video—all these things have been designed by evil geniuses to affect your brain in a way that makes them hard to turn off. It’s not a coincidence that when you get a notification, you instantly tap it to take a quick peek and don’t look up until an hour later. It’s no accident that there’s always an- other game level and that you just happen to know that the next level is where it really starts to get good. Being unable to turn off a screen doesn’t make you weak. It makes you a human person with a human brain. But it also means that you are the only person who can discipline yourself not to turn on the screen when you have work to do.

A few ideas:

Make sure you’re the boss of your phone and your phone is not the boss of you. Turn off the notifications. Beeps and buzzes don’t decide when you look. You decide when you look. If you have to, put your phone in another room to get some work done.

If you need your phone or computer to do an assignment, get one of those apps that locks down your social and gaming sites while you’re working. If you find that idea scary, try it for fifteen minutes. You can do anything for fifteen minutes. Then try it for thirty. Then do it for the two hours you need to study to ace your test.

If you’re in college, go to class. Missing class is a worst-case scenario that will give you nightmares for the rest of your life. Ask any college graduate. We all have a recurring nightmare where we have to take a final exam for a course we never attended.

If you go to class, keep your phone in your pocket. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time. And somebody’s money. Do you have any idea what college costs?!* If you’re in college, do some of that fancy math and figure it out:

Semester tuition


Number of courses you’re taking


Weeks in a semester


Number of times the class meets per week


How much it costs to sit in one class

(Please label your answer in dollars and, for extra credit, specify who earned them.)

Think about that number every time you’re tempted to whip out your phone in class. If you can be the boss of your phone, maybe someday you’ll be an actual boss capable of independent thought in- stead of some asshole in the back of the room snorting at texts about last night. (P.S. Your professor can tell the difference between you taking notes and you scrolling the internet.)

* If you know dang well what college costs because you’re paying your own way, you are a truly impressive individual. Keep going!


Kara Kinney Cartwright always says, please, thank you, and excuse me—even on the subway. She married a good guy and, through relentless lecturing, teasing, cash-bribing, and tricking, they have raised two sons who are not assholes, for the most part. She has written parenting articles for HuffPost, Scary Mommy, Babble, Grown and Flown, and more. She lives near Washington, DC, and works in legal publishing. For book info, click JUST DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE.


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