I was perusing one of the blogs I usually frequent today, and I came across this interesting “theory” on education that the author calls “The Cake Story”. It goes like this:

What you are about to learn is like a cake. A giant cake. It’s a knowledge cake. And you are given a tiny tiny spoon, for massive massive cake. Now here comes the best part. Somebody keeps slapping on stuff on the cake, new layers, more decoration (all eatable of course). It keeps getting bigger and bigger, faster and faster than you could eat it. How do you go about eating this giant cake? A spoonful at the time, right? But the way you eat it will define the whole experience, you just don’t know it.

Say there are two people, with a tiny spoon each. The first person takes a bit of the knowledge cake. This person is giddy, exited, about what has just been learned. The taste and effect is savored, motion is remembered. He or she shares this with everybody: “wow- look at what I can [do]. I can [eat] all this of this bite, and I will know all that when I take all those bites”.

The second person takes bite. Looks at the hole after the bite, then looks at the rest of the cake. Another layer is slapped on. The hole seems even smaller. The cake even bigger. The person thinks: “I know so little, and there is so much to learn. It’s impossible.”

… The second person [is] more likely to do worse and fail. The cake would win.

(some missing words filled in by me).

I think it’s an interesting way of approaching the success/failure rate of education based on the person’s attitude. No doubt, there is some truth to this. If you set out thinking “I am going to fail”, you will self-sabotage at some point and end up failing. Remember all those people telling you to “put out positive thoughts to the universe”? Well, they’re not completely off. Your attitude directly or indirectly affects the way you approach anything in life – be a problem, a relationship, or a new experience. If you set out with a “can do” attitude, you are less likely to get hung up on wonder “Can I do this???” and more likely to just push ahead and start searching for the solution. If you are constantly worried about your ability to do something, you will most likely never get to the point where you actually try doing whatever it is that you want to accomplish. As the quote goes “90% of success is just showing up”.

On the flip side, if you view your problems as an impassable mountain, you’re more likely to just give up and head home. And we’ve all been there. Remember that time you didn’t apply for that job because the company seemed “too good” or the requirements/tasks were “far beyond your capabilities”? Well, you missed out on that opportunity. What if you had applied anyway, and maybe gotten an interview, or perhaps even the position itself? You will never know that unless you apply.

One of my favourite movie quotes illustrates this point aptly:

“A poor man goes to church every day and prays in front of a statue of a great saint, begging: ‘Dear Saint, please please please, let me win the lottery!’

Finally, one day, the exasperated statue of the Saint comes to life, looks down upon the man and says: ‘My son, please please please, buy a ticket!’”


And the same applies to education. In my freshman and sophomore university years, I would often myself looking at a big project and seeing it as a this big “mountain” of things that needed to be done and that seemed impossible to finish. Like everyone else, my first instinct was to close that assignment and go back to doing something fun, and I am sad to say that often times, I did just that. This lead to procrastination and eventual “cramming”, which in turn resulted in work that was poorer in quality than what I would’ve done had I taken the time to break the assignment down into “little tasks” and done them one by one.

And when I finally realized that this was the way I needed to approach these assignments (and problems in general), things got much better. I found myself setting mini-goals and then actually accomplishing them. Rather than facing this mountain of work I felt I had finish one go, dividing my work into “task lists” allowed me to approach it in way that seemed less intimidating and more “do-able”. I like to call this approach “dividing and conquering your education”.

There are so many great analogies for this, but I think I’ll refer back to the cake story: Imagine you have a big cake in front you. Imagine it is your favourite kind of cake and you can’t wait to dig into it (or imagine it’s the worst cake and you HAVE to eat it to escape a dragon trying to kill you. Whatever motivates you the most). No matter how much you want to, you CANNOT eat this cake in one go; it is just too big. However, there is something to help you – there is a fork beside the cake. So you pick up that fork, you slice out a small bite – just big enough to fit in your mouth – and you eat it. And you do this over and over until the cake is finished and you can finally flee the dragons and be on your way.

That is the way to approach your education – every assignment, every test, every career goal – one small step at a time. For the programmers out there: calculating the sum of an array in a forloop, each time with a small increment.

To be cliche, every time you start to panic and think you can’t do something, remember this: Rome wasn’t built in a day!