When your workload threatens to become overwhelming and uncertainty is your constant companion, even just doing what is expected of you can become a tall order.
So teachers implementing Curriculum for Excellence, college lecturers caught up in dramatic reform - even students - could have been forgiven for simply doing their jobs over the past year.
Nevertheless, the SQA Star Awards last month provided example after example of educators and students who, despite daily pressures and obstacles, went above and beyond what was expected of them and what their job description or curriculum required (see pages 16-18).
As it has done every year for the past 13 years, the Scottish Qualifications Authority - better known for running exams and qualifications - celebrated the inspirational stories behind the paper certificates.
Alexander Fyfe is just one of those examples. Formerly a student at Madras College in St Andrews, he won an SQA School Candidate of the Year Award for his social studies baccalaureate project. For this remarkable piece of work, Alexander created the most detailed map of inequality in Dundee ever compiled, assessing data right down to street level.
As well as being used as a teaching resource in the area's schools, Alexander's work is now also being utilised by the SQA as an example of a successful project. There is no denying that the effort Alexander put in and the result he achieved can inspire both students and teachers across Scotland.
Inspiration can also be drawn from the joint winners of the Partnership of the Year and the Pride o' Worth awards: Glasgow Clyde College and Scottish Power.
No one would question that further education colleges have faced huge challenges over the past year from significant funding cuts and the government's regionalisation agenda. Glasgow Clyde has been no exception - it was formed only months ago through the merger of Anniesland, Langside and Cardonald colleges. And as TESS reported in November, principal Susan Walsh gave evidence in front of Parliament's Public Audit Committee about the impact on provision and class sizes of the budget cuts.
Cynics could see these success stories in the face of adversity as a justification for piling on the pressure and withdrawing resources - the Scottish education sector can clearly cope, and in some cases excel, regardless.
But inspiration is the lesson we should really take from the SQA Star Awards. They should also serve as a reminder to anyone struggling with excessive workloads or concerned about their jobs and the quality of their provision to college students: despite it all, excellence can be achieved and will be rewarded.
In some cases, the reward will be an SQA Star Award; in many more, it will be students reaching their full potential regardless of adversity.