Our parents (and society) put us in school so we can learn.
We are taught the basics–how to read, write, add, subtract. Then we move on to the not so basics like history, chemistry, literature, religion (for some). And then the advanced, such as philosophy, politics, and so on.
While many of those subjects have served us well, apart from giving us great stock knowledge for game shows and giving us confidence for small talk at dinner parties, they have shaped our minds into what it is today.
But in line with those things we have brought with us after graduating from the world of scholastic pursuits, we have also brought ideas that prevent us from truly learning in life.
We might not have realized it before, but the following things actually conditioned us more than we think:
Grades are everything
Of course grades were important. They measured how much we learned from our subjects. It was how we were ‘judged’ by our teachers and rewarded by our parents.
It was normal for students to feel anxious about failing, about not getting a certain grade (to pass or to surpass), about wanting to be on the dean’s list, the list of honorees, the magna, the suma cum laude.
But once you’re out of school and applying for your first job, you realize how negligible grades really are. When you’ve been working 2, 5, 10 years, grades are almost completely out of the picture (save for high school and college reunions).
You are measured by the kind of person you’ve grown into. We all know this. But it doesn’t always feel so important especially when we’re comparing ourselves to the next guy.
To the guy with the sports car, to the girl who is one-upping us with her beautiful kids and husband, to the fresh grad who has all her life ahead to not make the mistakes we did, etc.
Years later, we’re still concerned about ending up on top, about prizing quantifiable things like money, and garnering awards, trophies and whatnot.
Getting it right
When we were students, we were so concerned about our grades, getting answers right in our papers, exams, and recitations. Why? Because there were definitive answers. They were in our textbooks and notes.
Very few encouraged us to be wrong, to find the answers outside the box, to ask different questions, to look at problems in a different angle. We weren’t asked questions that challenged us to do those. Instead, most of them required specific answers. Factual.
But outside the school walls, the world was different.
We had to learn to walk thin lines, to read between them, and sometimes maneuver through the gray area to get answers.
Sometimes they were clear cut, most times they were relative. Arguable. We have a hard time coming at decisions and we leave a lot of room for doubt because we were conditioned to think there’s always right or wrong, good or bad, etc.
Passing trumps failing
They don’t tell us that success looks a lot like failing. We can’t recognize one without the other.
There’s nothing wrong with just getting by either. Tell that to the top-notchers, to professors, to principals and you’ll hear scoffing. But they often forget to mention that life is just a series of passing classes. Not really about topping each one.
We were not conditioned to be ‘okay’. It was always to be the best, to be better than others, to compete.
But the thing is, sometimes ‘okay’ is good. Being better is relative. Being the best is not attainable all the time. And being successful is not a pretty, gold trophy without its fair share of scars.
Don’t get me wrong, school is not bad. It is not without its merits, of course. A diploma is an asset, and those who have had the opportunity to get themselves educated are indeed lucky.
But we should all try to unlearn some of the things that hinder us from being open to the wonderful world that is out there.
Life is simple yet complicated. Let’s deal with it accordingly.
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