I’ve been teaching entrepreneurship at university for the last year and it’s been fun. Really fun. But I see my students struggle – not because they’re not bright or the material is hard – because they’ve picked up bad habits at school that need to be broken if they ever plan to create lives they want, whether it’s as entrepreneurs, innovators, creators. Or even employees and parents.
I have so much to say about schooling these days but I’ll restrain myself in the name of brevity for this post. I’ll save it all for another longer more ranty kind of day. Today my focus is on three little lessons the most academically ‘successful’ kids at school learn best, and that are imperative to unlearn for a life that actually matters.
I mean if you want to be a square-shaped robot performing your square little job at a square little desk in a square little consulting firm, then by all means ignore me. But if you actually want to do something a little spicier with your life, if you want to carve out for yourself a path that matters, or if you want to do something – God forbid – that goes slightly against your parents opinion or your brother’s good judgment, or your Aunty’s best advice, then read on.
- Ask permission for everything
Yes, you need to ask permission to go to the bathroom, you need to get a note because you’re late and have a good reason why you’re absent, and your teacher has to approve your use of a green pen on the properly ruled paper than has the exact 3 holes that she requires for this particular assignment in which you repeat to her her exact opinion on the assigned book otherwise you don’t get the right grade for this class.
I understand why it has to be so in schools, I really do. I have three kids and some days, I would like to hire a really severe school principal to come set some order in my house. But real life is just not like that, you guys.
Real life is much more chaotic that we’d like to admit and the people standing around waiting to be given permission to do stuff will be given permission by the people standing around not knowing what else to do with themselves. Don’t wait for people to give you permission to do what you want to do. Go out and start your business, learn what you need to learn along the way, change majors if you can’t give a fig about engineering or medicine or business administration.
Do not wait for people to allow you to become the person you want to be!!!
For Pete’s sake, your life is yours and you don’t owe it to your parents because they had you, you don’t owe it to your educational institution for endowing you with a degree, and you don’t owe it to society because they have allowed you to be a part of them.
Here’s the paradox that society lives by: you are expected to ask permission for everything, and everyone wants to have the power to grant you permission because it makes them feel good. But the people who are most admired and followed? The true leaders? Those are the ones who blaze their own trail despite the odds and without being given the green light.
Do you want to be a sheep or a wolf?
2. Only success is rewarded
Tragic really, but school rewards you primarily when you do what they are expecting you to do and when you do it right. Other options are frowned upon. Teachers mark up your pages in red scratches to show their disapproval, parents berate you for not getting ‘good’ grades and friends mock you if you mess up or don’t know.
And yet, in the entrepreneurship space you are expected to fail and to make mistakes. In the world of creativity and innovation, failure is nothing but a stepping stone to the next successful venture. And in science, you are supposed to devise and run experiments that either prove a hypothesis or disprove it. The outcome is measured not in success and failure, but in learning. So why should it be any different in life?
I’m not saying that if you’re a doctor go and slice out the wrong kidney from a patient, or if you’re a civil engineer design a building that collapses before completion, or if you’re a lawyer send the innocent guy to jail. I’m saying that if you’re not sure about medicine go check it out before you become a doctor who wishes he was slicing cake instead of kidneys. If you’re a lawyer who’s fascinated by mushroom farming, well get a little enterprising and start yourself a balcony experiment why don’t you?
The space where you are expected to perform without error is as an employee, a robot or a machine and that’s not who this blog is for. If you’re looking to become a robot, please leave my blog now, thanks.
As for the rest of you, fuck up I say! Make mistakes and mess things up and learn how to recover from them because those are the experiences that will help you to grow and evolve beyond the four fragile walls of security you have grown up in. And when you know that you can recover from anything you truly have the power to take big steps towards what you want.
3. You will be given what you need
Oh yes, the old, shut up and wait until I give you what you need. Or, as it’s manifested in my entrepreneurship class, “But Miss, you didn’t tell us! You didn’t give us the numbers/information/clues/format!”
You know what annoys me the most about the Cinderella story? It’s the fact that Cinderella is such a sniveling little thing, just waiting around for Prince Charming to come save her. We can’t keep waiting for people to come save us.
We need to ‘save’ ourselves. And to do that we need to take a shot of courage, strap on our big girl panties and big boy underpants, get out and hunt for what we want.
This may be a valid way of making students do things at schools and even universities but that’s not how things work in real life. We do not have a fairy godmother waiting to gift us all the beautiful things our hearts desire. What we have is a bunch of hungry people vying for the same resources, positions, ideas, funding, recognition, visibility that you are. And it’s not the hungriest victim who gets the kill. It’s the fiercest hunter.
The Golden Egg
Through asking for permission all the time, only having your successes rewarded and being given the resources you need at every turn in order to perform, you’ve been taught to trust those in a place of authority only, you’ve been taught to depend on them and to wait for them to get what you want. You’ve been taught that everything that happens is out of your control, and your job is simply to make those with power happy.
So what happens when you break the rules of school? One fundamental life changing thing happens:
You develop self trust, and that is something most schools don’t teach you. That is the golden egg that makes the biggest difference.
From self trust comes the ability to take steps without being formally ‘allowed’, you seek the resources you need and you recover from whatever hasn’t worked out, you believe in yourself enough to know that you can make things work out and so you do, whatever it takes.
Break the rules. That’s how you get yourself off the train track and start exploring a life that matters to you. Oh, and stop waiting around for some bozo with nothing better to do to give you permission to live your life.