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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Problem With 100% Dedication To School

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I write this as someone lucky enough only to have suffered a little with this problem. That being said, I’ve repeatedly watched close friends of mine drag themselves through the mud trying to solve some of these problems.

Some students obsess over school. They make sure that school is, by far, the number one focus in their life. They get disappointed at anything lower than an A+. They spend hours and hours studying every night. If asked, they’ll probably tell you they study “for fun,” but that’s usually just their rationalization for focusing so much on one aspect of their life. Sound familiar? Maybe even someone you’re close to?

Well… in many ways, this can be a really good thing. This kind of an obsession will certainly get you farther than an obsession with partying or building popsicle stick bridges. That being said, many students that have this “dedication” to school end up suffering from a number of problems.

If you ever find yourself obsessing over school then think about these problems and try to decide if it’s really worth it.

Life Isn’t Like School

Many students with this dedication end up graduating from college fine. Their problems don’t start until after they’ve developed their tens of thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt. Dedication to school is cool but as soon as you’re released into the real world you’re going to have to understand that most of what you used to survive won’t apply anymore.

In life, you are not graded on your performance. Sure, you might get a performance evaluation every few months at work but they’re usually useless. Most of your life, you’re going to have to assess your success and failure on your own. You can’t use any external scale to make that judgement because no external scale will fit. (Sure, the traditional good paying job, finding a spouse, and settling down works for some people but will it work that easy for you?)

It’s easy to try and grade yourself based on the evaluation of others (just like at school.) You can keep a close eye on how much your boss or lover or someone else appreciates you and try to grade yourself on that but you’re just going to run yourself in circles until you realize that their motivations aren’t necessarily your motivations. (There are some people that it would be good practice to not be liked by. If someone is lazy and only likes when you don’t outshine them then making them happy may make your life worse.)

Perfection is impossible.

You can’t get an A+ in life. You can only balance your priorities and hope that you end up getting what you’re going for. There is no right or wrong answer (most of the time.) It’s mostly subjective preferences.

Some students just can’t transition well into the real world. One particularly hard transition point comes around failure. In school, failure is something to be ashamed of. In life, if you’re doing anything really meaningful, you can expect failure virtually every time you try. It’s a process of failing your way forward. That can lead to many good students settling for a mediocre life. (Which is a particularly big shame because through school they showed just how exceptional they’re capable of being.)

Missing Out

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When you focus your time and energy on school, you’re missing out on some of the more important lessons you can learn in life. Sure, you might just happen to get them but you won’t have the time or energy to immerse yourself into them completely.

The first, and probably, most important aspect that many students miss out on is social interaction. No, I’m not just referring to study buddies. They’re not the kind of social interactions that help most. The most important social interactions that you have in life will probably not come from business transactions, they’ll come from times when people are having fun.

One of the most powerful tools you can have in life is a good network of people. Good networks don’t come from you being a good study buddy. They come from you being a charismatic and interesting person. If you happen to be a natural then great. If not, then this is a skill that you have to invest significant amounts of time into. If you’re at home studying, you can’t be at that social gathering making new friends.

Sure, you network at school can be good but it’s completely inbred and weak for that reason. At your school, the other students you meet will be more like you than different. It’s better to make friends in many different positions in life. Particularly important are friends of different ages. When you graduate college, it’s your older friends that can be hiring managers (or at least influential.)

There is more that good students end up missing out on though.

Being 100% dedicated to school means you’re not going to have time and energy to master any trade or hobby. Learning a trade or hobby is important for a number of different reasons. First of all, learning something outside of school is great for understanding the learning process better. It’s also attractive to colleges that are sick of seeing good students without a single damn skill outside school. Another point worth mentioning is that many great networks are developed from shared skills and interests outside of school.

The Most Important Risk

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The most dangerous risk for 100% dedicated students is one that I’ll use a rather broad term for: burnout. You’ll hear that term in a number of different contexts. It can come in many different ways but it’s all fundamentally the same thing. It’s the loss of motivation.

After years of a student being unbelievably motivated, something happens, and that motivation disappears.

One of the most important skills you can learn in life is to strategically take your foot off the accelerator. You can’t always be going faster and faster in life. You’re not a machine. Heck, even machines can’t always go faster and faster. Eventually you need to slow down for a while.

If you’re 100% dedicated to school then you’re at a high risk of burning out. Burn outs aren’t always deadly but they can instantly ruin months of hard work. Really, what’s the point of fighting hours a night to get 99’s and 100’s just to get a 65 on a test later when you’re depressed? It would have been better just to get consistent 90’s. Burnouts can cost major points.

It’s better to slow down consciously to avoid ever burning out in the first place.

Some students end up burning out right after college graduation. They fight for decades to get good grades then they’re stuck asking, “What was the point?” That can lead to tons of poor decision making in the future. Suddenly they’re required to get a boring job to pay piles of debt. Good luck getting the motivation to excel at work in that situation.

Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking school is the most important part of your life by a landslide. It’s not. Sure, it may be significantly important (if you choose to make it that way,) but ultimately there are other areas of your life that you can be focusing on.

Does that mean screw grades, quit school, and join the circus? Probably not but seriously reassess if the difference between scoring a 95 and a 100 really matter to you. Your life is definitely worth more than 5 points. So, slow down on that stressing out and have a little fun.

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