There is a problem – from kindergarten up, our success in school is measured through grades. Achieving high marks often results in both emotional and physical benefits furthering the illusion that grades are a useful metric. However, the skills that chasing grades teaches couldn’t be farther from what is needed to truly succeed in today’s world. While it’s hard to change the school system (though many are trying), it is easy to change yourself. By choosing a new set of goals, you can come out of school above the competition with the tools you need to blow others away.

How to Achieve “Success” in School

Everyone knows how to achieve good marks. In essence it’s about figuring out what your teacher wants and making sure you deliver exactly that. It makes sense – your instructor has an ideal in her mind. If your work matches that ideal, then it’s easy for her to assign you a good grade. However, if it doesn’t – if your work falls short, ignores, or challenges her ideal then the instructor is forced to think.

Let’s face it, when there is a stack of a hundred projects to mark, deep thoughtful consideration of your assignment isn’t on the schedule. As a result we aim to please. High marks result in awards, praise, scholarships, our teachers and parents have done a great job selling us on the benefits. But what do we actually learn in the process?

The Difference between School & Life

Having gone through school we end up with a seemingly useful skill set. We can follow instructions, deliver results that others like, we know the best strategies for various tests, and what extra-curricular activities will look good on a graduate school application. These are great for doing well in school because your audience is small (your teachers), the instructions are clear, you know your competition, and the problems are limited and repeated. However, in the dream jobs of today this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Today, the world is both your audience and your competition. Things are also moving at a faster pace than ever before. For example, 60 percent of Apple’s sales are from products that didn’t exist three years ago. New jobs, opportunities, and problems appear every single day, old ones disappear just as fast. While in the past school taught you the skills needed to get a long term job which would eventually allow you to retire with a healthy pension. Today those jobs are the ones that are cut at the first sign of a recession. We need to learn a new set of skills that help us be flexible and adaptive.

Don’t Let School Get in the Way of Your Education

First of all forget about grades, they’re useless. Unless you are looking to go on to graduate school no employer is going to ask to see them. The key is to focus on creating exceptional timely work. Here is how to do it:

  • Keep up-to-date with technology and cultural trends – Technology solves problems and creates opportunities. The world is your audience, know which way things are headed.
  • Surround yourself with interesting people – You can’t know everything. By having a network of people with diverse interests, you will find out about things you would have otherwise missed.
  • Keep a list of topics you are interested in exploring – When a new assignment or project arises, build it around one of these topics.
  • Choose wisely what you work hard on– Not everything worth doing is worth doing well. If a class you are required to take doesn’t really matter, do just enough to pass and dedicate the rest of your time to something that does.
  • Listen to yourself – If a teacher, another student, or anyone else tells you that your idea won’t work but you believe deeply in it, ignore them.

Doing these things will change your perspective on the world. When encountering problems you will begin to see a wealth of opportunities. Previously drab assignment will become rich learning experience. You will have friends that you can go to for help and advice. Most importantly you will learn to go after what you want and be less affected by those around you that think you’ll fail. In a sense, you will tailor your school’s curriculum to your own personal needs and interests. The irony is that you will probably end up receiving high marks as teachers start to learn from you and become genuinely interested in your work.

Action step: Create a list of five topics you would like to know more about and find one blog which focuses on each topic. Read those five blogs daily.

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