Photo by m00by on Flickr
If you have kids, you know it’s that time. Even though the leaves haven’t begun to change, it’s already time to head back to the classroom. With one kid already off to college, and two others at home getting their back-to-school shopping done and in order, school has certainly been on my mind.
It got me thinking about what I want to instill in my kids as they head back to their desks and dorm rooms. Sure, getting good grades is important (if they’re reading this – VERY important), but that’s not all there is. There are so many valuable lessons we can learn in and from school – but also lessons we need to unlearn once we’re out, as well as a vast amount of lessons we learn while navigating our first (and second and third) job(s).
So with all this in mind, I’d like to share a little bit of what I’ve learned (and had to unlearn) in the (again, from my kids’ POV) generations since…
What I Learned In School
1. Vacation is Important
- As I wrote at the beginning of the summer (wow – it seems like ages ago!), the research shows that vacations are important for productivity, creativity, and simply staying sane at your job. Although we shouldn’t expect to take a three-month hiatus from work, the whole, “You-Need-a-Break” idea that was drilled into our heads from early on wasn’t such a bad philosophy.
2. Homework is Important
- Perhaps schools take homework a little too far these days (four hours of homework after a six hour school day seems a little much to me), but the general idea is one I’ve carried into my business. Before going into any meeting, I prepare ahead of time. If I’m meeting a new client, I make sure I research them beforehand. If I’m pitching an idea to a specific business or investor, I do my homework. And, if I’ve learned something new, I try to document it – to make it stick!
3. Internships, Internships, Internships! – are Important
- This isn’t usually emphasized until college, but it could potentially be overlooked. It’s important to pay attention in class and do well, but internships give you on-the-job training that ensures you develop skills you simply can’t learn from books. Can a book teach you to think-on-your-feet, problem-solve with a coworker, or navigate socially in the workplace? Not likely. And while some internships grant you the privilege of being the “coffee runner” – most are unique and deeply valuable learning experiences.
What I Had to Unlearn
1. It’s All About the “A”
- There’s such an emphasis on grades – on getting the A – on not failing – and I get it. I definitely want my kids to do well – to excel and test to the best of their ability – but that’s not what matters on the outside, and even to job seekers. Experience trumps the 4.0 average. If you have relevant experiences and a 3.0, chances are you’re going to get the job above the 4.0 valedictorian who didn’t take the time to do any internships. OK – not in every situation – but the point is that a well-rounded, talented, AND experienced person is hugely sought after by…well, almost anyone needing help. And every entrepreneur knows that success is driven by the reality of failure.
I love what Margaret Lukens wrote for New Leaf & Company:
“This is the biggest myth in the world of work, the trickiest to unlearn for those of us who were once good students. It prevents us from aiming high. I could make an annual plan of which I was certain that I could accomplish 100 percent. It would have to be a smaller plan than I’m capable of, though. To really achieve, it’s necessary to aim high…What if I plan to double my business but only succeed in increasing it by 60 percent? Am I a failure? Probably not.”
2. It’s All About Me
- School tends to be so “me-centric” in the USA. It’s all about MY test scores, MY GPA, and MY ticket to college. This isn’t the way the world works. The more successful people in your office are most likely the team players, the charismatic personalities, the people who “play” well with others. In the business world, it’s less about me and more about the team.
3. It’s All About Graduation
- Growing up in the school world, there’s always an end in sight – the end to a difficult class, the end to a school year, and the end of school-life as you-know-it. In the workplace, there’s not really an “end” in sight. There may be a project deadline, but you still have to show up to work for the next project on your checklist. Having this mentality could kill your motivation, so it’s important to find other ways to motivate yourself, but more on that in the next list…
What I Learned Outside the Classroom
1. Collaboration is Key
- As mentioned above, it’s not all about ME when it comes to the workplace. Effective collaboration is a key to being successful in business. This includes learning how to communicate, learning how to listen, and learning how to navigate the more difficult personalities in your office. Unless you attended a more progressive school (or played on a team sport), you probably didn’t learn collaboration skills in school. It’s something most people learn outside the classroom and on the job.
2. Setting Goals is Key
- So how do you stay motivated if there’s no end in sight? Set mini-goals – three tasks per day to start – and a few major goals for the year. But remember, there’s no graduation, so find goals that will keep you pumped to show up for work every day (even if that means starting your own business or bringing your own business to the next level – I’m looking at you, entrepreneur-types!).
3. The “Just Do It!” Attitude is Key
- Even if it’s risky, even if it means failing, even if it means you’re not 100% sure what you’re doing. School taught me to color inside the lines; the business world taught me to question what lines were actually there in the first place. As an entrepreneur, it’s imperative to color – inside the lines, outside the lines, as well as draw your own picture to color in later.