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7 Important Lessons on Success That Your School Can’t Teach You

7 Important Lessons on Success That Your School Can’t Teach You

“Stay in school, work hard, get good grades, and go to college. Do these things, and some day you’ll be successful.”

This statement is the biggest lie told in the education system today. It invites a fixed mindset that can eventually result in crushing defeat and letdown. It’s a big fat sucker punch when you do all the things required and still end up scrubbing soup containers at Whole Foods for minimum wage.

Thankfully, everyone is capable of success. There are countless entrepreneurs and business leaders who have successfully put themselves through the ringer, learned things the hard way, and made it out alive to teach us what they learned. And, no, these aren’t things you learned in Mrs. Johnson’s 6th grade social studies class.

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1. Forget failure

Ah, yes, the dark side of academic judgement. In school we’re taught to avoid failure, and some people will stoop to nearly unspeakable levels to not fail. Cheating, copying, and other means of deception are used as a result of the unfair stigma put around failing. Contrary to popular belief, the act of failing is where the majority of growth occurs. Entrepreneurs and business people are well aware of and well acquainted with failure. They are not afraid to experience it, and they quickly learn and move on after they fall flat on their face. Arianna Huffington epitomizes this resolve. Her first major failure came when her second book was rejected by 36 publishing houses. Do you think those places wish they still had a chance to accept the work of someone who created one of America’s leading online news aggregates?

2. Take action despite fear

Everyone has fear. No matter how cocky, confident, or sure someone may seem, they are afraid. They are afraid of failure, rejection, and pain just like everyone else. How great leaders differ is the ability to take action despite that fear. Once they are in action, they are often too busy and occupied to worry anymore. Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strips, once perfectly summed this step up:

“I go into most risky projects (and those are the type I prefer) with two contradictory thoughts: one, this sort of thing is unlikely to succeed and two, this will totally succeed.”

3. Planning is great, but don’t overlook right now

A large part of our current education system relies on an unhealthy obsession with the future. Even if it’s not direct, like a high school senior looking for colleges to attend, each schoolgirl and boy is planning for the future with every test aced or every subject flunked. This breeds, again, a fixed mindset that’s detrimental to progress and applicable growth. Instead of worrying about getting into Yale, worry about getting one answer at a time correct on the next homework assignment. Value the journey over the destination. Businessman Peter Drucker teaches us the importance of not looking too deep into the future, and staying dedicated to taking the appropriate steps in the now:

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

4. Don’t be afraid to ask a question

There is always that one girl or guy in the front row who asks something every time there’s an opportunity, but they obviously have no issue with speaking in public.  Some people experience a paralysis when asking a question in class. For those who truly don’t understand something, speak up. This problem exists in the workplace, too. Far too many workers are confused or even under appreciated because of their inability to speak up and add input. The best in the business feel they deserve to be heard, and their questions are worthwhile and valid. So are yours. If you need help with public speaking, these are some fantastic tips from professionals that you can use.

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5. If you believe it’s worth doing, it is

Our schooling system dictates, for the most part, what you have to learn. This, sadly, leaves us unable to truly peruse the things we’re passionate about because we’re shackled to a curriculum dictated by the school. The most brilliant and successful people in this world focused and honed their passions. Thomas Edison, who failed countless times and was almost killed by scarlet fever at a young age, wouldn’t allow his passion and vision for inventions die. He went after it no matter what it took (1,000 some odd tries before the lightbulb). The same goes for you, who needn’t seek validation from anyone but you. If you think something is cool, or a career is interesting, or a project is engaging, go for it. Forget about those who won’t back you up. They don’t matter anyway.

6. Patience, Iago

A lot of teachers are really great at super responsive feedback, but that too can be a hindrance. It establishes an expectation for instant results, which isn’t conducive to success in the business world. Things happen slowly. They happen so slowly, that the main reason people give up on almost any endeavor in almost every aspect of life is because of the sluggish pace of dreams. They threw in the towel when they moved in inch in a year, when they expected a mile. To piggyback on the second point above, this, too, comes from fixating on the future. Successful people don’t focus only on the end, but also how far they’ve come. Jim Carrey and his family, for instance, were once so poor that they were living out of a van to keep food in their stomachs. If Jim didn’t have the patience and belief that one day he’d be a great comedian, we’d have never seen his genius shine.

7. See greatness in others, not just the mirror

In school we loathe working in groups, and are geared to focus only on our own performance. There might be a misconception that smart and successful business people are inherently selfish. While there my be a few examples of these in corporate offices across the nation, don’t let a few bad eggs spoil the whole carton. The most talented are also usually well liked because of their ability to help others shine brightly. They can easily recognize a hard worker, a hustler, and someone who lives life with a lot of passion. What’s more, successful people always help others look better than themselves. They don’t take all the credit, they do not steal the ideas of others, and they certainly do not back stab or step on others to get what they want. Dale Carnegie is the prime example of a successful entrepreneur who evokes and promotes camaraderie in the workplace through his best selling novel, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

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Our formal schooling taught us many beneficial things, but there’s always more to discover and sponge up in our journey to achieve greatness. With the steps listed above you will be well on your way to learning the essential things that were unfortunately skipped in school.

The closing bell may signify the end of a scheduled school day, but not the end of your learning.

Really, it’s only the beginning.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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