After spending the better parts of our childhood in school, it’s disconcerting to find out that we only retain a small portion of that knowledge. They say that people forget 40 percent of what they learned in 20 minutes and 77 percent of what they learned in six days. But I’m here to tell you that it’s not so bad after all. In fact, I encourage you to unlearn many of the lessons of your childhood in order to increase your chances of success in your career.
Here are five places to start:
Myth #1: Well-educated people are well-rounded
In fact, no one is good at everything. We know intuitively that if you are a great artist, you’re probably not a great accountant. Moreover, the New York Times reports that colleges are not looking for well rounded students, but instead, specialized candidates to create a well-rounded student body.
The same is true of companies: A business needs lots of people who are great at their jobs who come together to make a great company. A study from Wharton Business School shows that in Hollywood, actors who typecast themselves get much higher salaries. The same is true in business: People who specialize command higher salaries and, in both cases, the people are more satisfied with their careers because they are doing what they are good at.
So, embrace your strengths and carve out a specialty for yourself.
Myth #2: Work hard and you’ll succeed
In school, teachers promise you that if you work hard and get good grades, then you’ll get a good job. However, multiple studies have shown no correlation between how well you do in school and how well you do in the work world. Do you ever wonder why “So and So” got promoted before you? There are other factors to success aside from just the work itself. You have to get noticed.
Instead, devote attention not only to your work but also your surroundings. Office politics is a huge factor at work, and office politics is about influence. It’s about seeing what people need and helping them so they remember you. In addition to networking at work, seek out a mentor who can help you navigate the political waters and also provide career advice along the way.
Myth #3: Do what you’re told and you’ll stay out of trouble
What’s the problem here? Rule breakers are the ones who make the most money in the workplace. Sure, you have to follow some rules, but you have to know when to break rules. And if you don’t experiment by breaking rules regularly, then you won’t ever have huge successes. Rules are to enforce the status quo, but no one ever built something great by doing what had been done before. If your gut it telling you to push the boundaries, jump in and take that risk. It just might be a game changer.
Myth #4: Learn what someone tells you to learn
In school, someone tells you what to think about and then tells you if you got the right answer. That means teachers only tell you to think about things that have clear answers. But we are in the Information Age, which means most office workers are paid to think. And in the working world, we’re told to “think outside the box.” Those who are curious and self-directed learners are the ones who can keep up with new ideas as they emerge. Those who are waiting to be told what to learn will fall behind.
Additionally, all the right answers are online, so we are most valuable if we can synthesize information on our own and come up with new approaches to the questions. We no longer need to wait to be taught and can take learning into our own hands. A bit of online research or tutorials can give you that head start and you can learn at your own pace.
Myth #5: Don’t talk unless it’s your turn
Of course. How else will a teacher keep order in a classroom of 25 restless kids? But at work, if you wait for someone to ask your opinion, you’ll be waiting a really long time. Maybe forever.
In meetings, people get the most respect when they speak up, even if it means talking over people. Yes, this may seem rude, but it’s also assertive, and confident people are rewarded in the workplace. Don’t save that great idea for a rainy day—speak your mind before someone else beats you to the punch.
So what does this mean? Well, the bad news is, you have a lot of unlearning to do. But this is also great news for you, because you know intuitively that you have good ideas. You know you want to choose your own life, and live it according to your own values with your own goals. You don’t need a teacher telling you what’s important. You can decide for yourself.
And hey, while you’re unlearning all that stuff you learned in school, give your kids a break, and show them how to be independent, creative thinkers so they’ll be better prepared for the modern workforce.
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