Success at School vs Success in Life


We want to do well at school for an obvious reason: becauseas were often told

it’s the primary route to doing well at life. Few of us are in love with the A

grades themselveswe want them because were understandably interested in one day

having a fulfilling career, a pleasant house and the respect of others. But, sometimes,

more often than seems entirely reassuring, something confusing occurs: we come across

people who triumphed at schoolbut flunked at life. And vice versa. The former stars

who once knew exactly how to satisfy their teachers may now be flatlining in a law office,

or relocating to a provincial town in the hope of finding something better. The path

that seemed guaranteed to lead to success has run into the sand. We shouldn’t actually

be surprised: school curricula are not designed by people who necessarily have much experience

of, or talent at, the world beyond. School curricula are not reverse engineered from

fulfilled adult lives in the here and now. They were intellectually influenced by all

kinds of slightly random forces over hundreds of years of evolutionshaped by, among

other things, the curricula of Medieval monasteries, the ideas of some 19th-century German educationalists

and the concerns of aristocratic court societies. This helps to explain the many bad habits

schools inculcate: - They suggest that the most important things are already known; that

what is is all that could be. They can’t help but warn us about the dangers of originality.

- They want us to put up our hands and wait to be asked. They want us to keep asking

other people for permission. - They teach us to deliver on, rather than change, expectations.

- They teach us to redeploy ideas rather than originate them. - They teach us to expect

that people in authorityrather than letting us imagine thatin rather inspiring

waysno one actually knows quite what’s going on. – They teach us to trust that

They teach us everything other than the two skills that really determine the quality of adult life;

knowing how to choose the right job for us and knowing how to form satisfactory relationships.

Theyll instruct us in Latin and how to measure the circumference of a circle long

before they teach us those core subjects: Work and Love. ** That said, it isn’t that

all we need to do to succeed at life is flunk school. A good life requires us to do two

very tricky things: be an extremely good boy or girl for 20 years; and simultaneously never

really believe blindly in the long-term validity or seriousness of what were being asked

to study. We need to be outwardly entirely obedient while inwardly intelligently and

unashamedly rebellious.