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There Are No Grades in the School of Life

A couple months back I told you that you can finally stop waiting for permission to be extraordinary. But I want to take a few steps back, and look at what caused you to wait for permission in the first place.  We all start out in life curious, creative, and brilliant. We want to know everything about the world around us and how it works. It’s a marvelous time in our lives.

We continually ask why to the point of annoying the heck out of our parents, until they wave their arms in frustration and say “just because.” So, we stop asking why. Then we go to school where we can finally get some answers to all these questions.

But, soon after we start something rather unfortunate happens. We raise our hands, we give the wrong answers, and we feel like idiots.  Then we take tests. If we get A’s our high self esteem is reinforced. If we get F’s we start to really hate school.  If we’re wrong enough times and get enough bad grades, we develop a fear of being wrong and our curiosity becomes a thing of the past.  We equate failure with stupidity.

If you do happen to be a student who gets A’s, sometimes it’s worse because you become more concerned with your grades than actually learning something.  In that process your tolerance for risk diminishes and you won’t risk being wrong. After all you’re one of the smart kids and don’t to want be like the ones getting F’s.

A few days ago I came across a really interesting book on Amazon called Little Bets. I couldn’t put it down and I can’t seem to stop talking about it. It was about the processes that people like Chris Rock and companies like Pixar use to play at the top of their game. Interestingly enough, it involves quite a bit of failure.

“Invention and discovery emanate from being able to try seemingly wild possibilities and work in the unknown; to be comfortable being wrong before being right; to live in the world as a keen observer, with an openness to experiences and ideas; to play with ideas without censoring oneself or others; to persist through dark valleys with a growth mind-set; to improvise ideas in collaboration and conversation with others; and, to have a willingness to be misunderstood, sometimes for long periods of time, despite conventional wisdom.” - Peter Sims, Little Bets

In this book and another one I’m reading I came across some research conducted by a woman named Carol Dweck. The gist of it was basically that intelligence is not fixed and by developing a growth mindset we can become more intelligent.

“Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, has spent decades demonstrating that one of the crucial ingredients of successful education is the ability to learn from mistakes.Unfortunately, children are often taught the exact opposite. Instead of praising kids for trying hard, teachers typically praise them for their innate intelligence (being smart). Dweck has shown that this type of encouragement actually backfires, since it leads students to see mistakes as signs of stupidity and not as the building blocks of knowledge. The regrettable outcome is that kids never learn how to learn.”

- Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide

When we focus on process rather than outcome, we dramatically increase our ability to progress. In other words, there are no grades in the Skool of Life. 

So, what does that mean for you? If there are no grades, that means you’re free to fail, free to learn from your failures, and free to improve.  What little bets can you start making today?

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