Why Being a Straight-A Student Taught me Nothing About Life

For those of you old enough to remember, there used to be a series of classroom posters that went something like: Everything I learned about life, I learned in {insert grade here}. They may have had a bit of sarcastic flavor to them, but they were also like the precursor to inspirational Instagram quotes. Deriving meaning out of the meaningless.

We love listing things, checking them off and assuming that means we ‘learned’ them. Putting them up on the wall makes them feel more real.

Big Bad Brainery - Why Being a Straight-A Student Taught Me Nothing About Life

Having made it well beyond the other side of my academic career, I must say that my poster would read: Everything I learned about life, I didn’t learn in school. Considering I was a straight-A student all the way through, that sounds like a bold statement.

I had an overwhelmingly positive experience in school. Public school, no less. I had excellent teachers, took part in some exemplary programs, and was always supported by like-minded peers. Yet, what I learned did not equip me for what was to come.

I did everything I was told, and then some, just to arrive at some imaginary place that I thought I was supposed to want. I bought into all that we’re supposed to buy into.

Grades were a huge part of my identity for as long as I can remember. The way the education system measured my worth turned into the way I measured my own.

Maybe some of you figured out a long time ago that getting A’s has nothing to do with being smart. I wish I had come to that conclusion a lot sooner. Traditional grades have been proven ineffective and detrimental to the learning process. Why we still look to them as an indicator of natural talents and progress is a mystery to me.

The damage caused by this system of strict feedback is everlasting. Not only did I spend so much time worrying about the end result that I truly missed out on the learning process in many cases, but I got a bad case of tunnel vision. I couldn’t see beyond the walls of a university when I looked towards my future.

When you’re on the competitive academic track, all you see is the destination: college. No one bothers to talk about what happens after that, or whether a traditional path to college is really right for even the brightest students.

What happens after college is not just about a job or the right means of survival to seek based on whichever state the economy happens to be in at the time. The conversation needs to be much bigger. After all, we should want more than generation after generation of kids who just know how to survive.

Encouraging our kids to achieve, achieve, achieve essentially means ‘get as many A’s as possible and don’t think about what you really want in your future,’ which is the opposite of what we claim we’re saying to them. Speaking for myself as a parent, this is the last message I want my kids to absorb from me or the world at large.

Being a straight-A student taught me nothing about life because no one connected those classroom milestones with the skills I was building that really could be useful down the road. It’s not that being hard-working and dedicated was a terrible thing, but that I thought it was an end in itself.

My goal at the time was to be dedicated to grades (approval), so I sacrificed opportunities to enjoy learning for the sake of learning. Just like a student who struggles to get above-average grades, I was pigeonholed into believing that big, fat lie that we all fall victim to in some way: what I do = who I am.

This may all seem contradictory to my mission.

In fact, it’s at the heart of what Big Bad Brainery is all about. The lesson is not in that list of things you ‘learn’ in school. The lesson is in how you approach it and what you take from it. It’s not about what’s on the exam, which advanced classes you take, or how good you are at book learning.

It’s about thinking about the big picture all along, and recognizing that the point is not to complete assignments and pass exams. The point is to develop the heart you’ll need after those formative years are over.

You have a choice to either see the material you’re required to know in school as nonsense that holds you back, or as practice for the bigger game.

Receiving top marks in school may not have directly prepared me for the world beyond those halls, but I’ve since chosen to take the lessons I learned from being a pro at studying and test taking and create a safe space for all of us to move beyond these short-sighted ideas!

Whether you’re a straight-A student or not, I’ve got a personalized coaching option for you. Click below to see my coaching plans.

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Chelsea Torres