In an article called “What They Don’t Tell You about Promotions,” published on Lifehacker, Victor Wong gives advice to young professionals. His advice is focused on the workplace and not on school, but what struck me were the implications about school that the article suggests nonetheless. Wong writes:
“In school (aka pre-real-life), the rules are clearly explained for how to succeed. You know when you’re taking a test and what the evaluation metric is. After that, it starts becoming harder to understand how to succeed.”
“People who can come up with projects and execute on them without direction are ones who are creating value for the firm and not just fulfilling on it. . . . They don’t tell you that you need to be out there meeting new potentials business or keeping up with industry trends on your own time. They don’t tell you that you need to come up with a project to do your assigned work even better than was originally planned.”
“Your manager isn’t charting your career trajectory because your manager is just trying to keep today’s operations running smoothly.”
In other words, school does not teach students how to manage their own activities or set their own goals; school does not teach students how to measure or evaluate their own successes and failures; school does not teach students how to create projects or improve on processes or add value to an organization or even that they should be adding value.
School tells students exactly what to do for thirteen years. School dictates the goals and defines the measurements and does the measuring; school assigns the projects and tells the students exactly what processes to use and discourages deviation; school monitors the students’ progress for them and nags them to do their work — work that does not add value to any community good, work that does not solve any real community problem or contribute to any tangible community goal, work that is done and filed (or tossed), having served nobody but the student.
Then school sends these obedient young adults off into the world, where suddenly — no longer students under school’s watchful eye — they have to figure out how to define and evaluate and even create their own work, how to define and evaluate and create their own selves, how to contribute to society, how to manage their own lives.
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I wonder: What could schools do differently to help students know what to expect in the workplace, and how to do it? Or, what can be done at home to help young adults know what to expect and how to do it?