What Teachers Don't Tell You About Succeeding In The Real World

A Day In A German Elementary School
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In my work helping women build successful, fulfilling careers, I started to see something quite troubling. Women who had been high achievers in school-good students who earned good grades-were finding that the very skills that served them well in school were holding them back in their careers. "Good student skills" looked very similar to "good girl" behavior patterns, and being stuck in "good girl" mode was preventing women from leading, innovating, and having knock-the-ball-out-of-the-park careers.

Success at work demands different competencies than success at school, and many women aren't aware that they need to shift their approach. Here are five "good student skills" that fail us in our careers, and the new, corresponding skills you need to thrive in your career. Are you stuck in any of these areas?

Prepare, prepare, prepare: Improvise. In school, students are told again and again to study hard –- to prepare for the test, read the assignment before the teacher asks about it in class, start early writing that research paper. Many students graduate believing, understandably, that preparation is the foundation for success. This can lead us to get stuck in a kind of "preparation comfort zone" where we only feel secure when we've had a lot of time to prepare for any major assignment at work. In our careers, we are called upon to improvise and think on our feet. We have to make decisions when we feel inadequately prepared, when we feel like the information and time needed just wasn't available. Practice taking action even when you feel imperfectly prepared, and get as good at improvisation as you are at preparation.

Just do good work: Do good work and make it visible. In school, if you did great work, you usually got a good grade. At work, many women continue to take this approach: I'll just do great work, and it will get noticed. I'll get the gold stars on my review, the promotion, the bonus. But in our careers, doing great work isn't enough. We've got to do good work and make sure people know about it. This can be an uncomfortable stretch for women, because we don't want to come off as arrogant or as taking credit away from others. Get comfortable owning your accomplishments and talking about them -- gracefully -- with bosses and colleagues.

Adapt to the authority figures: Influence the authority figures. In school, every new class brought with it a new authority figure who had unique rules, requirements and preferences. It's all too easy for students to conclude that the No. 1 skill they need is the skill of figuring out what the teacher wants and providing it. With that background, we enter into our careers looking to figure out and provide what each new boss wants. However, to become a valued contributor, we can't just give the authority figures what they want. We have to enhance their effectiveness by contributing our own unique ideas. This means we need to learn how to challenge and effectively influence authority. How can you influence your boss' views if you think there is a major opportunity she's just not seeing? How can you influence the management at your company to manage their people in a more productive way? It's time to add influencing authority to your skill set.

Look outside yourself for the answer: Draw on what's within you. School taught you how to absorb external information (from a book or a teacher's lesson) and then regurgitate that information back out. Yet as you move to more and more senior levels in your career, you'll need to turn your focus inward and see what you can bring forth from within -- whether it's your personal strengths like your problem-solving or communication genius, or specific business ideas that could make a difference at your organization. It's time to retrain your brain: The value you bring doesn't just come from the information you've mastered. It comes from who you are.

Follow a linear path: Follow your own unique path. Last but not least, most important subjects in school were organized in a very linear way. Take Spanish 1, then Spanish 2. Take introductory economics, then intermediate economics, then advanced. Twenty years of that training can leave us looking for a straight ladder to climb in our careers. Yet most women find their career aspirations don't match that ladder. Be open to unexpected career moves, steps off the linear path, and leveraging your past professional experiences in creative ways.

Are you ready to make the shift from "good student" skills to "knock-the-ball-out-of-the-park" career skills?

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What schools do not teach you is that life is not fair. It does not teach you that in the real world people do not care what you think about the rules or that you want to express yourself.

March 02 2013 at 6:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That’s the problem with teacher at all levels – They have never worked in the real world so how can they prepare you for the real world. This is especially true for college professors, who have spent their entire life in academia. That’s why I think that someone wanting his/her PhD work for at least 10 years in the field they want their PhD in. There is no problem with medical types because it generally takes them forever before they can practice medicine.

March 01 2013 at 5:33 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ashumate3's comment

The job of educators is to teach subject matter, not life lessons. Time for parents to step up to the plate and beginning rearing their childrem.

March 01 2013 at 9:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No one can teach what they do-not-know.
Students should ask each of their teachers how much outstanding student loan debt they have? -
and, do they think it's worth it?

Old saying, is it true? -
"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

I love teachers, but, in this economy, people-gotta-think!
Real life is tough.

The country's leaders are playing games and going in circles.
"Trickle-down government" is NOT gonna work.

March 01 2013 at 4:57 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Garden3225@aol.'s comment

The old saying is false, most educators are dedicated professionals. Anyone else, could earn more working retail. In our Town an entry level educator earns $27,000 yearly, barely enough to survive, especially paying back student loans. I was earning in excess of that in 1976, my first year out of the military.

March 01 2013 at 9:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sam54ct's comment

Dedicated professionals, perhaps, but that doesn't equate to competent. A math teacher could probably tell you that $27,000 is well above what someone working retail at minimum wage could earn in 2,080 hours, but he probably can't begin to tell you how to run a sales meeting.

July 24 2013 at 8:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

not necessary-we have welfare-food stamps-rent payments-utility payments-child support payments-medicaid........................

March 01 2013 at 4:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

dear arenadood,

You have a low value on high school guidance counselors. You don't understand their education or their important contribution to students. Every teacher must invest years and years in maintaining their certification to be a teacher through continued education courses. I wouldn't be insulted if you asked me that question. The meeting may have ended for a different reason than you believe.

March 01 2013 at 2:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

All the skills you describe are appropriate skills for school and will be valuable as you continue your education, through college and graduate school. There should also be specific courses offered in business schools, etc that present these truths as new information. They are the skills of life and experience in whatever career one chooses. As a person has experiences in the dynamics of work, they will observe and gain insight and if lucky will be mentored by others. Through maturity and experience hopefully one grows. I think it is really the social psychology of competition. Women are taught other societal values that may hold them back as they compete in a "man's world". It is challenging to lay them aside and find the way to sell yourself.

March 01 2013 at 2:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I remember in High School. The Guidance Councilor was telling me she had eight years in Collage and I needled to get a college degree to succeed in life. I asked her, With your degrees how come all you are is a High School Guidance Councilor. The meeting immediately ended.

March 01 2013 at 12:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to arenadood's comment

LIFE HARD AND THEN U DIE...........................

March 01 2013 at 12:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

"School taught you how to absorb external information (from a book or a teacher's lesson) and then regurgitate that information back out. " This is the complete and entire problem with Americas school system k-college: no comprehension of the "root cause" of the information. They wind up with an incredibly shallow comprehension about everything, literally. I've worked with Harvard grads who could not think their way out of a paper bag. What students need to learn is how to absorb the information, and then tell the teacher why it's wrong, incomplete, used in a misleading fashion, misapplied, or serving a hidden social or political agenda. THEN America would be back on top.

March 01 2013 at 11:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Yarns Unraveling

There aught to be a course in jocking for position, cutting throats and ruining reputations, cause that is the only thing that makes the difference - except the gals have a hard time changing their mentality to adjust to that. If a women does good work, guys keep em out of the loop so they can take the credit and the $ that goes with the product of that work. If she stands up for herself, they will slash her down quick by what ever means necessary - which is why there is more than a .77 cents on the dollar problem, there is a complete face of poverty being female and children going undiscussed by the big 5 Media outlets.

March 01 2013 at 11:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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