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Key to Success: Unlearn some lessons you learned in school

By Marty Nemko

In school, you probably learned the following:

To write as an academic would. The following sentence would please many professors: “The preponderance of the evidence provided in the literature review suggests that the locus of control in most employees lies in externalities.” In the real world, that would be dismissed as jargon-filled gobbledygook. In the real world, clarity is king.

To dabble: In college, every few months, you took four or five disparate courses, from art history to biology to economics. After class, you may have played sports, the guitar, joined clubs, etc. In the real world, all that dabbling rarely work. Few employers will pay you to be a dilettante. What works in the real world: focus, becoming an expert at something.

To procrastinate. Thanks to grade inflation, at most schools and colleges, if you’re reasonably intelligent, you can wait until the last minute to study for that exam or do that term paper and still get a good grade. In most quality workplaces, however, there is no grade inflation--procrastination often turns out to be a career killer.

To refuse to take a job you’re not passionate about. The message conveyed in many college classes is “pursue your passion.” Well, fact is, pursuing your passion often won’t yield even a bare middle class income. I believe that even if you’re not passionate about your work, doing work you’re good at, is ethical, and reasonably compensated for is enough. That’s far better than being one of the millions of 20-something college-degree holders who sit on their parents’ sofas contributing nothing, complaining about The System, and waiting for career passion to descend upon them like manna from heaven.

To disdain Corporate America. The overall message given at many colleges and universities, especially prestigious ones, is that corporations are, at best, a necessary evil. So even graduates who choose to work in Corporate America often approach their jobs and bosses with a measure of disdain. In fact, while corporations have their flaws, it’s unclear that their flaws are lesser than those in government and the non-profit sectors. Both of the latter are—compared with corporate America—inefficient and bureaucratic, with many employees able to remain employed despite minimal work thanks to civil service protections. Corporations are criticized in colleges for not providing security of employment. But fact is, a job, especially one paying a good salary and offering substantial training and resources to perform their work is not an entitlement; it is to be earned. To think otherwise, virtually ensures failure. Don’t let the colleges or headlines trumpeting examples of corporate excess persuade you that most corporations are evil. Corporations provide most of the services and products we value, and, for bright, motivated people, worthy careers.

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