It is a known fact among young professionals that what they do at work has almost nothing to do with what they learned in school. School gives you the foundation, the credentials, and the work ethic required to get started, but the majority of what we need to get ahead can only be learned on the field.
Why are we bringing this up now? The more stories we hear about today’s students over-exerting themselves academically, the more stressed out we get on their behalf. When we think back on our own schooling, we can’t believe that the subjects and skills we worked so hard to master ended up being so irrelevant to what we actually do as adults.
So if you’re at work right now and feeling a little nostalgic, click through to see the top 10 things that school doesn’t teach you about being successful at work.
1. It is surprisingly tiring to spend 60 hours a week sitting in a cubicle
A 9-to-5 job sounds like a joke compared to the time we spent attending classes, doing extracurricular activities, finishing our homework, studying for exams, and taking extra tuition classes. But nothing prepared us for the effects of aging. There’s a world of difference between your energy levels at age 16 and at age 26 – especially since 10 hours a day sitting in one’s cubicle feels a lot more tiring than spending 10 hours switching between classrooms and subjects.
So if there’s one basic life skill everyone should learn upon starting their first job, it’s how to set a healthy sleeping pattern (our recommendation: sleep between 11 pm – 7 am every day, including on the weekends), as well as how to stay awake between the hours of 2 pm and 4 pm.
2. Your grades in school don’t really matter (at least not after a certain point)
While some basic job applications might ask for your grade point average, we’ve never been asked about it during a job interview. No one – even those hiring for entry-level positions – will bring up how well you did during your ‘O’ Levels. So work hard and do what you can to enter a good university, but don’t feel like it’s the end of the world if you didn’t get straight A’s. Maybe – MAYBE – it will affect whether or not you get hired for your first job, if that job has an extremely technical scope. But after a certain point, if you’ve done well enough at work, it won’t affect where you get hired next. (And for the love of all that is good, NEVER brag about your scores in school among your colleagues, lest you be branded a try-hard loser nerd who peaked in secondary schools).
3. Try not to gab, but -- how to sell yourself (a.k.a. “personal branding”)
While those terms might sound shallow, even dehumanizing, it’s important to know how to project confidence and skills when interviewing for jobs. You not only need to be aware of your talents, but you need to know how the company could benefit from hiring you. And once you have the job, you need to be personable enough to connect with clients, while making a case for why you should be promoted or receive a pay raise. The job market is incredibly competitive. No matter how skillful you are, you’ll never stand out amongst people as accomplished as you are unless you know how to sell those accomplishments to the person who is hiring.
4. The importance of people skills
On a related note, we hate to say it, but working life is basically an extension of secondary school. Everyone assumes that you’ll outgrow cliques and popularity, but in many industries, this is what getting ahead is all about. People get hired and promoted based on their personalities, based on favours, and ultimately, based on whether the person hiring would enjoy working with you. That doesn’t mean you have to be a conniving social climber. Just know that developing a likeable personality and cooperative skills can require as much work as developing technical ones.
5. Your appearance actually matters
Sorry, guys. Your looks count for a lot. You need to comb your hair before getting out of the house. And unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, you need to buy some office-appropriate clothing. And no matter how much you resist, you might even need to wear a little bit of makeup (at least enough to cover your dark circles). You’re not just representing yourself; you’re representing a company, so if you’re sent to cover events or meet clients, you’d better look sharp to give them a good impression.
6. How to battle a quarter-life crisis
No matter how awesome your job is, you’re probably going to experience a quarter-life crisis. At some point, you’ll realize that you put having a successful career on a pedestal and that life as a working adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’ll wonder whether you picked the right path, whether you’re working to your full potential, and where to go next. You’ll feel lonely. You’ll feel lost. You might even despair a little. But the minute you realise that having a job isn’t the be-all, end-all to life, you’ll learn to relax. After all, your entire happiness isn’t based on how well you are doing in your career.
7. That the “dream job” is a myth
No job is perfect. And in the same way that people who constantly look for their “perfect soulmate” are never happy in relationships, you’ll never fully commit to a career if you have your heart set on the “dream job” with amazing pay, an incredible boss, no overtime hours, five weeks of a paid vacation, and with a subject matter that actually interests you. It’s not going to happen, so when you do get irritated, take some time to build up some emotional endurance instead of immediately looking elsewhere.
8. That eventually, you WILL find a job
The stakes are always really high when you’re in school. If you fail this exam, it’s the end of the world! If you don’t get into this program, you’re screwed for all eternity! If you don’t get admitted into the best university, you will fail at life! The same thing continues once you start applying for your first job. Filing resumes can be thankless work. And the more rejections you get, the more pessimistic you will get about ever succeeding. But trust us – persist for long enough, and you WILL get a job. It might even be a great one! Even if it’s not, treat it as a stepping stone for greater things and like we said, work on your people skills to get ahead.
9. That common sense is everything
Every office has at least one person who is totally lacking in EQ. Don’t let that person be you. School teaches you indispensable analytical skills, but these are rarely practical when it comes to making ordinary decisions, such as who to eat lunch with, how to respond to emails, or how to ask your colleague on a date.
10. Diffusing office drama like a boss
It’s basically impossible to remove yourself from office politics. You’re going to be involved at least on an emotional level. Despite your best efforts to stay neutral, you’re going to hear a piece of gossip that will alter how you see the people around you. The good news is, the more observant you are, the better you will be at resolving conflicts. If you know that your boss is biased against certain types of people, or that a couple of your colleagues have had some drama in the past, you’ll know how to act in a way that won’t unnecessarily annoy them.
In school, we’re taught that our success depends on how hard we work for our own grades. But at work, our success is largely determined by other people’s agendas. If you know how to be a peacemaker, how to solve problems, and how to avoid getting on people’s bad side, you’ll be a lot better off than someone who’s good at what he does but irritates everyone around him.
11. That success is not the same as significance
A wise person once said that the measure of life is not its duration, but its donation. In school, we’re taught the importance of being Number One, be it academically, on sports, or in music. At work, you’ll attempt to do the same thing, but eventually you’ll ask yourself what it’s all for. Is life just about surpassing your targets, getting promoted, and getting transferred? You’ll get pay rise after pay rise, and perhaps even procure some power, but after that, what?
In the real world, you’ll learn that life is not about forging a career, but finding a vocation. There needs to be a sense of purpose (other than money) within your striving. You were promoted to a senior position in half the time it normally takes, but have you used your position to help your juniors grow as people? Are your talents helping others, or do they only serve yourself? What are you living for? These are all questions we must tackle at some point, and no amount of schooling will provide the answers. You must study your life, your priorities, and your purposes to begin finding that yourself.