The myth of the high-achiever

Just skim-read an interesting article over at Huffington Post, “The Dark Side of Girls’ Success In School.”

It talks about the idea that the skills that helped you thrive in school might not be the same skills that will help you thrive in your career.

I won’t suggest that people who are high-achievers in school can’t be high-achievers at work (obviously) – but I think sometimes the very fact that you didn’t do well in school can be your greatest advantage at work.

This idea conjures images of the restless high school drop out who becomes a multi-billionaire entrepreneur. But there are also tonnes of less-extreme examples. The student whose work always needed correcting becomes the worker who can handle honest feedback. The student who doesn’t worry too much about exams (i.e. doesn’t study) becomes the worker who doesn’t freak out when something goes wrong with a project. The student who talked back to teachers is able to speak frankly to those with authority.

So if performing well in school isn’t a very good indicator of your potential to perform well in your career, how do we make sure that those who might come out of school without the necessary metrics to indicate that they have talent get the development opportunities the A+ students are getting?

I work at a university that has high entrance scores. Even here in a bastion of high-test scores, no one is going to argue that there aren’t great people who are overlooked by this system. But for a whole range of reasons, universities are probably going to keep measuring student’s worthiness to attend by looking at their grades.

How can we be sure that all that bubbling potential isn’t lost? I think often it’s taken care of when these students enter the work force and start to excel. The bosses like what they do, and they get rewarded, climb the ladder, before you know it, have forgotten they were ever getting Cs in English.

But is that enough? Is there more we can do to see talent and develop it?

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