Let them play

When we were small, we were taught that if we wanted to be successful, we had to study hard and get good results at school. Getting straight “A”s had to be our goal if we wanted to succeed in life. But in reality, how many straight A students do you know become really successful as they grow up? The good boys and good girls who were very disciplined at school, submitting all their assignments on time and getting good results in exams may just end up doing a job they don’t like despite the fact that they can make money out of it. Why is it like that? Weren’t we taught that to become successful, we’re supposed to study hard and be good at school? While I was growing up, I have been told that if you want to have a successful life, then your academic grades really does matter a lot. You have to be a topper. I have been told that this is for once and you work hard and get into good university. That’s all! Your don’t have to work harder ever again. I never understood that but I followed it because everyone around me was behind the good grades. I used to go to school and then extra classes and then too tired to think about anything. I felt like I have been programmed and am just following the pattern to become a topper and then get into a good university. I will be honest, I failed. I could not get good scores and I did not get any good university. In-fact I changed my subjects. But have you ever thought this is a cycle. This repeats again when we start working as a professional. Once again you have to become a topper.

Whitney Johnson, author of Dare, Dream, Do recently pointed out in an article for the Harvard Business Review, writes:

“In school, in order to get the grade, you learned to provide the authority figure—the teacher—what he or she wanted. In the workplace, that translates into asking ‘good girl’ questions: ‘What does this boss want from me? Which of my boss’s needs aren’t being met? What do I need to do to get an A?’

“This approach may get you some initial gold stars, but it won’t get you what you really want, which is to be an indispensable player, not just to your boss, but in your industry. To become an all-star, you need to develop a new skill: you need to learn how to challenge and influence authority, rather than simply giving the authority figures what they want.”

They want us to put up our hands and wait to be chosen. They want us to keep asking other people for permission. They teach us to deliver on, rather than change, expectations. They teach us to redeploy ideas rather than originate them. They teach us to expect that people in authority know – rather than letting us imagine that – in rather inspiring ways – no one is really on top of what’s going on. They teach us to trust that they have our largest, best, life-long interests at heart; without letting on that they are merely interested in our achievements.

What they don’t tell you about toppers

  • Most toppers seem to walk along the road that was well-traveled. They have not cleared the jungle and crafted a fresh path. Based on research conducted by Boston College on 181 high school toppers, 90 per cent of toppers are now in professional careers with 40 per cent in the highest tier jobs. But none of them has changed the world, if that is what you want to know. 
  • Academic grades are only loosely correlated with intelligence. Standardized tests are a better measure of IQ (though some would question that too). Academic achievements are often the result of individual effort or intelligence or ability to follow instructions.
  • Basically, to succeed at school or any organisation, you need to be obedient, and whether you’re good or not very much depends on the managements expectations. And instead of helping individuals to understand why they should do certain things, they are forced to follow the rules, leaving  no room for originality and critical thinking. But life doesn’t work like this in reality. To succeed in life, you need to think out of the box instead of doing what everyone else’s doing. And there’re many aspects to take care of. For example, what to do to be a happy person; how to maintain a healthy relationship; how to work smart; and what to do to lead a meaningful life etc.
  • To succeed, one needs emotional intelligence, empathy, rapport building and social skills. If the job involves working in a team, selling an idea, persuading people to adopt a point of view, then social skills matter. Most jobs in the organisations fall in this category. Think of each function (sales, HR, finance, manufacturing…) and you will see that all of them need the ability to work with others and influence people to adopt a particular approach. 
  • When people reach the end of their ability to influence, they term the environment as “political”. In an organisation, it is not necessarily the best idea that will win. It is one that everyone signs up for. That involves influencing others to give their time, attention, resources and support. This is what toppers are often not necessarily good at, if they have not worked at developing their social skills.
  • While it’s a fact that anyone who has at least a high school diploma has more opportunities because one needs to have some fundamental knowledge and skills; statistics show that people who failed at school didn’t end up failing in life. You may have already known that Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey and Jim Carey etc. didn’t do too well at school or are school dropouts. In fact, there’re a lot more than just the “big names” who are successful in life without completing school.According to Current Biography Yearbook (editions 1959-2005 & 2007), out of all the successful people, at least 768 of them are school dropouts and they’re successful in different fields.
  • Being competent is not enough to be successful. Being “influential” is the socially acceptable term for being politically savvy. If you believe that being a CEO is all about working hard and having brilliant ideas, think again. It involves being “political savvy” to handle the media, disgruntled employees, persuading board members, and more. CEOs have often built networks that support them as they move an organisation along.
  • At work, successful people are the ones who think “outside the box”. We celebrate mavericks and thinkers who break boundaries and connect the dots the others cannot see. That is toppers need to learn as well.

Look, am not saying that it is not right to be a topper or a good performer in your organisation. It is a step ahead to be happy, to be content and to be lucky. But it is not the destination. Parents shall give liberty to kids to become what they wish to, so that tomorrow they can live forever without any regrets. And kids will then understand their responsibilities and find their true potential. And that is when they can choose a right profession and right passion for themselves sooner or later. My close friend Vireesh who is also a coach shared the relevant video. It is one of my favorites. Click HERE to check it out.   

Like C.J. Milbrandt wrote in his book- On Your Marks: The Adventure Begins

“Let your boys test their wings. They may not be eagles, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t soar free.”

Special Thanks to Meredith Lepore, Anna Chui, and Abhijit Bhaduri for the insight. 

Let them play

55 thoughts on “Let them play

  1. In fact, you have touched the soul of the thing. Discipline is important but freedom is more important. Discipline to learn and study should not be enforced just like that, it should come the reflection of parents and teachers’ act in day to day life. I advocate the theory of evolution i.e. a natural optimistic phenomena in everything is inherent and we should not disturb it unless things goes in wrong direction. A very good article that’s at the core of my heart and I usually bring it into practice for myself and my kid(s).
    best wises…

  2. Couldn’t agree more! You have absolutely nailed it????. A must read for all! It’s kids’ right to take decisions for themselves. We can’t make decisions for them just because we are their parents. Art of letting go is important in parenting which I am still try to learn ????

  3. Hey…it’s a perfect write up.. just what should be brought into the system of education.. Learn to learn, not to excel!
    Toppers are species with huge mental pressure. We need to create more sane and balanced people than errotic rigid performers.
    Thank you for this write up. Will share in my family group.

  4. Very right. As parents, we also fell in the same line but off late we realised that doing so will cause much damage. So the result is this article. I also preach in my teachings about “self-management “, i.e. if you can manage yourself, you can manage anything in this universe. The quote says everything. Learning “managing self” is taught by life and at cost which becomes heavier for those who tread the beaten path. I am amazed to read the article, not because it is written by my son but the thinking he could develop over the years. We have to start a movement of awakening parents, schools, colleges that they should teach “purposeful engagement “ to their wards/students.

  5. Wow!. Great Article Abhi. It is a class one with clear data and facts. Topper/good book syndrome is one of d biggest reason for people not unleashing the fullest potential.

  6. Article was appreciable the points were remarkable and creating further thought process to think on it???? especially liked the Toppers point????

  7. Well done abenav , I totally agree with your point , it’s not only about getting good grades , you shouldn’t be disappointed that I didn’t get good grades , so life has no future , it’s not true . You can find some subject you may good at some you are not . So try to score good that subject you like and take that as your carrier , other subjects try to get enough marks to pass to next level. Make life always simple , don’t try to make it complicated.
    Thanks abenav .

  8. Very well written article Abhinav! I could relate to both from my life experiences as well as what I have seen. Hence I don’t put pressure on my kids so much pressure only on studies. We need them to become citizens to face real-life challenges and lead a happy life than just being on the top and not realizing what’s going on the ground. Definitely we should let them play in my view as well.

  9. It’s a freedom that lets them explore their free will.
    Parents to understand
    Wonderfully written Abenav

  10. I feel I’m reading my own thoughts. It’s amazing how u come up with just the right things to write about.
    Really liked it ????

  11. Bravo ???????? such a deep analysis.. your writing has improved a lot after your first book “Omoide”. Very good flow.. I hope it changes the perspective of some parents..

  12. Love this! I used to argue with teachers a lot about why they should be issuing me grades and how their opinion of my grades doesn’t reflect who I am haha. It makes me smile when I think back to that, it was only art teachers who I really had a close relationship with because I felt they saw me more clearly and also get how creative subjects are not seem as ‘academic’ therefore not so valid. Freedom to question the systems and not adhere to it is so essential. Love the article <3

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