I don’t know where you are in your academic journey…
- You may have just graduated from Grade 12 and you’re going into your first year of undergrad.
- You may be in high school, trying to decide to what to do after that.
- You may be in university right now and you’re trying to grit your way to graduation.
Wherever you are in that journey, you’ve probably felt disillusioned and frustrated at school at some point.
You’ve start questioning your motives for staying in school. You’ve started calling every class as “boring” or “useless”.
Well, I want you to know that you’re not alone – you’re not weird or crazy for feeling this way. It’s something we all feel.
It’s a natural step when you’re a person with big dreams.
Once we’ve been in the school system for a while, we become disillusioned.
I mean, it’s just the way the system is built.
School is a cookie-cutter solution to a multi-faceted problem. It’s like selling only size 7’s of a pair of Jordans and expecting that every single person who ever lived on earth will want that pair and fit into it. It’s a one-size-fits-all that seeks to reward only a certain type of intellect, a certain way of learning.
And to make it worse, the goal of school is to create cogs in a machine – when the real world values creativity and innovation. No wonder so many new grads struggle to land entry-level jobs!
If you’ve ever felt like your brand of genius and critical thinking isn’t recognized in school, then I feel you.
You probably ask the same questions I do:
- Why do I pay so much for textbooks I don’t even read?
- Why do I work so hard in group projects that I’ll never have anything concrete to show for?
- What’s the point of being in school?
I feel it when I have to attend an 8:00 AM lecture where I know the professor reads off of the slides.
What’s the point of going to this class?
I feel it when I’m up at 2 AM trying to finish studying for an exam or writing some essay about some historical thing.
This is totally useless and I won’t even use this when I graduate. What’s the point of doing this, let alone doing it well?
I feel it especially when I work hard on tests and assignments, get them back… And see that I got a D for my efforts.
Why do I put my heart into something, and ask for validation from people who don’t know how I learn, who don’t me?
I know it’s good to question the status quo but, damn – sometimes, I hate these thoughts of disillusionment, because being in school and realizing these things does not make things easier.
But then imagine that disillusionment coupled with a mounting frustration that you just can’t help.
You can’t help it because your parents constantly compare you to your brother who does so well.
Or your aunts constantly praise your cousin who’s studying to become a doctor.
Or you feel pressure to do well because maintaining your scholarship hinges on keeping up your GPA.
When School Has Become Your Life
Your happiness has become dependent on how well you do on a test.
Your security has come to rest on whether you get into a certain program or a certain school.
Your answer to the question, “So what do you study?” has become who you are.
Just like how people who’ve graduated become depressed at their dead-end jobs, you’ve become frustrated because of your meaningless courses.
You become unmotivated because you’ve force yourself to find happiness in something you find meaningless.
Disillusionment in the system + Frustration from lack of purpose = Disaster
So what’s the solution? Do you just drop out? Rebel? Shut up and do your work quietly?
You can’t control how the system is like, but you can control what you do within it. As much as you may hate what school is forcing you to do, you should hate your own inaction even more.
So here’s what you do:
- Use school as a training ground for real life
- Work on a side project outside of school.
Use School as a Training Ground for Real Life
When I started looking at school as a training ground for real life, I forced myself to see every soul-sucking class, boring-ass professor and rage-inducing group assignment as a way for me to learn grit, determination, patience and consistency – traits that so few of us have these days.
I told myself:
- If I can work hard and do a bang-on job at something that doesn’t capture my heart, how much more do you think I can deliver if it is something I’m passionate about?
- If I can persevere through a dry textbook and learn as much knowledge as I can, one day, how much better will I perform in my own startup that I am excited about?
- If I can drag myself out of bed every day and show up for an 8 AM class with a boring professor and a dry course, how much more easily can I show up and kick-ass at a job that I love?
It wasn’t until I experienced working full-time for a few months that I really internalized this kind of thinking because I learned that…
No Matter How Much School Sucks, Real Life Sucks More.
This is what it looks like when you graduate and you get your first job:
- Your job will suck.
- Your boss will suck.
- Your startup will not take off right away.
- People will say no to you a lot.
In the real world, you have to learn to face these hard realities of life with your livelihood on the line; it’s inescapable.
- When you start a job, you’re expected to deliver.
- And if you don’t deliver, you don’t get paid.
- And if you don’t get paid you can’t eat. Or sleep. Or smile. Or live.
Compared to this, school is a low-pressure environment – your existence and your ability to feed yourself does not hinge directly on your performance in every test or assignment.
So if you want to drop out to start the Next Big Thing, I’d advise you to stay in school and learn real-world skills in isolation from the pressures of real life, so that when you do go out into the world, you will have the foundation you need to really crush it.
You Have to Do Other Stuff
Once you shift your perspective to looking at school as a way to train you for real life, you will be able to swallow the pills school gives you a lot better but you will probably still feel dissatisfied. Although you’re learning the skills you need for the real world, you’ll still feel like you’re not going after your dreams.
You’ll feel like you’re still missing a piece of the puzzle.
Remember the second half of the equation?
Disillusionment in the system + Frustration from lack of purpose = Disaster
To fix that frustration, you have to do something that shifts your sense of purpose from school to something that you honestly find meaningful. You have to have to have your own personal side hustle that makes you feel like you’re building out your place in the world.
If you’re stuck, here are some ideas:
- If you want to help make people’s lives better, you could start a socially-minded business like TOMS.
- If you become a professional musician one day, you could start writing songs and learning to sing.
- If you love Kevin Hart and you want to become an actor or a stand-up comic one day, you could start taking acting and stand-up classes.
- If you’ve always yearned to travel the world, you could work part-time to start saving up for your dream grad trip.
- If you want to make other people happy and show them that they’re not alone, you could start vlogging and posting funny videos on YouTube.
As you can see from this list, your side hustle doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. It doesn’t have to be world-changing. But it does have to fire you up and get your blood pumping.
For me that side hustle is my blog.
Even if I got a D on an essay that was only read by my professor and my TA, I could sit down at my computer that night, publish a blog post and have over 1,000 people read my work.
Even if I couldn’t tell my professor how bad a teacher he was, I could give one of my readers a piece of advice that I know will change her life.
Even if I couldn’t find the meaning or the real-world application to learning Calculus or Statistics, I found meaning in writing about the frustration of those experiences and having other people relate to those experiences.
Your Success is in Your Hands
Because of the way the system is designed, frustration and disappointment are kinda inescapable.
- You will have dumb group projects and your group members will let you down.
- You will hate spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks that you never read.
- And you will always cry on the inside as you drop over $5,000 of your own money every 4 months to pay professors who don’t even bother to try to make things interesting.
But in the end, how well you do in school and after school is in your hands.
You may need to work harder than most people, depending on your personality and the cards you were dealt, but you have to learn to roll with it.
To succeed, you have to understand and embrace the fact success in life, not just school, is whatever you make of any feelings of frustration and disillusionment.
- Will you learn to love things you don’t love, or will you keep complaining about how much it sucks?
- Will you learn to be patient and empathize with other people, or will you keep posting rants about your dumb classmates on Snapchat and Facebook?
- Will you learn to manage and motivate yourself when you don’t feel like it, or will you just keep scrolling through #inspo posts on Instagram while doing nothing?
Realize that every choice in either direction affects your life and your dreams, whether you like it or not, whether you accept the effects or not.
You might as well learn to make the most of what you have, despite the odds.