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How to survive in a post-report card world

Report CardReport Card (Photo credit: AJC1)

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Women Need to Realize Work Isn’t School.” It can be summed up by this one simple but kind of radical idea: “In school, being disruptive might get you sent to the principal's office, but in business, disruption is a proven path to success.”

Having spent my whole life as a good, well-behaved student, this really caught my attention. But to be honest, I think it’s much more than a woman’s issue...

Many of my peers are a handful of years removed from college. Most of our lives have been dictated by a system that favors following the rules, picking up on what others expect of you and generally doing what you can to make interactions as painless as possible.Those things are good; disruption is bad. Or so we’ve been trained to believe!

However, many young professionals - both male and female - graduate and enter the workforce only to find that the skills that propelled them to the top of the class may just be holding them back in the office.

So what’s a YP to do? The article offered five suggestions to “disrupt yourself,” and I’d like to adapt them to apply to this young professional demographic as a whole. So here are their tips with my take:

1. Their tip: Figure out how to challenge and influence authority.
My take: It’s not about making others happy. It’s about trusting your ideas and being confident enough about them to stand up and challenge the status quo. Instead of working your tail off to figure out what your boss wants from you, figure out what you can solve, on problems they haven’t even thought of.

2. Their tip: Prepare, but also learn to improvise.

My take: If you were the studious type who spent long hours in the library and felt well-prepared going into every exam, this one’s for you. Believe in yourself! Take a chance. Speak up in that meeting. Volunteer to do something out of your normal comfort zone. It’s scary, but it’s bound to pay off.

3. Their tip: Find effective forms of self-promotion.

My take: In school, you got a report card to validate your exemplary performance. In order to make an impact in your office, you have to work hard, perform well and make sure people know about it. It’s easier said than done, but if you can master it, you’ll go far.

4. Their tip: Welcome a less prescribed, full of surprise, career path.

My take: Our whole pre-adult life, our lives are on a fairly straightforward path... We go from 1st Grade to 2nd Grade to 3rd Grade; from Algebra 1 to Algebra 2 to Pre-Calc; from elementary school to middle school to high school. Real life doesn’t work like that - and that’s OK! Most careers paths are a lot more random. In fact, millennials are projected to hold 14 jobs by the time we’re 40. Once you accept that, you can welcome the surprises and see them for the great opportunities they are.

5. Their tip: Go for being respected, not just liked.

My take: This one is especially hard for those rule-followers. In business, your ideas aren’t always going to be popular and you’re not always going to please everyone. However, you can have an opinion and gain the respect of your colleagues, and in the end, respect is always better than popularity.

The working world is not the classroom, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave all of those skills behind. The most successful will be the ones who can blend the skills of the school place with the skills of the workplace. A bit of both will help you get ahead.

-Emilee Richardson
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Well said, Emilee!

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