If you are a frustrated entry-level employee, this article will hopefully give you a solid idea that can challenge the way you perceive your working environment. On the other hand, professionals with 3+ years experience would possibly find it a waste of their time.
How school shapes our brain for approval seeking
My memories of school are sporadic, mainly because most of them aren’t so pleasant. I wasn’t a good student, didn’t study daily, so as you can guess, I received a substantial amount of disappointment from my teachers and parents. When I did study the lessons I enjoyed more, like physics for example, I wanted to participate as hell. To be acknowledged by the teacher was a flush of positive emotions that all the classroom was going after. It was like drinking coffee with sugar after a three day-pause. The difference is that when you are a kid, you don’t realize your addiction.
Apart from the potential verbal reward from the teacher, there were several mid-term, monthly and even smaller weekly tests. Each test participated in a percentage in the final grade. Think of it like a babushka, except for the fact that babushkas are cute and don’t have the capacity to tell if you studied last night. All that seemed to matter was the next test — consumption of information (passive-absorption mode) following by the ability to recall it in the following exam. Critical thinking and creative learning was a ship cruising far in a distance that can’t even see (let alone rescue) the students on a small island called “we have to follow the educational program of the ministry” (it’s a working title).
It was like a secret deal was signed. Students have to comply with the absorption-mode in full, and they would get rewarded verbally in the classroom and the final tests. Rest assured that I blame the school system just as my unwillingness to participate in that.
University: The slow and steady swift away from absorption mode (if you are lucky)
The last two years of high school, I decided to participate more actively in the passive-absorption-mode school system so that I could gain entrance into the university. Maybe there is a ship that finally can get me off from this island. The paradox is that to get out; you have to follow the rules to some extent. I hoped that I would find something that can stimulate my interest and build fundamentals for several skills. Hopefully, my expectations were met by a great deal but still in many ways there was this underlying approval-seeking carried by the almost daily phrase in the lectures: “Is this going to be in the final exams?”.
But who cares?
Let’s focus on the positive side, the fact that, if you are lucky, some lectures makes you thing by solving problems and simultaneously discourage you from following the well-known path (highroad actually) of just consuming more and more information! The weird part is that we praise the importance of “problem-solving mode” but are we ready of it when it comes?
I recall a class called “Aluminum technology” and the way I reacted to the questions of the final exam. The questions presented real-life problems and asked for our solutions based on what we have learned. I was furious, and as you can guess, I wasn’t alone. All the students were puzzled at best. I doubt that any student who was being fed the passive-absorption mode for years is ever going to be ready for the swift to problem-solving mode. If you are lucky, your university might have some lectures and courses that can smooth your transition to the real world.
What to do with your f*cked up the absorption-mode brain?
By the end of your university studies, you will face two realities:
1)You will crave the acceptance of your colleagues and boss like you did at school from your teachers/professors and maybe other students.
2)You are in the “absorption-mode”, carrying a vast majority of the information but little practical knowledge about the world around you.
A few weeks ago a new employee, let’s call him John, who has been working with us for four months, resigned. Apart from other serious reasons that lead to his resignation, from the first day, John was sure that he could make some serious changes in the company. He didn’t miss an opportunity to point out the mistakes of several processes we have, even though he was at an entry-level position. Everyday something was out of place for him. Tracing the wrong-doings was more critical than learning practical skills and the way this company works.
Was he right for most of the times?
It doesn’t matter whether he was right or wrong. What mattered was that he forgot to take a step back and watch carefully the dynamics of the group that he participated in. Absorbed by the fact that he had to make some changes while anticipating the upcoming validation in case he succeeded, John forgot to pay attention, thus alienating himself. Neglecting the importance of the essential and practical knowledge he could gather by his mentor.
In his book “Mastery,” Robert Greene brilliantly explains the importance of taking a step back and control the feeling of wanting to prove yourself. Every feedback you receive (especially good feedback) at the beginning of your work won’t be potentially accurate. It is mainly based on the assumptions, and the expectations people project upon you. Better to avoid indulging in the comments you hear about your work and focus on finding a mentor who can help you learn practical skills and get in line the knowledge you gained as a student. At the first months of your carrier, you have to earn more by learning useful working principles than being self-absorbed and setting a goal to prove your self.
You might think that this advice is simple, maybe too simple to make an effort and apply it. Keep in mind that the totality of who you are is being constructed by simple small systems. When a minor system dysfunctions continually, a more serious problem will arise soon enough. It’s a dysfunctional mindset not to mention stressful, to carry the burden of “I have to prove myself.”