From the time we’re in kindergarten until we graduate, we’re taught there’s always a right answer. The grades we receive are external validation of our efforts. Whether it’s fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice or even a opinionated essay, we’re conditioned to seek out the accurate answer and be rewarded for it. That’s why I had a meltdown after graduate school when suddenly the “real world” hit. Because in that scary, ambiguous place, “right” answers melt away and are simply replaced with an array of choices.
Now bear in mind that I loved school. I loved learning and flash cards, taking notes and yes, even taking tests. Why? Because I loved the cause and effect. I knew that if I studied hard, spent enough time staring at my notes and memorizing flash cards, I was rewarded with good grades. In short, I could control the outcome. Sure, there would occasionally be an unfair question pulled out of thin air and my grade would reflect an outlier that insulted my efforts, but generally speaking, I knew how to play the game and played it very well.
While that's all fine and dandy, I also quickly adopted a confidence that relied on validation from others. My need to make good grades was as essential as my need to be liked. I looked to everyone and everything else in order to make myself important. I waited with baited breath to see if the opinion-based term paper I wrote on some dead philosopher was right.
Needless to say, the "real world" hit me like a pound of bricks. When I founded I AM THAT GIRL, I remember the struggle I had without grades. Wasn't someone going to tell me I was doing a good job, that I had earned an "A" in entrepreneurism? Or better yet, if I was failing miserably at leadership with the 23 interns working out of my apartment? And it wasn't just work where I so desperately needed validation. It was also in relationships, how I handled fights with my friends, my dedication to getting my butt to the gym on a regular basis along with choosing that salad over a greasy burger and fries.
I wanted stickers, check pluses and gold stars. Then it dawned on me that we do trade in our need to have right answers because hopefully, somewhere along the way, we learned a lot of stuff during all those years to help us make good choices. Not right choices, but good ones. I realized that at a certain point we get to ask ourselves, "What do I want?" And more importantly, we get to answer. Life isn't about getting things right; life is about making the best choices we can. It also means making some bad ones and learning from them, so we don't make them again.
There are a lot of questions in life. Is this job the right one? Is this guy the right one? Should you move to this city or that one? Should you go back to school, marry the aforementioned guy, break up with him, lean in, walk away, work harder, relax more, buy that new car or save your money? Looking back, school was easy. It's easy when a right answer exists. Life is so much more mysterious, illogical, unpredictable and variable-heavy, but you get to decide who you'll be and what you'll do. So, have faith in yourself, be your own critic and hand out gold stars to yourself whenever you see fit.
Image courtesy of Techinvestornews.com