Warning: Those A’s You Made in College May Actually Hurt You in the Real World

You worked hard in high school and you got into the best local college. You had a good time in college, but you also spent a fair amount of time studying while many of your peers drank themselves silly.

You’re a few years out now. You have a decent job and you make an okay salary. After a long day, you complain to a friend and they remind you that the economy isn’t very strong right now and that you should be thankful you have a job.

You know that on some level they’re right, but you still can’t help feeling unfulfilled. This is especially true when you check your Facebook feed and some of those idiots who spent four years half drunk and skipping class on Fridays seem to be loving their job and earning a great salary.

First, stop comparing yourself to other people. Half those people are still partially drunk, $50,000 dollars in debt and want you to think they’re happy.

Second, some of those people that you thought were clowns and asshats really are happy and they really are earning more than you. How’s that for a reality check?

So what do they know that you don’t?

Let’s come back to that.

First, let me tell you a story…

I’m good at school. Really good. In fact, here’s the transcript of my final semester, including my final GPA in undergrad:

Ryan's College GPA

I made 2 B’s in college.

As a result, I’d advise against living with someone who encourages you to drink a 6-pack of tall boys every night and to refrain from disagreeing with your professors in religious studies classes. The combination is a recipe for B’s.

I don’t want this to sound obnoxious, but college was really easy for me. Professors gave you a syllabus at the beginning of the year with exactly what they wanted you to read and learn. They usually gave you a rubric or some other documentation that let you know exactly what you needed to do to acquire that elusive “A.”

Let’s get two things straight:

1.) For 95% of jobs, your grades in college don’t matter.

2.) Your boss doesn’t give you a rubric in the real world.

Here’s the truth: You have been indoctrinated. Go to a good college, make good grades, follow the rules and companies will take care of you.

Psssst… The industrial revolution is over. The fortune 500 company that your Dad works for is almost assuredly going to try and fuck him out of half his pension.

And he worked his ass off, 55-60 hours every week. You’re an entitled brat who values work/life balance. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that, BUT if your Dad poured 55 hours a week worth of sweat into a place for 30 years and is getting fucked over, what do you think they’ll do to you?

Let’s go back to the question I asked earlier…

What does the collegiate underachiever now making six figures know that you don’t?

She knows that it’s not about asking for permission. He  knows that it’s not about memorizing the most facts or being handed a map.

They know it’s about confronting the things that scare them. They know that failure is temporary and part of the process.

Don’t ask your boss for a template. Take your best stab at it.

A buddy of mine, Ryan Holiday, put it better than I ever could: Find and make canvases for other people to paint on.

It’s a different mindset than making other people look good, an approach that tends to imply a lot of ass kissing and ceding credit. Instead it’s finding the direction someone already intended to head and help them pack, freeing them up to focus on their strengths. The canvas strategy involves actively finding outlets for other people – in fact, actually making them better rather than simply looking so.

 Stop waiting for someone else to pick you. Stop making excuses. Refuse comfort. Refuse stagnation.

Most importantly, stop waiting for someone to tell you what an “A” looks like, what success looks like. Trust me, I get it. I still find myself wanting someone to tell me exactly what to do so that I can meet their expectations.

The problem with that is that you never exceed their expectations. Understand your bosses challenges, anticipate their needs and deliver solutions before they ever ask for them. That’s how you get promoted.


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  • GREAT post on so many levels, Ryan. I just stumbled this so more can see it.


  • Jules

    Hah! This post was written just for me. So far I’ve been a straight A student for my last three years in college. I’m setting up to get my first B because I finally realized (and it only took three years), that it’s dumb to tie my self-worth to my grades. I’m using the extra energy to focus on growing my business, way more fun and way more meaningful.

    Great post Ryan!


  • Micah

    Great job on this Ryan. I couldn’t agree more!