Sucking at (Business) School

They say university is really about learning how to learn. Everyone says it but nobody means it, or at least only with hindsight. No one currently studying is doing so to learn how to learn. So what is your intention?

To get a job that you love, so let's talk about that instead.

If you want to get employed in any industry, the most important thing you can do is be remarkable - someone worth remembering and someone worth talking about. You might get an interview or two based on grades, extra-curricular achievements, looks or personality - but to get hired you need to be special compared to the other candidates. Most people these days want to stand out by looking and sounding smart - this isn't a bad start. Smarts tend to lead you into doing remarkable things.

The only way to be smarter than people is to be really interested in what you do. Those smart people that you knew in primary school - they were just smart because by some fluke, they happened to be interested in what was being taught. There's some genetics and lots of parents who were good at getting kids excited about the right things as well, but mostly, they were interested. So that nerd who could answer everything in class? He used to read "The great book of knowledge" before going to bed... and I liked it.

Ultimately, people look smart because they're so interested in something that they just got good at it.

You may have been cruising because you never found school that interesting - you might even be an 'A' student who didn't give a shit. Maybe it doesn't have to be like that. The law degree that your parents told you to get so you could always get a job, 'have a skill to fall back on' and other lies isn't going to work out that well if you're not interested enough to be in that top quarter of students that actually get a decent job out of it. Even then, surprise! You have to work in an industry that you're not interested in - this sucks.

Now of course this doesn't apply to you, but think for a second how many people you know who are doing something because their parents think it's a good idea... A safe move... A sure thing? When we invest in something by spending lots of time and energy in it, we find ways to rationalise the decisions. You know that guy who's always defending that Android phone he got? These friends of yours might be doing the same thing with their education. Probably with the same reasons their parents gave them.

Any chance this could be you as well? Did you love any of your papers this past semester? Do you remember why you signed up for this programme? What if I told you we'd hire a kickass philosophy student over a BCom Llb kid any day? What if I told you some of the top firms in the world do this all the time as well?1

What matters is how much you can kick ass - all the professional talents you ever need in most jobs is the 101 stuff. I can teach you all the marketing knowledge you need to do my job in about 2 days - it is just hard to use it. You don't solve that challenge by getting a marketing degree though. You solve that by caring passionately and authentically about what you do - whatever that is. You need to relish the complexity of a new problem, get excited by a new idea and be rewarded by understanding something new. If you spend 4 years studying something that bores you - you just forget how to do that.

I sucked at this too. Commerce really seemed like a great idea at the time (management and marketing... how original). But it's funny how when you're in high school you don't really do much to find out what it will be like. Go talk to some some actual students - if I'd done that I might have realized that the majority of people in the field were bored underachievers getting by on smarts (or greed) rather than passion or any sense of enjoyment in working on hard stuff. By some fluke I did actually like a lot of the stuff I was taught, particularly in postgrad. My peers all thought I was weird though... To actually care about the content we were studying.

Like that should be so strange.

1 E.g. Bio-infomatics students who become investment bankers, Philosophy students who work at McKinsey, firms that only hire poets as managers, increasing number of pure engineers in management consulting.