Are You Trapped in Your Smartness….Or How Many Degrees Do You Need?

WARNING: The content of this blog post is not socially acceptable. You may want to consult your physician before reading it.

Several years ago I began noticing in my university classes that it was mostly really smart, high-achieving young women who experienced the highest degree of speech anxiety. What had worked for them academically, was not helping them with public speaking. They were fine with preparing a speech, but not with the actual speaking. And then I noticed the same trend in a number of private clients – they had been good students in school, but years later still suffered from irrational fears of judgment.

I had already picked up on the fact that my women students, overall, got much better grades than most men students. Not always, but ask any teacher whether more girls or more boys get higher grades….I promise you the answer is the girls. And the reasons for this are beyond the scope of this blog post, but I want to suggest that what makes girls great students in school, often holds them back after school.

Have you ever felt stuck, like life wasn’t really working the way you thought it should? I bet a  thought like this crossed your mind early on, “I think it’s time for graduate school.” And your friends and family applauded your dedication and smartness. After all, you know how to play the game of getting good grades.

The thing is, what works for getting good grades is essentially pleasing the teacher. Yes, I know that means learning the material, but it also means spitting it back at the teacher the way she wants it.

For some of you successful students, the decision that pleasing the person in authority has had unintended consequences. This process  ended up defining success so that years later you would experience feeling insecure, scared, irrationally anxious, without really understanding why.

That’s what happened to me. And I have got the degrees to prove it. I got an MBA way way back in the last century and never succeed in business until quite recently. This year I graduated with a PhD in Communication, yet confront regularly my own communication pitfalls. My recent success in business and feeling strong in my life has come despite my graduate degrees, not because of it. Not that I didn’t learn anything. I gained tons of fascinating and helpful knowledge, but getting the degrees did not fix the problems in my life that I thought they would. Its’ like thinking getting an MFA in creative writing makes you a creative writer.

The irony for me and many of my clients is this: what made us such good students in school – pleasing all those teachers – holds us back from getting the kick-butt results we know we are capable of and deserve in real life!

For years and years, I used to worry so much about my male students not doing as well in school, including my own son, but now I know…boys are not so easily convinced that pleasing others (like teachers) is such a good thing. How many men do you know who spend time wondering of someone approves of them?

The bottom line is….your degrees and your good grades are not the source of your power.

You start consciously creating your desired outcomes when you, and you alone, decide to step up to the plate and bat.

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2 responses to “Are You Trapped in Your Smartness….Or How Many Degrees Do You Need?

  1. Laura, this is a wonderful post and has hit so right on with me. I never would’ve thougth that it’s still a part of me, trying to get that A and I haven’t been in school for years! Thank you so much for this post!

    • This insight came through conversations with other people. It’s something so hard for a “product of the system” to see….but putting together observations over the years, I see how people, especially women, who might be described as perfectionist people pleasers, get rewarded in education, but not so much in the real world. That’s why we are so tempted to go back and get another degree!

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