Draw the Line: Know Where You Stand

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” — Mark Twain

I was in class the other day and the professor asked a room full of students an interesting question:

Would you rather take an A but not learn anything, or take a C and learn everything there is to know about this subject?

95% of the class raised their hand for the letter grade.

I was shocked when the girl next to me raised her hand. She’s in class 15 minutes before everyone, writes everything on index cards and studies them before the class starts, and has highlights and notes all over her textbook.

At first glance, it seems like she has the habits of a pro — a hard-working, dedicated student eager to learn. But when she raised her hand, it took me a while to realize I was shaking my head.

Whether you’re in the workplace or a classroom, just pause and look around you. Look for patterns, habits.

Do you conform with the amateurs — the people who want the easy way out, the people who seek immediate gratification? Or are you the type to commit to the long haul where you “take a C and learn everything”?

This is a valuable opportunity to become self-aware. If you find yourself on the amateur side, then realize it’s time to make some changes. You can escape this realization, but it’ll destroy you in the end.

As Steven Pressfield said in Turning Pro:

The force that can save the amateur is awareness, particuarly self-awareness. But the amateur understands, however dimly, that if she truly achieved this knowledge, she would be compelled to act upon it. To act upon this self-awareness would mean defining herself, i.e., differentiating herself from the tribe and thus making herself vulnerable to rejection, expulsion, and all the other fears that self-defitinion elicits. Fear of self-definition is what keeps an amateur an amateur and what keeps an addict an addict.

So ask yourself: What will help me evolve as a person?

Taking this step — differentiating yourself from the ways of the amateurs and committing yourself to the long haul — is a step of immense courage. If you take it, I salute you.

Once you harness this awareness, act upon it. Discard your irrational fears and the need for self-validation from others. If you continue with your amateur habits, you’re only squandering the most valuable asset that you possess: time.

So what will it be?

Do you take the sticker, the label that says, Look! I did a good job. I didn’t learn anything, but I still did a good job!

Or do you commit to the long haul, discard the the temporary label, and absorb the experience and knowledge around you to make you a better person?

Your choice.

5 Comments Draw the Line: Know Where You Stand

  1. Mark

    Very thought provoking; reminds me of the response I give when people tellme “you are too much” I reply, “yeah, but that is to make up for all the people who are not enough”…

  2. Armaan


    First of all I’d like to say, it’s a great article.

    Well.. myself as an self-learner going beyond formal learning and grades. I’d like to say, it’s an excellent eye opening article. You’ve explained it well.

    As you’ve mentioned, “At first glance, it seems like she has the habits of a pro — a hard-working, dedicated student eager to learn. But when she raised her hand, it took me a while to realize I was shaking my head.” — Liked what you’ve noticed. As people has tendencies to think this kind of dedicated pro students will choose higher grades over the learning. As I know when I was at school how I was at the eyes of classmates, teachers, and relatives and what they were expecting from me but they probably get real shock when even after getting high grades, I didn’t choose traditional higher education, but self learning (better say, different way of learning to learn more of what I’m passionate about) after a time and also choose a completely different profession (that i’m passionate about) that seems a risky bet for them. Thankfully I did it anyway.

    Your post is really encouraging for anybody who wanna take their first step to real learning, without caring of so called grades. Well done!..

    1. Paul Jun

      Thank you Armaan. Education is a 24/7 hour job. Some people stop after they receive that piece of paper, whereas others continue to do it for life. I appreciate your thoughts and comment.

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