Growing up, teachers had a lot of opinions about how we should behave, what we should do, and what matters in life. Here are a few of those things I was told over the years, and whether I feel it applies in the working world.
Something they told me was important, but isn't:
Grammar and spelling are important for success in life.
I wish this were the case, but it isn't. Teachers were always sticklers for grammar and spelling. From the first grade teacher who quipped, "I don't know, can you?" in response to the question "Can I go to the bathroom?", to the frustrated college professor forced to spend an entire lecture teaching college seniors about the basic rules of sentence structure that they should have known since the third grade, teachers have always valued grammar and spelling.
I had one professor who had very high expectations for essays his student produced. He was also a rather tough grader compared to what I expected in college. I had three classes with him, and in each class, he would talk about percentages and grades. He would draw up a chart where 93-100 was an A, 85-92 was a B, and so on, higher standards that most have come to expect. Then he would explain he was using a more lax system, which wound up being the standard 90-100, 80-89, etc.
I earned several an A- on several essays that would likely have been an A if I had started them earlier instead of rushing over the last day or two. The A- came from small grammatical errors that would have been easy to notice if I didn't rush things as I did. While I always took pride of the ability to pound out 10-page essays over a single weekend, perhaps I would have been better off if I was more careful and cautious.
In the real world, grammar and spelling don't seem to matter as much as I hoped they would. Back in elementary school, I was placed a year ahead of my grade in spelling because of how much I excelled. By the 6th grade, I had to get custom books just so I could continue to take spelling tests. So personally, I wish that grammar and spelling mattered more in the real world. But they don't.
People that have a poor command of the English language still seem to get high-paying jobs and find great success in life. Blizzard's World of Warcraft writers consistently use its where they should use it's, and they have a job that millions of nerds would do for free.
As much as I'd like to believe my good spelling and strong grammar helps me in life, I have come to accept it as a trait that teachers overvalue compared to the general population.
Something they told me was important, and is:
It is important to be punctual.
Punctuality is something that is ingrained in us from a very young age. Roll call is taken seriously, and students that come in late are usually reprimanded. Unlike grammar and spelling, punctuality is very important for success in the working world. If you are expected to show up at the same time every day, that is something that you need to do. Even if you have a reasonable excuse, being late to work is something that can really harm your reputation, and thus your career.
I have been late in some situations where it really held me back. One time was for a job interview, which obviously did not go well. I was just finishing up my final semester at St. Mary's and drove down to the Michael's Arts and Crafts in Sunnyvale for an interview. But I had misjudged the traffic and ended up about five minutes late. And the interview was over the second I got there. They said because I showed up late, they weren't interested in me. To be honest, I don't think I would have enjoyed that job. I had worked at a Michael's the prior fall (2007) and I probably got 16 hours a week on average. It was supposed to be a stockroom position but given my lack of strength I ended up mostly doing menial tasks like sweeping and returning shopping carts.
And I ended up getting another job selling funnel cakes at Great America, which was a lot more fun than going back to Michael's would have been. But the point still stands. Your teachers were right; punctuality is very important in all walks of life.
Something they told me wasn't important, but is:
Being popular and having great social skills isn't that important.
I grew up being told that popularity didn't really matter in the long run. That hard work and determination would win out in the end. But in reality, this is not the case. Being popular, or at least having good social instincts, is vital for success in both personal and professional affairs. Sadly for me, I am not able to hide my socially awkward nature, and thus other people are able to sense that I am a bit "off", or tend to think I am nervous and unsure because of my rapid rate of speech.
This probably applies more to retail jobs than more career-oriented positions, but social skills matter in all walks of life. People who are amicable and able to get along with anymore will have an easier time than those who struggle to make connections or make others feel uncomfortable.
I wish that this weren't true, but I must admit that it is. I know for a fact that my poor communication skills have cost me promotions, or at least made it easier for managers to select someone else over me. This was very much the case at AMC Theatres during the spring of 2006. They were looking to promote a couple more people to the shift lead position. Frankie and I were selected to each over half the theatres as a lead usher.
Right away, it was frustrating. Frankie continually tried to commandeer my position, asking me ridiculous questions and frustrating both the associates and the managers with his attitude. We ended up having an awkward "meeting" with the managers who discussed about how the General Manager didn't gloat about his position, and barely dressed any differently than the other managers. A couple minutes later, the main manager in charged pulled me aside and explained that the meeting wasn't for me, but I was present so Frankie wouldn't feel bad about what they were telling him.
But despite that, it didn't work out. I did well enough on my performance review to get a raise that April, but I never got another opportunity to be a shift lead. And when I applied for other openings in the future, I wouldn't even get an interview. Perhaps if I had kept my cool around Frankie when I was worked to work with him, it would be different. But more likely, my limited availability during the school year [weekends only] made me an undesirable candidate for a leadership position, regardless of any communication issues I may have displayed.
Long story short, social skills matter more than your teachers said they did.
Something they told me wasn't important, and isn't:
Your personal problems don't matter that much, and you need to put them aside when you come to school/work.
This is something that I have heard at many different jobs. Not because I've had attitude problems that caused me to receive lectures, but this is usually one of the first thing companies cover during training sessions. You have to display a positive attitude at your job, even if you are having difficulties. Whether or not these difficulties are work-related doesn't really matter. Displaying a poor attitude is going to hurt your career no matter the source of your angst.
I've never really had any issues with depression, so I've almost always been genuinely happy at work. Even when things weren't going well, I was able to live in the moment and focus on my job. That's not to say I haven't had bad days and frustrating situations.
The worst time would be one rude guest at AMC Theatres. I've dealt with many rude guests over more than three years at AMC, but most of them were easy to satisfy. If the movie they wanted to see was sold out or they missed the most convenient showing, I took the time to tell them about other movies I thought they'd like. People in those situations were easy to please.
But one "guest" in May 2014 was probably the worst I've ever experienced. We were badly understaffed, and the lines were longer than usual for the usually quiet AMC Cupertino 16. I was doing my best to take orders, but that wasn't enough for this man. As I took his order, he claimed that he owned several restaurants, and that he would fire me if I worked for him. I quietly [but angrily/awkwardly] told him I hoped all his restaurants failed, and then told him Brent Smith of Shinedown told him to kill himself. Had I left it at the first remark, I might have had a longer career at AMC. But that second comment did not go over well. The manager had me write down what happened, and a couple weeks later, I was terminated for this situation.
Had I been able to maintain composure and not let it get to me, things would have worked out better for me. And I still can't believe that an asshole like him would own restaurants. But maybe being an asshole helped him attain success in life. I still hope his restaurants fail, to be honest. He was a terrible person, and people that treat service workers as poorly as he treated me do not deserve my respect. But in a retail environment, you have to show them respect, even if they don't deserve it. I treated him how he deserved to be treated, and that cost me a job that I loved.
In the end, I got other jobs and am now in a better situation. But it is still best to check your personal problems at the door when you are in the professional or educational world. That's all... for now.
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