If you suddenly feel like the entire world is against you after university, read this.
Meet Betty. A hypothetical graduate who just got out of the university with flying colors. Betty’s entire academic career had been a very successful one. From her school time, she was focused on getting into an Ivy league, which she easily got in. She maintained a spotless academic record before leaving the university with flying colors. It has been some time since she left university, and now, she struggles to hang in. Though she was looking forward to her professional career before, now she wishes she were a student.
Sounds familiar? With some minor changes here and there, this story resonates with a lot of people. Despite how successful or not you were in your academic life, most of us see those times as “simpler times” and wish we were the same. I used to think this happens because of all the amazing memories you had in those wonderful years. But there is more to it than mere nostalgia. And to understand that, I recommend the book Range by David Epstein.
In the book, David talks about how our education systems reflect a kind world. About how it trains us in a particular way that does not reflect the real world. A kind learning environment is, by definition, a student-friendly learning environment. The rules of engagement are straightforward and well documented — You first get to grade one, learn the alphabet and move to the second grade to construct sentences. It does not happen the other way around. The reward system of a kind learning system is uniform across the system — Everyone sits for the same exams and is graded through a moderated scheme. Every day is almost similar to the day before — Though the education material changes as you progress in school, a day at school remains almost the same.
Not only academics. Even most of the extracurricular activities (including sports) too function under the kind learning principles.
However, the narrative changes as soon as you enter the real world. You start to realize that rules of engagement are not defined anywhere. When some people become successful following a determined path, someone else fails miserably doing the same. There is no lucid user manual to show you a guaranteed course to success.
Side note — If someone tells you that there is a well-detailed path, they are probably trying to trick you. There is no clear set of instructions. You just must find your own way.
In wicked learning environments, you seldom get rewarded proportional to the effort you put in. No matter how hard some companies try to standardize the reward systems, there will always be some ambiguity when it comes to rewards. Even a highly controlled institutes like armies, the reward system will always have a subjective element to it. Therefore, the hard work and time you put in could go un-noticed while something you never expected to gain traction might turn out to be a big deal. For someone who spent their entire lives in a kind learning environment, this can be a massive deal-breaker.
Finally, every day in life is not like the day before. In a kind learning environment, your progress depends on how consistent you are replicating the same tasks repeatedly. Even when you play a sport, the more you practice the same, the better you will become. However, in life, if you are spending every day like every other day, that means the opposite of progress. This means you are stagnating in the same place.
If you want progress, you need to consistently keep your life on the edge of your comfort zone. No two days will be the same in a wicked environment.
Research suggests that the adaptability of a person is a dominant decider of their career success. The challenge of change in the learning environment is universally affected to anyone. However, the effects of it might vary, depending on the national education policies of each county. And on how we spend those years in school.
While changing the education policies of a government is a long shot, three are so many things you could do by yourself to become more “wicked world friendly”. Out of all, acknowledging the change is a powerful first step. When you have played by the rules and instructions for so long in your life, and suddenly you enter a world where there are no clear rules nor instructions, it could become a hard pill to swallow. You get furious at all the inconsistencies. You may start to revolt against the system where there is no such system in the first place.
Instead of trying to bring order into the chaos, you can try and live beyond that. Accepting the inconsistencies is the best way to move forward. For example, you may not be getting recognized proportional to the effort you currently put in. Maybe your efforts go unrecognized in your place of work while people who put much lesser effort (at least in your eyes) are becoming stars. This is a classing wicked world example most people struggle in.
The impulsive reaction would be to try and change it because you believe you deserve more. The room for success in such situations is very minimal. In most instances, nothing will change except for you getting frustrated. Instead, if you try and understand the behavior of a wicked world where all jobs are not equally standardized respective to their effort, you have the chance of making better judgments. Instead of losing your hair trying to change others, you can accept it and look for such opportunities.
Another practical approach to getting a head start is to create interactions with the outer world before deep diving into it. Try to leave the bubble and get exposed to the world out there. This could be through internships, small gigs, voluntary work, or even full-time jobs.
Although I try my very best to give some sense to a very complicated social structure, there is much to it than what anyone could put to words. Each situation is very different from the other, and there is no definite “one side fit for all” kind of a solution. If there was one such solution, we would not be calling this a wicked learning environment.
My effort today was not to provide you a guide. That defeats the whole purpose. However, I do hope that this will help you see the world through a new lens that makes your life a little easier.