Education Myths that Misguide us in Life

Nine years ago I was back in school. This is when I discovered what I call, “Education Myths that Misguide us in Life.” I was getting my Masters in Positive Psychology (if it sounds a little fru-fru to you, I wish you could have been there when I first mentioned it to my husband, so you could have seen his face). He was among the family and friends who thought I was somewhere between mid-life-insanity and puzzling oddity. I tended to agree. Yet, I also knew this was a research-based approach to what I’d been studying and applying my whole life… so I just had to do it.

I dove in to what became the most exhilarating time of my career: I was having fun and the business leaders I work with loved the results they got from our new, positive approaches. Then something happened out of the blue.

An 18-year-old boy we knew died by suicide. I’ll call him Sam. Sam had lots of friends and had leadership qualities. While I don’t know exactly why he did it, I do know that many teens feel stuck and unsure about how to succeed in school and in life. Like many kids, Sam was searching for where he fit.

Sam’s passing, and learning more about him, as well as my own experiences as a student and a parent, led me to study strengths and gifts in young adults.

What emerged blew me away. The magnificence of these teens awed and uplifted me. I’ve shared some of that awe at UPenn and on my website.

The Gifts that Conflict with School™

I started by looking at teens who are not top students, kids in the bottom 80% of their classes. What I found is that they have within them already everything they need to be successful in life. It’s just that we can’t see it because we look through the wrong frames of reference, judging them by grades, test scores, competition and frameworks that don’t fit them.

In my study, I found what I call, The Gifts that Conflict with School™– a set of innate abilities that equip them perfectly for the future economy, for world, scientific, and business leadership, and for happy, fulfilling lives—and yet, are often in direct conflict with what is demanded of kids in school. When I looked at real-world success stories and leaders in different fields, I found huge numbers of people who are highly successful despite the fact they struggled in school.

Three Education Myths that Misguide us in Life

In the beginning, my study led me to understand what I call, “The Myth of the Bad Student™,” the first of three false myths that are widely believed about education.  The other two, what I call, “The Myth of the Good Student™” and “The Myth of the Best System™,” are causes of anxiety and depression in students at the top of the class.  Well-being and happiness are natural to young adults (and ourselves) when we let go of these false myths by adopting a better frame of reference.

Developing Leaders

While I studied young adults, I continued my work with adult leaders in business, medicine, entrepreneurial companies and other professions. For the past nine years, I felt as if I was riding two parallel tracks: the one that emerged from my study, calling me into work with communities and families, and my ongoing work with adult leaders. Each time I gravitated toward focusing on just one track, I got pulled back into the other.

Slowly, though, they have begun to merge more closely. The first step in integration was when a group of adults at the University of Tokyo wanted me to talk about my work with young adults AND business leaders.  With the help of my friend and colleague, Kaori Uno, we titled my presentation, “Developing Future Leaders: What School Hasn’t Taught Us” and this helped me knit together the threads from young adults and practices with business leaders.  I went on to share this with business groups.

The second step in integration resulted from a strategy offsite I facilitated for a leading-edge technology firm when leaders worried about a shortage of future talent. It was then that I realized that our myths about bad and good students have an impact on businesses, leading many to believe there is a shortage of talent, when it is actually a matter of tapping the hidden talent that already exists.

The third step in this journey emerged unexpectedly from a series of retreats over the past six months, for myself and for adult clients. What’s come to me is:

+  Education Myths are reflected in the ways we think and talk about students – but go beyond education and often continue to mislead us in life.

+ Understanding “The Gifts that Conflict with School™” can help even high-performing students and adults to be happier, more confident, and more successful.

Still Learning    

Until now, I had assumed my high-performing clients did not need to understand gifts that were in conflict with school—because they were high-performing, and unless they told me they had struggled in school, I believed these gifts were not relevant for them. I was wrong. I’m learning that the myths and gifts apply in the world of even the highest-performing adults.

What’s in it for You?

Recently, I wrote that measuring ourselves by an external standard creates stress.  The trouble for most of us is we have come to believe that these standards are the correct ones to evaluate ourselves against. For example, the education myths tell us that the external standards of grades, test scores, or college ranking are a reasonable measure of our knowledge, intelligence, motivation or worthiness.

A Better Frame of Reference

Grades, scores, colleges, job titles, ratings and wealth are external standards that do not reflect the best within us, and yet the world around us tells us these are all-important measures. Often they’re used to highlight what we believe are deficits in ourselves and others.

We can choose to step off this rat wheel and adopt a new frame of reference. If you start by seeing that we have been given three false Education Myths:

  1. If you’re not a top student, you’re lazy, dumb, or incompetent,
  2. If you’re not a top student, you’ll never get the life you want,
  3. If you’re not a top student, it’s you who are flawed, not our system,

then you can choose to stop believing them and instead replace them with truths that resonate with who you really are:

  1. There is nothing wrong with you, but sometimes you aren’t seeing what is right with you
  2. You have within you already what you need to live a happy, fulfilled, successful life
  3. There are as many ways to learn as there are people and you are always learning.

I see this with my professional clients as well. Education Myths often misguide us in life. They expand on the “not good enough” theme and go broader:

  1. If you’re not a top performer, you’re lazy, dumb or incompetent,
  2. If you’re not a top performer, you can’t have the life you want,
  3. If you’re not a top performer, there’s something wrong with you.

The statements that replace the education myths apply to the world of adults as well:

  1. There is nothing wrong with you, but sometimes you aren’t seeing what is right with you
  2. You have within you already what you need to live a happy, fulfilled, successful life
  3. You are always learning and sometimes you are in a place that isn’t the best fit for now.

©2016 Christine Duvivier All Rights Reserved


Photos: 1) J. Henning Buchholz 2) Levi Bare 3) Yasir Quazi on Unsplash