Adult education and the need to excel

An A- was unacceptable. An A, when an A+ was possible, was unacceptable. Anything less than the absolute perfect score was unacceptable. As a student, my standards for perfection were high. If 120% was possible through extra credit, and I only received 113%, I’d corner the teacher at lunchtime and ask what went wrong. Could I make up that 7%? Where did I go wrong?

In my unprofessional and untrained opinion, this is not a personality trait that suggests stability. It’s a personality trait that suggests an inability to relax and move on. Relying on external merit to define my happiness or feeling of accomplishment is problematic. At least, I think it is.

I may be an A student, but looking back on my K-12 and undergrad years, it occurs to me that, in the end, none of my grades materialized into anything more than a letter on paper. Apparently, they don’t matter and nobody but myself cared about them. An A indicates work ethic more than anything. Or obsession, which is more like what it felt like. So why did I stress so much? Why did I feel the need to get all A’s? Because I wanted external validation and approval. That’s why.

This is a habit I am working to drop. My MBA started last week and one of our first assignments was to write a 3-page paper analyzing the four primary organizational theory models, and then compare them to determine which is most influential in today’s business management practices (answer: Bureaucratic Organizational Model). By the end of the course, we will have written 8 of these papers.

First, fitting that prompt into 3 pages demonstrated to me how wordy I can be (or how detail-driven and thorough I don’t need to be). And second, it occurred to me that this paper did not have to be perfect or even proofread in order to pass. I could pound out 3 pages of whatever and likely get a C at worst, which is still passing and therefore acceptable. I could eliminate all the extra work and stress required to be “perfect,” yet still end up with the same MBA I’d get if I’d stressed and worked extra hard for the A. If the end result is the same, why make the path harder than it needs to be?

I’m getting an online MBA at 29. Life is happening around me. I have kitty litter to clean, sewer bills to pay, and science fiction books to read. My grades are not everything. In fact, they are almost nothing. All I need to do is pass and move forward and graduate so that I can add a new line to my resume and hopefully advance faster at work. Nobody cares about my grades except me. And if I don’t care, then literally nobody cares.

I find this incredibly liberating. So yesterday I pounded out those 3 pages of whatever and turned it in without reading it (this is also a great benchmark because if I do happen to get an A or B on that paper, I know how hard I really need to be trying!). I did the same for my discussion posts. In doing so, I eliminated the stress and pressure to be the best in the class or impress the professor. Because why bother? Adult education is not about being an A student. It’s about learning what I need to learn in order to move forward.

I’d almost argue that to stress about getting A’s as an adult is an irresponsibleĀ use of time and an indication that there’s a disconnect with reality. Considering grades do not materialize into anything more than an impressive report card, I think prioritizing them is nothing more than ego feeding. That’s what it was for me. I liked being an A Student. It’s a status symbol. But besides bragging rights, what actual benefit is there to getting A’s in graduate school? Might there be a better use of my time than proofreading papers and perfectly memorizing theories and data tables?

As a kid, we work to get good grades because our only responsibility is to go to school and learn and do well. It’s our job. Everything else in life is covered, assuming you come from a stable home environment. But as an adult, we have the rest of life to deal with as well. And in my opinion, the rest of life is a lot more important than scoring 100% on a weekly quiz or writing that perfect paper.

So not only am I committing to taking this MBA one course at a time (as opposed to the maximum 3 courses at a time), but I am also committed to taking it easy and just going for the pass. As adults with multiple responsibilities, we have limited and scattered time and energy. We can only push ourselves so far before we burn out. So if I am going to strive for something, I want it to be a lot more meaningful than getting an A in BUS 5113- Organizational Theory and Behavior.


Wife, yogi, and cat mama living in the SF Bay Area.

2 thoughts on “Adult education and the need to excel

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