This essay first appeared in This Singaporean Life (subscribe!), a newsletter I sent out every Sunday (SGT) where I share my weekly musings on work and life in Singapore.
Have you heard of the older generations (Baby Boomers and Generation X) commenting about how the younger generations (Y or millennials and Gen Z) are not as smart despite the latter’s often extensive education?
There are also debates about how diplomas and degrees are a lot easier to attain nowadays, implying how education doesn’t equate to intelligence and capabilities.
In fact, I’ll have to admit I don’t even remember learning much during my polytechnic days, partly because of my gaming addiction then. Also, I wasn’t putting in much effort, but somehow, I managed to scrape through.
I believe many people can relate to that. After more than a decade of education, how many of us think schools teach us valuable knowledge?
Most of what we learn at school can’t be applied in real life, anyway. Look at the mathematics syllabus, and you’ll know what I mean.
No, I’m not saying education and schools are useless, yadda yadda. I’m saying how our education system is focused on results and often ignore the processes, which are actually what really matter in our daily lives.
In poorer countries, most children worry about an empty stomach or not having a proper education.
In Singapore, our biggest fear as a kid is receiving our report books or cards back because then we’ll need to get our parents’ signatures as proof of their acknowledgement and knowledge of our results. How ironic.
Because of that, most of us grow up worrying about results more than anything else.
My parents would either restrict my entertainment time or even bar me from playing my Game Boy Colour or confiscate the keyboard and mouse so I couldn’t play the computer when my results were “below standard”.
While the above situation might seem minor and even ridiculous to mention, I think our (modern) education system spawned generations of people who are more focused on results than anything else.
Getting good academic results is typically tied to how well we follow the school rules, not so much of how well we understand when it comes to solving problems in the real world.
Maybe that’s why so many university graduates out there struggle at workplaces where everything is dynamic and fluid. Simply put, the number of A’s they get isn’t correlated to the quality of their problem-solving skills.
It might be a stretch to say this, but most procrastinations stem from our inability to map out the actions needed to reach our goal. We look at the insurmountability of the goal and defer it.
It’s not hard to understand why.
We’ve spent more than a decade of our lives solving academic problems, which we would either figure out after flipping through our textbooks or if we don’t, someone will give us the answers.
There is precisely where the issue lies. The answers are almost always given to us in some way.
Because of that, we feel entitled to answers, and later on in life, results. We think to ourselves, “I’ve gone through so many years of education, getting those A’s and accolades. I deserve this, at least!”
After years and even decades for some, we’re suddenly faced with problems we can’t seem to solve, when the biggest problem of all, is ourselves.
Do you have friends who blame “the system” whenever they don’t get their way? Or are you guilty of it yourself too?
I used to think I was entitled to a decent-paying job, whatever that means, among many other things. I wanted results, and I didn’t want to put in any work. Effort is boring.
I had to learn through ups and downs about the harsh reality of life – results are dependent on how much effort we want to put in.
And the most efficient way of getting more results with the limited time and effort we have every day is to focus on the processes. When I get the processes right, results will come automatically.
It’s tedious, dull, and even painful. But the only way to get results and reach our goals is to work towards it, step-by-step.
The path is often filled with uncertainties, but if we have processes to fall back on, it doesn’t matter what the problem is, we’ll still find the solution and get the results we want, including academic problems, in fact.
That’s probably why some academics and professors succeed in their careers while others stagnate and even fail to get tenure.
Call to action
We all want results; we all want to reach our goals. But we often underestimate what it really takes to achieve our goals.
Instead of looking ahead at how far the finish line is, it’s more important to focus on developing processes to achieve our goals.
Another way to look at it – map out the action steps, even if it might seem rudimentary or even obvious.