Most school systems teach their students that good grades are necessary to become successful in life.
Good grades lead to good colleges, and good colleges lead to good jobs, and, ultimately, good jobs lead to a higher income.
Although most research supports this idea, experts in psychology and business have long argued that success requires more than just academic excellence.
Not Everyone Had It Easy
Some of the most famous success stories start with failure; think Bill Gates dropping out of college or Steve Jobs’s 2.65 high school GPA.
Although not everyone goes on to be a multi-millionaire, many people do experience accomplishment and fulfillment after having a rough start at school.
Learn what other traits can contribute to later happiness from the success stories of these ordinary people.
1. It’s never too late to try again
When prompted to share his own success story online, this user revealed that they had originally performed very poorly in both high school and college.
The shadow of their bad grades had gnawed at them until their early thirties, at which point they decided to return to higher education. This time around, however, they chose to do things a little differently.
During their second attempt, this user chose to take college courses as a student-at-large. In other words, they earned credits by attending classes one at a time without earning a new degree.
Per their account, this low-stakes environment helped them thrive: “The motivation I had to do well in these was incredible.”
After a while, the user was able to attend graduate school with the new transcript of marks they had earned. In their words, “No one cared that I had gotten poor grades ten years earlier.”
2. Find a learning style that works for you
A Redditor from India shared their experience growing up with a school system prioritizing memorization over understanding and applying knowledge.
Despite having earned low grades in K-12, this user found that they flourished in university research departments. These are environments that encourage intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and analytical problem-solving. “My grades improved massively as I could apply what I learned,” they explained. This learning style is known as ‘practical learning.’
After finishing their undergraduate degree, they moved abroad to study for a master’s degree and Ph.D. Currently, this user works as a scientist and enjoys doing research. “I still curse my original country’s style of education,” they concluded in their post.
3. Good grades are no substitute for passion
One online commenter found that passion was more important than grades in the long run. As an example, they shared the deep contrast in career trajectory between them and their husband.
According to the user, their husband was never motivated to get good grades in college. The user consistently outperformed their partner in school and initially landed the “better” job upon graduation. However, they soon lost motivation and landed in stagnant roles that rendered their original skillset obsolete.
Conversely, the husband began working at an entry-level position in a sector that he was passionate about.
When working in an area that actually interested him, the husband soon excelled and climbed the ranks to reach associate director, at which point he received an offer from another company.
Because his workplace valued his drive and talent, the husband received a 40% pay increase as a counter-offer and now heads his own team at the company.
“So, in summary: grades are b*******, and it’s more important to find something you enjoy and are good at,” the commenter advised fellow Redditors.
4. Make the right connections
A Harvard astronomer revealed that they had always been an average student throughout high school and college.
Despite studying diligently, they floundered during exams and earned primarily Bs and Cs.
By university, they realized their best chance at increasing their grades was through their homework. As a result, they reached out to their professors in order to ask questions and work on their problem sets.
These relationships with faculty transformed into a summer job offer at a research lab. When applying to graduate programs in astronomy, their connections and research experience made them a valuable candidate.
Now, they are studying their post-doctorate at an Ivy League school and offered a few words of encouragement for other STEM students.
“I always make it clear to people that you don’t have to be a straight-A student to make it in STEM. Doing that would have definitely helped, but it wasn’t going to happen for me, and ultimately if you’re passionate about your topic enough to work extra hard at it, you can also succeed. Don’t count yourself out too quickly.”
5. Find the right environment for you
Lastly, one Redditor told the story of how they’d struggled to earn a high-school diploma until the age of 22.
After attempting and failing a couple of IT programs, they finally began job-hunting at 26 years old. However, as soon as they began working, their prospects began to change for the better.
Once faced with the day-to-day issues of a workplace, this user found a passion for interpersonal connections, problem-solving, and learning practical skills. Their improved performance increased their self-confidence.
Years later, they now have a well-paying job as a senior system engineer at a large multinational company.
“So… Bad grades? It did not affect my career at all. … I’m now rather proud of my accomplishments (especially as being so bad at school left so many people thinking I was dumb), and my apocalyptic grades add a nice backstory when discussing my career.” They did stress, however, that they consider themselves extremely lucky.
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I'm an Irish tutor and founder of TPR Teaching. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK, Spain, and online.
I love learning new things about the English language and how to teach it better. I'm always trying to improve my knowledge, so I can better meet the needs of others!
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