How I Let The System Destroy Me

Back in high school and college, I used to be hyper focused on results. I remember specifically that all I really cared about was the letter grade; and if I learned along the way; great, but somehow that was never really the main objective.

This notion feels so unreasonably short-sighted to me now. The main objective was always to get an A; and I mean via any means necessary, and learning was secondary. In fact, I specifically remember times when I would literally not go to a single class during an entire course at WPI. I’d only go in for the tests, and then I’d legitimately pride myself on the fact that I still got an A.

It was simple: If attendance wasn’t required, I just wouldn’t go. If homework wasn’t required, I just wouldn’t do it. It even got so bad that I would literally seek out classes that didn’t require participation, and then I’d deconstruct the syllabus regarding the grade breakdown and percentages so that I could do the bare minimum necessary to get the grade that I wanted…

Instead of focusing on learning the material; and on accepting new challenges with a burning desire for personal growth, I would just slack off all semester until the night before the exams; pop an Adderall with a buddy, and then pull an all-nighter to cram for the exam.

Even worse, I would actually avoid all difficult courses and professors. If a course appeared to be difficult on the first day, I’d immediately drop it for an easier one. If a person told me that a particular professor was difficult, I would actively avoid all of their courses from then on; irregardless of my passion about their subject matter.

Full disclosure… It’s honestly hard to admit and acknowledge just how fucking stupid I was back then. Knowing what I know now, this approach to learning is pure lunacy. Even just typing this article right now has been extremely difficult for me. My entire focus in life back then was to take the easiest route possible.

“Do not go where the path may lead; but go where there is no path, and leave a trail.” — Les Brown

Rather than taking life head on: Facing my fears, finding my uniqueness, harnessing my personal power, and cultivating inner strength and courage; I was unconsciously sneaking out the back door in life. I took the coward’s approach without even knowing it, and here I am writing this article in a hope that you don’t do the same.

Not only was my approach to life and education wildly unhealthy back then, but it’s also just not how human beings learn. The brain is an incredibly complicated and complex organ; and most importantly, repetition is the mother of skill. In hindsight; with what I know now, my old “late night cram sesh” approach to learning couldn’t be worse…

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it; but in the end, there it is.” — Winston Churchill

Here’s the truth… All of the material that I crammed so desperately into my brain the night before an exam was only to be regurgitated the following day, and never actually retained for long-term use. A or not; degree or not, it doesn’t matter, because not learning doesn’t fucking help anyone…

I always wondered why the more advanced engineering courses were so difficult for me. Rather than accepting responsibility for my actions, and taking a good look into the proverbial mirror; instead, I just told myself a bullshit story of how I just wasn’t as smart as the other “nerdy” kids at WPI.

This wasn’t true at all though. It was all just me copping out and making excuses as to why they did better than me; when in reality, it was just because they weren’t getting blasted every other day, skipping class, and always waiting to the very last minute to learn the material…

Ladies and gentlemen; I had so many bad habits cultivated from my result-oriented childhood. Learning is; and always has been, a cumulative practice, and I’m just grateful that I finally woke the fuck up. Better late than never right!?

Bottom line… If we never master the fundamentals of any discipline; and build a strong foundation first, any advancement in the mastery of that discipline will forever seem impossible to us…

And even worse… Now we’ll sit back and look on in the awe of others who are more capable than us as if they’re some sort of superhero. We’ll wonder why they’re so blessed; we’ll make excuses and bullshit rationalizations as to why we can’t also do those things, when in reality, all we’re missing is the simple understanding of how learning and self-mastery actually works.

Why!? Because… For some unfathomable reason, we aren’t ever taught about mastery in school. We aren’t taught about the importance of process-orientation, rather than results-orientation; and if we are, it certainly isn’t focused on enough to really sink in.

All of my mistakes in high school and college are SO OBVIOUS to me now, but as always, hindsight is 20/20 right!?

As a kid; I just didn’t get it, and nor did I care. I had what appeared to be way more important things to worry about: Like my popularity, women, a kickass social life, binge drinking, drugs; and worst of all, seeking external validation regarding my reputation and what others thought of me…

Guys and girls… If I could go back, I would do things so differently. Did I pass all of my classes; yes (mostly, haha). Did I get both of my degrees from an incredibly reputable institution; yes, but at what cost!?

Here’s the thing… I am truly blessed. I was born into a free country, and in a town with a solid public education system. So many people in this world aren’t born quite so lucky. Even more importantly, the universe has provided me with this massive and powerful brain of mine; and honestly, how dare I squander that gift any longer…

I am so incredibly thankful that I finally woke the fuck up. There are people who would kill for the educational opportunities that I’ve had. I mean hell, I got to go to one of the best Engineering schools in the entire world for christ sake; and instead of being grateful and taking full advantage of that opportunity to maximize my potential, instead I partied my face off and squandered my greatest gifts…

“You’ll never solve your problems; you have to learn how to outgrow them.” — Wayne Dyer in Excuses Begone!

Who am I to squander my blessings!? Who am I to have taken my countless opportunities to learn and grow so lightly!? Who am I for drowning my powerful mind and body in constant toxins, vices, and useless distraction!?

Who am I for not locating and cultivating my talents to help others; and most importantly, who am I for not helping others to be allotted the same opportunities that I’ve had..!?

Nobody, that’s who… But never again!

“Talent is god given, so be humble. Fame is man given, so be grateful; and conceit is self-given, so be careful.” — John Wooden

And so here’s the million dollar question:

Why was I so short-sighted back then!?

As I always say; we must know better to do better, but what was it exactly that I didn’t know?

They say it isn’t what we don’t know that kills us in the end. What we don’t know hurts us a lot; yes, but what really kills us in the long run is what we don’t know that we don’t know…

First off, I take full responsibility for who I am; who I was back then, and who I am working to become, but that said, here’s my best analysis of the real issue:

Our American culture puts an insane amount of emphasis on results over process, and it’s right out of the gate during our childhood. The letter grade system itself is an indoctrinated method that forces us to focus on grades rather than on learning. Generally speaking, parents, teachers and colleges only really care about grades, and so kids inevitably do too. Grades are fine. They are an objective measurement that can be indicative of learning, but to think even for one second that grades paint the whole picture of a kid is pure ignorance…

Also, look at sports. The emphasis on win-loss records, trophies and championships appear to matter far more than the discipline, mastery and enjoyment of the process required to get there; but the process is really where the game is won, and not just in sports, but in all facets of life.

Kids are smarter than we think. They pick up on what we care about; and they look up to us, so they’ll value what we do. They pick up on everything we do and don’t do; and they see exactly what we value most, and so I’d argue that we are often valuing the wrong things in most cases:

“No written word, no spoken plea, can teach our youth what they should be; Nor all the books on all the shelves, it’s what the teachers are themselves.” — John Wooden

How can we expect our kids to want to be healthy when we aren’t? How can we expect our kids to get off the couch and exercise when we don’t? How can we expect our kids to want to read, learn and grow when we’re binge watching Netflix marathons!?

And most importantly, how can we expect our kids to focus on enjoying the process of self-discipline, when we barely have any ourselves; and even if we do, we’re still only looking at their grades and trophies, rather than on the process, enjoyment and necessary disciplines that it took to get there!?

In other words, we need to lead by example: A true leader doesn’t just point the way. A true leader leads the way, and learns how to provide guidance without causing distrust or resentment.

If we want to change this results-oriented culture, we first need to change ourselves. It needs to be consistently reinforced in our children that learning should be the top one, two and three priorities in school, and that self-discipline, fun and mastery are EVERYTHING. And not just once either; but rather, this notion must be constantly reiterated and emphasized in our own actions and mentalities too!

Honestly… A strictly results-orientated society just makes no sense at this point. If you’re in college right now; or planning to go to college, please don’t fall for this bullshit mentality. Please don’t piss away your hard-earned money and priceless time for A’s and a piece of paper (a degree) like I did. The degree honestly doesn’t matter in most cases. It doesn’t mean shit in comparison to what you learn and your ability to grow and expand as a person. What matters is what you know; and even more importantly, who you are.

And another thing… No one needs to tell you that you’re successful, or that you are learning. You know when you’re successful; and you know when you’re giving it your all to maximize your potential. You know when you are challenging yourself, learning and growing; and you know when you’re not…

“What we give is what we keep. What we fail to give is the only thing that we ever really lose in this life.” — Tony Robbins

Bottom line… Give your all in everything that you do; and remember, grades really don’t matter that much in the real world. Life doesn’t give out letter grades and pats on the back. Life doesn’t give us what we want or what we need even; like an A+ or a degree, life gives us who we are as individuals, and who we are is only predicated on our desire and ability to learn and grow each and every day. That’s what really matters in the long run.

Please please please… Don’t just avoid challenges like I did. Don’t just try to skate by on your intelligence and your talent. Don’t run away from difficult classes and strict professors. Don’t skip classes; take drugs, and cram for exams only to forget all the material later that night with shots of tequila. Don’t worry so much about girls, guys or popularity; and most importantly, forget once and for all about what others think of you. Only you can decide whether or not you’re good enough.

“The moment that you start living your life based on others people’s opinions of you, is the beginning of the end.” — Tyrese Gibson

The truth is that what we do, how we do it; and why we do it, all matter… So don’t fall prey to a system that unconsciously teaches us to focus only on one of the three…

In school; and in life for that matter, learning and growing should always be our main priority. Learning and self-development is the goal; and report cards and degrees should remain secondary, not the other way around!

Having big goals, dreams and designing a bright and compelling future is wonderful; and necessary by the way, but not at the expense of the moment. We must never cease to, nor forget, that it’s the process which brings happiness and fulfillment long-term — not the result.

“The road is better than the end. It is better to travel hopefully, than to arrive.” — John Wooden

We mustn’t forget that the journey, the climb and the process is where joy really comes from. I don’t care how great the result is; if you despise what you’re doing to get there, you simply aren’t living.

Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare!?

The tortoise focused on the process and calmly enjoying the race. The hare was shortsighted, arrogant, and all about the end result. Always be the tortoise. He’s the real winner!

It’s just so critical that we finally take back control. We need to re-learn how to keep our much-needed focus; and now more than ever with infinite distractions, on enjoying the process where it belongs. After all; as I’ve said many times: I’d much rather walk slowly and consistently in the direction of my dreams; than to do what most people do, and sprint in circles…

I hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks so much for reading, and please don’t hesitate to reach out on social media or email anytime (alan@alanlazaros.com). I look forward to meeting you all as soon as possible at a Live Talk (AlanLazaros.com); and never forget:

There’s a Superhero in all of us. Keep chasin’ dreams and bettering yourself every day. Humanity needs your uniqueness. After all… This world ain’t gonna save itself!