The school system is designed to get you used to losing. Should we motivate the kids with money instead?
I was reading over my bio for some talk I was doing the other day, and I paused on the line, “Jon is a self-made millionaire, even though he failed high-school…. twice.”
It’s a standard line for me, but then I thought about it and rewrote it as, “Jon is a self-made millionaire BECAUSE he dropped out of high school twice.”
“Dropped out” is actually a nice way of putting it. Makes it sound like it was a choice. It was more like I was ejected, the way antibodies remove cancerous cells from the body, ejecting them through pussy wounds in the skin.
Or maybe it’s ejected the way a fighter pilot is ejected from a burning air-craft. (I like that story more. I’ll go with that one. )
School and I didn’t get along. And you could point to the spit-balls, the fighting, the arson allegations but really, these were all symptoms. I just didn’t know how to exist within the system.
And this is what saved me.
Of course I didn’t understand at the time. I was 17. I didn’t even know what ‘system’ meant. If you asked me why I had failed I would have said it was because the principal’s a dickhead and all my teachers are angry lesbians.
Of course that wasn’t the reason. But I was just too young to understand. All I knew was that school made me feel like shit.
Fast-forward a few decades, and now I think I’ve started to figure it out. The reason I was ejected from the wreckage of my burning school is that my principal was a dickhead, my teachers were angry lesbians, AND the schooling system is designed to acclimatise you to losing.
I’ll say that last bit again. The school system is designed to acclimatise you to losing. To being a loser. To giving up on your dreams, and accepting your fate as a quiet and pliable potato.
Think about the grading system.
The grading system is the feedback loop between the school and the student. It lets the student know how they’re going, and how they’re performing in the eyes of the school, and by implication, the eyes of the world.
But the system is rigged.
Imagine you get 95% on a maths test. Perhaps you forgot to carry one of the adverbs. That looks like a good score right. We’ve been taught to see that as a good score.
But what it really says is that you failed to achieve “right”. You got close, but you failed. “Perfection” was available, but you came up short.
Same story with grades like A,B+, C etc. It’s all relative to some ideal. What a perfect student would have done. The further you get from A++, the less ideal you are. The more of a loser you are. Until you get to C-, where me and my mates used to hang out. At that point you’re closer to total failure than you are to ideal.
50 shades of loser.
And that might sound like sour grapes come from where I sit. But I remember a young Asian guy in my class. His parents were refugees from Vietnam and they had drummed an incredible work-ethic into him. He was amazing. Every assignment looked like a hand-written invitation to the Queen.
He killed it. And then one day, he slipped up on something, and he got 95% on his test.
He was devastated. He burst into tears.
For the first time, he had tasted failure. The system told him that he was ‘wrong’.
And from that day on, like the rest of us, he had to get used to the system telling him he was a loser (to greater or lesser degrees) until we graduated, acclimatized to the idea that you can never win.
(We don’t like the cogs in the machine getting too uppity.)
While it was a painful process at the time (mostly for my parents), ultimately I was lucky to crash out of the system so early. The problem was that I was still there in the system, asleep.
But I still had a need to prove myself, so I turned to…
Not via investing, but by following what was taboo back then, my passion. For me, that was music and playing soccer. Fortunately enough, I was a good enough hack at both to make a bit of money to sustain myself.
I didn’t get my investment genes until 10-15 years later… another story for another time. But what I did learn at a young age was…
Money is a much better metric than %’s or grades. And that’s because there’s no upper limit.
So I started wheeling and dealing. From then on, 100% wasn’t my reference point. Break-even was. If I lost money, I felt like I’d lost. But if I broke even or better, I felt like I won.
And it’s not hard to do break-even or better, so slowly I got used to the feeling of winning. I liked it, and it drove me further and harder, til I was making big deals and enjoying big wins.
Something the school system never gives you, by design.
So my suggestion of course is that we should do away with grades and gold stars, and reward school performance with money. Less gold stickers, more gold coins. If we do that, our kids will slowly get used to the feeling of winning.
Or I used to think that. But over time, I saw that my sense of self-worth was becoming attached to whether my deals went well or not.
That’s not ideal either. I don’t want to enslave my happiness to success.
So what’s the ideal? I reckon its to give the kids a sense of self-worth that’s not attached to anything. Teach them to be totally self-sufficient.
Don’t look to some system to see whether you’re a winner or a loser (especially if that system is biased to telling you you’re a loser). Look within yourself.
Teach them that being awesome is its own reward.
And they get to chose what ‘awesome’ is.
Imagine how different the world would be then.
Do you have a process to educate your kids about money?
Are you leaving that work to today’s schooling system?
Is it even a priority for you?
Or are you too busy struggling with your own financial circumstances to even have the focus to help your kids be better at the conversation around money?