When I was in high-school, I had an interesting discussion with a guidance counselor. I was taking some pretty hard classes in school and I was getting so-so grades (B or C, not A). His advice was to take easier classes. I told him that I really liked to be challenged and I don’t think I would get better grades if I had easier classes. I confessed that the problem was that I was just lazy.
He persisted that my grades were going to be used as more of an indication of my intellect, and the challenge/difficulty-level of my classes would be overlooked. Basically, if I wanted to go to college, I needed good grades, not a good education. He told me that my grades made me look like an under-achiever and that was really bad.
After high school, I went into the US Army for a while and did okay. Some things, I did great but others, not so much. A few people gave me great advice about self-improvement, but I had trouble embracing it. I must confess that I was still a little lazy and I moved a little faster when a sergeant or officer was um, “motivating” me.
In college, things turned around. My junior year at U-Mich, my classes got pretty hard and the dean of engineering told me I had to bring up my grades or they would kick me out. I couldn’t believe it. What a wake-up call. I cancelled a lot of my leisure activities and replaced that time with studying. I even started studying things that I didn’t have to study. I started learning some really cool stuff and wanted to apply it.
After graduating, I kept applying this idea: I looked for things to do or learn, which went beyond what was asked of me. At work, I started looking for new ideas for learning and growth. I started looking for the things that needed to get done, but weren’t, or places where I could apply some newly-gained knowledge, to make something work-better or simplify something. It was pretty fun and satisfying.
Unfortunately, I got a little carried away and started paying too much attention to these other great/fun/rewarding things and not enough to the work that was assigned to me. My boss had to have a talk with me and set me straight.
It is funny about how these things come back around. I have also seen this among some of my co-workers. Some work is just so much fun to do, and some of it is boring and tedious. At work, you might begin to do the fun stuff and let the boring stuff slip a little. Maybe too much.
If you are thinking “this doesn’t happen to me”, then answer this question: What have you done for paperwork this month? Written any docs lately? How about your TFS check-in comments? I’m not trying to name names, because I’m certain we all do this sometimes.
My point is this: at work, you still get a grade. It just isn’t on a report card. It is good to be an overachiever, but don’t lose sight of how it affects your grade. Do your homework, study for the test, be thorough. Go for that “A”.