Making the Grade: Reliance on Outside Approval
Making the grade is all about doing what the teacher tells you to do, for they have final approval of your work. Once you are out of school and (hopefully) in the workforce, all of that changes, if only slightly. You may have bosses or supervisors who have final say in your work, but other than that there is no one to tell you what to do anymore (or at least there shouldn't be). If you don't trust yourself to make the final decisions on your project, then what is the point of doing anything if there is no one to check your work anymore? In life, we are all just works in progress and so are our projects.
In essance, the work you do is all about pleasing others. This is virtually impossible to do. Everyone will have some critique or nitpick about your work, no matter how small. These can often be contradictory as well. You may find yourself in a situation where no matter what you are told to do, you are still wrong somehow. In any profession, this will be the case on a daily basis; it is especially true of the service industry, as the customer is always right but your boss is always more right, which means you are usually wrong). Written work, such as essays you learn to do in school at increasing levels of difficulty and with stringent rules and criteria, is the most obvious example. In the end, you know your work is good only if the teacher says so. Usually they say why, but much of the time this turns out to be subjective. For instance, different teachers have different rules by which they want you to abide, even in the same subject. You learn one set of rules a teacher wants you to follow, and then the next year you get another teacher who has you do something else entirely. It's not even a choice - it's their way or an F. Teachers, however, are subject to scrutiny as well. After all, they had to learn to play by the rules first - rules handed down to them by the government, their superiors, and any well-connected students who will have them fired if they give them a bad grade even if they deserved it.
Making the grade doesn't always guarantee future happiness. It is the unfortunate plight of secondary- and college-educated people today that working hard and keeping your nose clean and to the grindstone does not count for much anymore. If anything, your more outgoing peers hate you for getting better grades than them in school but excel at interpersonal skills and self-confidence in securing employment, leaving you in the dust despite all of your somewhat better academic qualifications. In some cases, they will even rub it in your face and kick you when you're down. It's who you know and not how well you do that can guarantee success, but those people have to be willing to help you. It would seem that life really is a popularity contest. No one gets by on merit alone anymore, despite what we are led to believe. The adults in your life won't accept any less than your best, and a lack of results due to the poor economy just makes them smash your head against the grindstone so hard that your nose snaps clean off. It's better than not trying, but you still wind up with the same result, minus one nose.
If nothing else, a good education must prepare you to be your own worst critic. It allows you to anticipate the criticisms of others, although nothing can prepare you for the harshness of those same people. Being hard on yourself is further compounded by others being hard on you, and all the little things add up and may cause you to snap, especially if you are a civil servant or an underappreciated pedagog. Anyone can write an editorial complaining about anything under the sun and post it online on their blog for free, but only those in the employ of an official periodical get paid a decent wage for it (and they all can get hate mail regardless of money); otherwise, anything you say can and will be used against you to make sure you never get a job anywhere doing anything. It's easy to feel sorry for yourself when the whole world seems to be against you, but at the same time it's also difficult to have any shred of dignity or self-esteem when no one will let you be sad because they are too busy being angry at you and making you feel ashamed or guilty about the way your life has turned out even though you did everything in your power to try to have a good life. In the end, we are all still bound by the same rules, even if people are always making exceptions for themselves and setting double-standards for others. Where possible, we should try to make our own rules as if we had the tenure to do so in order to give ourselves some solace. It takes courage to trust your own judgment no matter what anyone else thinks, even if you're never in a position where it is permissible for you to say, "I told you so, but you wouldn't listen."