The One Thing That You Actually Do Learn In College
Growing up, I was a parent’s nightmare. I was super-rebellious and did what I could to tick my parents off. I’m not proud of this, but you can’t change your past; what’s done is done, as the saying goes. Going through high school, I did the bare minimum just to get by and going to college was not something I was looking forward to.
To me, it seemed pointless — what good is a degree anyway? So I decided to use my uncertainty about my academic future to get on my parents’ nerves. My parents are immigrants and in their eyes there is nothing as important in life as having a good education. And, to a certain extent, they were right. To another extent, I was right in thinking that a college degree is not much more than a fancy piece of paper. Nevertheless, I eventually decided to make them happy and go to school — but only as long as they helped me pay for an apartment in NYC.
I went to college for nearly 7 years. I did my best to stretch out the first few years, making sure to take the minimum amount of credits, taking a semester off here and there, going part time for a bit. After the first 5 years, I was able to find myself and developed a passion for knowledge. To me, college was about learning what you enjoyed learning — so I majored in English and Philosophy.
However, the most important thing that I learned in college was not the poetry of Keats, nor Kant’s theories involving maxims, but instead the undeniable fact that in order to succeed in school — as in life — you must learn to please your audience.
It’s a simple enough idea, but it has made all the difference in my life in the past two years. I went from averaging a GPA of 3.1 to 3.9, seemingly overnight. If you’ve had a chance to read some of my pieces, I am sure that you have gotten somewhat acquainted with my ego. Believe it or not, it has shrunken in size in recent years.
Before I came to understand how important it is to please your audience, I believed that whatever it was that I liked, that I thought was good was as great as I believed it to be. I felt as if my taste in things would be universally shared by everyone whom I came into contact with. Boy, was I surprised when I had to conclude that this wasn’t the way things worked.
The truth was that every professor had specific things they would like to see and have a specific way they like things done. Whether it’s the amount of class participation, the amount of jokes you can crack while speaking in class, the way you present projects or even the style of writing, each professor had a certain way they liked things done.
Not following their tastes and doing your best to appeal to them was a sure way of not getting the grade that you wanted — that you felt you deserved. Putting in the hours is not enough; you have to make sure that your professor, your audience, likes what they see. You may very well think that your work is crap, but it does not matter what you think. You are presenting your work to a person that has to grade it — has to buy it. If they don’t like what they see, then they won’t be making a purchase and all of your hard work will have gone to waste.
I say that this is the most important lesson that I learned in college, not because of how useful I found it while in school — although it was very useful. Now that I am out of school and am both working for an employer and working on my own entrepreneurial endeavors, this concept of pleasing those that are buying has never before been so important.
Finding yourself under the scrutiny of a great boss is extraordinarily rare. Most of the time, you will think that your boss or your manager is a douche — and he probably is. Even if you find that you and your boss get along great, chances are that what he believes to be good work and a great finished product differs from what you believe it to be. Being creative is important for innovation, but at the end of the day if your boss is not happy with your work, then you’ll be worse off.
Instead of looking at things through your own eyes, try to look through the eyes of the person that you will be presenting to. What is it that they want to see? What is it that they like and, more importantly, what is it that they don’t like? You may think that your idea is great; it very well may be.
However, if you are almost certain that it isn’t something that your manager would find appealing, then there is no point of putting in the hours to make a product that will never go past the drafting table. There is no reason to waste your energy doing something that will never come to fruition. Not to mention that at the end of the day, it is your boss that cuts the paychecks. If she doesn’t think that you are doing the work they need done in the fashion that they need it done then you will be out of a job.
The concept of pleasing your target audience is not a novelty. When coming up with ideas to start your own company, you must cater to the consumer. It does not matter what products and services you like — you may very well be an anomaly or the market for those that have similar tastes to yours may be too small to cash out on. In order to sell to a consumer, you must provide them with products or services that they want, that they would be happy to pay for. This is one of the reasons why many companies fail shortly after launch.
Even smaller businesses such as restaurants make this same mistake and find themselves filing for bankruptcy in under a year. I understand that you love peanut butter sandwiches. Many people do…but will enough people want to eat them often enough in your area for you to make a nice profit? Or even to keep your doors open? It may seem like a bit of a silly idea to open up a restaurant that only serves peanut butter sandwiches — but it’s been done. I saw a vacant space across from the restaurant I once had go from vacant to peanut buttery to vacant in under a year.
If you want to be successful in any aspect of life, whether it be business, education, your career or even your love life, then you must take into consideration your target consumer(s). If you don’t please the people that need to be pleased, the people that matter, then you will fail. You love bloody and gory movies — but does your girlfriend?
Pottery class may seem like a great idea to you, but how long until your boyfriend has had enough of clay play? The world works in a funny way: you are only able to interact with the world from your point of view, but in order to function within society successfully, you must do your best to see through the eyes of others. You may have the best taste in the world, but unless you plan on making your cake and then selling it to yourself, then what you like doesn’t matter.