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4 Reasons Wildly Successful People Fail at School

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Because you are on this website I’ll assume that at some point you’ve read inspiring stories of some of the world’s most successful people. In some cases, you may have been motivated or surprised to learn that more often than not, these game-changers, to some extent, failed in their school careers.

Big names like Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison (the list goes on) are all part of the club. For a number of reasons, their choice to leave school sparked progress that led to unparalleled success in their chosen field.

This trend has been glamorized in recent years; where graduating school and university have become the norm, the stories of maverick business tycoons have sparked a non-conformist attitude in young entrepreneurs.

There’s an ongoing debate among solopreneurs as to whether college is worth it.

Through my own experience and researching successful ‘drop outs’, I’ve gathered the four main reasons why school isn’t a perfect fit for entrepreneurs:

1. All theory, no action

Granted, schools have gotten better at this. But for the most part, the little practical learning provided is still done in a heavily controlled environment. Alan Sugar once said ‘you can’t learn business out of a book. The most important thing is what experience you’ve amassed.’ The more real world action you take, the wiser you become and the more opportunities there are for you. A controlled learning environment simply doesn’t support that.

Education is mainly based around theory. By definition, you learn the ‘principles on which the practice of an activity is based.’ The schooling method is to learn for years and years, then when you finally reach adulthood, implement. By that time, due to disinterest and the fact you probably crammed for every exam, you would have forgotten most of what you learnt.

“A young man is a theory, an old man is a fact.” – E. W. Howe

The proper way is to put theory into practice as you learn. You wouldn’t learn the piano or guitar without playing it! It’s simple trial and error, review and repeat. That’s what successful people do; they try something and if it fails they learn from it. Which is probably why Steve Jobs ‘failed’ at elementary school.

In his words, ‘school was at fault for trying to make me memorize stupid stuff rather than stimulating me.’ When you have a desire to create something or make a difference, there is no time for debating, analyzing and pondering.

2. Failure is based on test results

During our time at school and university, our success is based on test results. Due to this, the level and quality of your qualifications can have a huge impact on your career, if you choose the employee route.

The mixture of test results and subsequent qualifications is a recipe for self-doubt and dissatisfaction. Independent and driven individuals refuse to be scared into going down a path they are not passionate just because it’s the ‘realistic’ option.

Instead they see failure as a positive thing, a tool for learning and analyzing to improve their methods. If Thomas Edison was given the task of creating the lightbulb as a school project rather than out of his own initiative, would he have tried so many times, or even have been allowed to keep trying after so many failed attempts?

The saying ‘don’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree’ springs to mind. School determines students’ success in a narrow range of abilities, but successful people judge themselves on their ability to persevere in doing what they love, not what they’re told to do.

3. School creates followers, not leaders

School should be a platform for students to discover and learn about their passions in order to create high performing individuals, and ultimately, leaders. It’s currently a platform to create followers (in other words, employees).

In fact, when I visited multiple business school open days, their selling points were the percentage of students who were employed after they’d graduated. Imagine that, an entrepreneurship course designed to put students into employment?!

Successful people develop at a young age into independent learners because school cannot stimulate their curiosity. Thomas Edison was seen as hyperactive and prone to distraction at school, deemed as ‘difficult.’ He went on to be home-schooled and very quickly developed a ‘voracious appetite for knowledge… a process for self-education and learning independently.’

“Leaders spend 5% of their time on the problem & 95% of their time on the solution. Get over it & crush it!” – Tony Robbins

You see, leaders seek knowledge to fuel their ambition. They do not bode well being fed selective information. Steve Jobs is a perfect example of this, as explained by the Dean of students at his university: ‘He refused to accept automatically received truths, and he wanted to examine everything himself.’

Followers are people who accept what they are told and do what they are told to do. Leaders, like Steve, develop their own opinions and use them to influence others.

4. They don’t have something to prove

Successful people never act on what is expected of them. They act on what they believe in and on what they are passionate about. Social ladders and school’s expectations can force a student into becoming someone they’re not. Successful people know exactly who they are and what they want.

In his biography, Richard Branson states that in his school, ‘your reputation – and ability to avoid being picked on – was helped enormously by your ability to score a goal.’ He was side-lined because he couldn’t play sport and wasn’t academic.

The pressure to submit to social norms is likely to create average performers because students tend to submit to school rules and their peers despite their beliefs, in order to be accepted. This hinders them from releasing their full potential.

In a letter to his father, he wrote ‘anything I do in life I want to do well and not half-heartedly.’ He pursued what he was passionate about despite what was expected of him. That kind of behavior is how individuals defy what is accepted and change the world.

As an entrepreneur, did school help teach you anything that you use today? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

I am the the Founder of Addicted2Success.com and I am so grateful you're here to be part of this awesome community. I love connecting with people who have a passion for Entrepreneurship, Self Development & Achieving Success. I started this website with the intention of educating and inspiring likeminded people to always strive for success no matter what their circumstances. I'm proud to say through my podcast and through this website we have impacted over 200 million lives in the last 10 years.

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Success Advice

Mindful Productivity: How Top Achievers Combine Focus and Balance

By being aware of your emotions, thoughts, and surroundings, you can work with your internal and external environments

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Your big-dream goals matter … but not at the expense of your health. (more…)

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The Art of Convincing: 10 Persuasion Techniques That Really Work

The knack for persuading others can act as a catalyst for change, open doors, forge alliances, and effect positive change

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Persuasion is not as complicated as it may sound. In fact, it is something that we have been practicing since childhood. Do you remember convincing your parents to let you skip school, asking your teacher not to assign homework, or persuading your boss to give you a day off? Well, these are just small examples of what persuasion looks like. (more…)

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5 Steps to Leveraging Industry Speaker Events for Career Advancement

Jumping into industry events is a smart move for your career, but there’s a knack to it

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Jumping into industry events is a smart move for your career, but there’s a knack to it. It’s not just about sitting in a room full of people. You’ve got to find the ones that fit your career puzzle, dive in while you’re there, and then make the most of what you’ve learned afterward. (more…)

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Success Advice

Overcoming Plateaus: 6 Powerful Strategies for Breakthrough Success

A plateau is not a full stop; it’s a comma that allows you to pause, reflect, and shift gears

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In the pursuit of personal and professional growth, plateaus are inevitable. They appear when progress seems to halt, despite your continuous efforts. But remember, a plateau is not a full stop; it’s a comma that allows you to pause, reflect, and shift gears. This article provides six powerful strategies to overcome plateaus and achieve breakthrough success.

1. Find Out the Root Cause

When facing a plateau, there is likely something causing you to sabotage your progress. Identify the root cause. What is sabotaging your progress? Examine your daily routine and how you spend your time. Are you wasting time on unnecessary activities? Or are you taking on too many tasks that you can’t handle?

Often, adding more tasks overloads your already tight routine and distracts you from focusing on the most important tasks. Therefore, often eliminating unnecessary activity will work to overcome plateaus. However, be cautious of not doing things right, such as tasks you have not yet undertaken or missing something. What actions do you need to take or improve to achieve your goal? Are you avoiding them, or have you not started yet?

2. Never Tolerate Problems

Once you’ve identified the root cause, never tolerate problems. If you tolerate them, you’ll end up staying stuck. You get what you tolerate. Once you recognize the problem you’re facing, never tolerate it. Instead, address and improve the situation.

3. Focus on a 100% Solution and 0% Problems

To overcome a challenge, it’s essential to plan how to get through it. Yet, people often find themselves asking, ‘Why is it bad?’ or ‘What is wrong with it?’ Questions of this nature limit our thinking, leading our brains to generate responses like ‘Because you’re not good enough’ or ‘Everything is wrong with you.’ These limited answers tend to resonate with the situation and drag you down further.

Instead, ask empowering questions without limits, such as ‘What is not perfect yet, and how can I turn things around while making a more positive impact?’ By asking unlimited empowering questions, you’ll shift your focus from the problem to the solution. Additionally, you will also notice that asking empowering questions can expand available options and allow you to see from an angle you couldn’t see before.

Focusing on problems rarely yields positive outcomes. The key to positive results lies in concentrating on the solution. The next time you face adversity and notice getting caught by unresourceful thoughts, snap out of it and direct your focus to a 100% solution and 0% problems.

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” – Henry Ford

4. Cultivate Success-Driven Traits

Identify the traits you need to have and get rid of to become the person you aspire to be. Consider your specific goals – for instance, attracting positive relationships. To achieve this, note down the traits you need to embrace, such as being open-minded, gentle, healthy, and treating others the way you want to be treated.

Cultivate a positive mindset. Simultaneously, get rid of traits like criticizing others, having a short temper, and engaging in unhealthy habits like taking drugs.

Learn from individuals who have achieved similar goals. Study their traits, both the ones they have and those they’ve consciously avoided. Implement these traits to align with the person you want to become.

Once you have your lists of traits to embrace and eliminate, diligently follow them. Place the list on your desk or the door of your room, ensuring you read it at least once a day to reinforce your commitment to these traits.

5. Track Your Habits

Carry a notepad to track your habits throughout the day, especially those contributing to plateaus, as well as your new habits or traits aligned with achieving your goals. For instance, if your root cause is excessive internet use, record instances of mindless scrolling on social media. Note when you engage, the emotional state prompting it, and the approximate duration.

Calculate the total minutes wasted at the end of the day. This habit tracking makes you aware of the emotions triggering these behaviors (stress, boredom, and frustration) and the time wasted.

Additionally, track positive new habits, like reading good books and exercising. Document what you’ve learned from the book and the time spent exercising. This practice helps you build new positive habits by enabling you to compare today’s results with those from yesterday or a week ago. 

Moreover, consistently sticking to new habits for around 18 months transforms them into lifelong habits. Even if you take breaks, you will find yourself naturally returning to those habits.

6. See Obstacles as Opportunities

Every obstacle can be an opportunity to turn things around. If the economy is in a downturn, it’s time to recognize it as an opportunity to thrive while everyone else is struggling and focused on the problem. If someone makes fun of you or causes you trouble, ask yourself, ‘What can I learn from this experience?’

Alternatively, consider that the person underrating you is setting low expectations, which are easier to exceed. If your business receives a bad review from a customer, see it as free feedback that guides you on how to improve and take your business to the next level.

Always try to see different angles that others may overlook. This perspective can reveal aspects you might be missing. When you view a problem as an opportunity, it has the potential to foster growth.

In the journey toward success, plateaus are just temporary pauses, not dead ends. So, keep moving, keep growing, and make your breakthrough.

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