Bad grades

I’m pretty dumb.

At college, I took A-levels in Psychology and Physical Education. I got Ds. I took an AS-Level in Human Biology, twice, and still only managed an E.

This has made life difficult. Some things I haven’t been able to do?

– Get a top quality further education. Not that I tried. I didn’t even bother applying. What was the point?
– Get a stable, corporate job through a traditional application processes.
– Leverage alumni associations and networks created at university to get introductions and opportunities.
– Learn standard research methodology and complete long form projects under the steady guidance of someone smarter and more experienced than me.

All of the above would of been nice. In fact, the biggest thing I missed out on from higher education were the intangibles. Not the grades or the bit of paper or the parties, but the opportunities to convert good grades into credibility, and credibility into opportunities to progress my career and meet interesting, intelligent people.

That’s what I missed out on.

Not having good grades, has made my life difficult, but only in those arenas. In fact, I would say it’s meant that my life isn’t more difficult, it’s just different.

How so?

Owing to the fact I don’t have the reputation that comes with a prestigious degree or great academic record, I have to find new ways in. Any jobs or opportunities that require submitting a CV are pretty much ruled out.

Instead, I have to look for jobs whose application process revolves around mini-projects and practical tests. I can compete on skills and performance, not on academic record.

Secondly, I have to start from a network of zero. Which is tough. It means that to come into contact with people I want to learn from, I have to find a way to provide value to them before I’ve even met them. I can’t rely on connections or an intro from a friend and then figure out how to help them. I have to do the legwork first.

Thirdly, I’ve had to learn how to study, how to research, how to develop skills, how to contact people, how to position myself, what I want, why I want it and how I’m going to get it by myself.

Life with bad grades is different. Sometimes difficult, but mostly different.

The thing about grades is that they are a snapshot, a static picture of you in that moment of time. And the older you get, the more important this becomes to understand.

There’s two people, they’re both 21. One has graduated with a first class honours degree in business management. The other has been working at a supermarket and exploring their interests and what they like to do.

At 22, the person with the degree has the advantage.

At 32, the person with the degree doesn’t have an advantage.


The thing that determines your success in life is not what school you went to and how good you’re grades are. That’s something you’re told to motivate you to get good grades. It’s what you do after you have left formal education that matters.

Things that determines your success:

– Your ability to learn
– Your capacity to reinvent yourself in the face of evolving circumstances.
– The people you surround yourself with and the information and knowledge you consume.
– How much value you bring into the lives of others.
– Your propensity to take action, seize opportunity and create openings for yourself.
– Your willingness to better yourself every single day, for decades.

You don’t need a piece of paper to do any of those things.

It doesn’t matter if you have a PhD or work as a kitchen porter. If you spend your days consuming junk, not learning, not trying, not growing, not experimenting, not honing your skills, not connecting with people, not becoming a better person and not helping others, then whatever it is you want, you won’t get it.

That’s what makes life difficult.