How Education Does (and does not) Matter

excellence and education

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Someone said to me recently, after reading my bio attached to a syllabus I had prepared, “Do you think we (she’s a professor as well) come across as egotistical with all the stuff we put in our bios? Should we just teach and let it speak for itself?”

My response…

No doubt. There are times I read through my bio on a syllabus and think, “Well look at that. Aren’t I just the crap.” I feel, briefly, like a very special human being.

Two days later I’m taking a workshop taught by someone else, and I read their bio, compare it to my own, and think, “I’m such a piece of garbage compared to them. Why would anyone listen to me.” I feel, usually for a quite a while, like a complete imposter. Soon someone will discover I don’t really know anything and I’ll lose everything I’ve ever worked for.

So of course it’s ego, all of it, who’re we kidding? My sense of self-satisfaction with my own accomplishments, my sense of inferiority to others with superior accomplishments, my fear of my life jig being up because someone finds out I’m a nobody. All of it. What a stupid game it is.

Besides, we all know that some of the stupidest and most inept people on the planet have a long string of letters behind their name, very often including “Ph.D” (if you have a Ph.D, please confirm this truth in the comments, you should know it better than anybody!).

And we all know that some of the wisest, deepest, humblest, sweetest, and most beautiful human beings didn’t graduate from elementary school. Ultimately the letters behind our names, all our wonderful degrees and credentials, don’t really say much. A Ph.D who thinks they’re the crap because of their Ph.D is one of those extremely stupid people with a Ph.D I was just writing about.

And yet I have spent a lot of time and money to get to a place in life where the university allows me to stand up by myself, in front of a classroom full of students, and teach them.

That’s an astounding privilege and, in that environment, the bio just tells students what I have done to earn the right to be here — the hoops I have jumped through, so to speak.

Students will still have to decide for themselves whether I am good at what I do, and whether it is valuable to them.

Ultimately, I either show them the money, or I don’t.

If I do, my bio could be much less impressive and they’d still seek out my classes. If I don’t, the string of letters behind my name will just become a joke to them, that someone could be so educated, and yet still so incompetent.

So by all means, if your job requires a lot of education, then go for it.

Start with the education, the degrees, the training, the diplomas, and the credentials. Develop the cred — you won’t be allowed to work without it.

But above all, be fantastic at what you do — better than anyone else you know. That’s what matters in the classroom. Or wherever you education eventually allows you to work.

And yes, all along the way, above all, deal with this ridiculous thing called your ego, because it will find any way it can to make an ass of you.

Questions:

Are you fantastic at what you do, better than almost anyone you know? Are you willing to say so in the comments?!

What have you learned about the value of book learning vs actually being competent, even excellent, at what you do?

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