Rumbi Munyaradzi is a digital mentor at The GenZim Connection, an online space for conversations in personal development, life skills and career insights for Zimbabwean teenagers. This article was originally published on her blog and one can read other articles like this at www.GenZim.com. You can also follow her content on Instagram or Facebook at genzimconnection.
How do you stay focused on your career goals if the grades you achieved recently in your exams are below expectations? Has that made you unsure about how to proceed with the career track you had in mind? Regardless of your grades, let’s discuss how you stay encouraged and positively focused on your career strategy from here. It’s fixable, and certainly far from over! I’d like to share some suggestions on how to think of your education, your grades and how these all come together regarding your career options.
It’s undeniable that you have more options available when you consistently have great grades. If you’ve hit a rough patch and didn’t score highly in the subjects that matter most then unfortunately, you might find your options being limited early and against your will. Especially for Sciences, proving yourself at ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level is crucial to unlock the next stage in that career track.
On a personal level, know that your grades don’t capture your passion and ability to improve at the next stage. Don’t box yourself and your potential according to how the academic system ranks everyone: your potential cannot be graded. Later in this article, I’ll share some suggestions for how you can demonstrate your skills outside of academic performance to get the scholarships, university acceptances and other such opportunities you’re aspiring for.
When things don’t work out as planned for something you’re committed to, you have to have some honest conversations with yourself in order to improve. A few examples of questions to explore when you reflect:
- What do you think went wrong? E.g. Do you get nervous under pressure?
- Are you asking for the help you need? E.g. do you need a study partner?
- How can you make sure you can overcome or eliminate those challenges in future?
The real disappointment would not be in the underperformance itself but in not learning the bigger lesson that it represents.
As you all focus on getting good grades, make sure you also get a real understanding of each subject. That way, you can graduate from simply knowing information to being able to develop insights from that information. From there, you’ll be able to adopt multi-disciplinary thinking. This means you can take ideas and concepts from one subject and apply them in a different area. This allows us to create unique solutions to unique problems.
The only way to really do that as you gain more exposure over time, is learning to truly understand, and not just learning to pass exams. The most valuable professionals in the workplace are those with multi-disciplinary thinking. The quality of your thinking is another thing that can’t be graded: focus on this too because your education is really about preparing you to lead a productive life.
The good thing is that although your grades do matter, they are just one part of the career strategy puzzle. There is no formula that says good grades in high school will translate to a happy and successful career deep into your adult years.
This is because human beings are way too complicated to ever have their decisions and motivations summarised in a formula. Careers are where we invest our potential to develop mastery over time in a particular domain. Being able to make that kind of commitment requires us to look at all of who we are, the conditions under which we thrive, what motivates us and what we’re good at.
To me, career strategy is more like a 3D puzzle instead of a formula, as we put together all the pieces I mentioned above. Get ready for a series of experiments and research in order to build the kind of life you’d enjoy and be proud of! Your grades are a short-term data point in a very long-term career experiment.
Most importantly, stay open-minded at each phase as you move on from high school. Your interests and skills will change over time; let that guide you towards new opportunities. Whatever subjects you take in your final year do not commit you to a particular career path unless you want them to. Studying science in your final year doesn’t mean you must study a science degree, and even if you do study a science degree, you don’t have to become a scientist. You could use your science degree to become an analyst or consultant in a scientific field. Or you could create a multi-disciplinary degree that combines arts and sciences if you have an interest in both. Point being, don’t limit yourself in these early years until you have more experience and exposure.
Based on what I’ve been saying up until now, the natural question that pops up next is what else matters besides your grades to make sure you are factoring in all the relevant information regarding an appropriate career path?
The points I’ve shared in the above image are quite self-explanatory so I’ll only dive deep on a couple of points.
- Take the time to really understand yourself, your personality and the conditions under which you do your best work. Are you choosing subjects and a career track that are suited to your personality and interests? You will often find that more opportunities come to a person who is excellent at what they are interested in versus a person who shows mediocre performance in the high-demand subjects. Pick the right conditions for you to thrive so that your strengths shine.
- The world is full of smart people. Often-times employers will tell you that because they have access to a huge pool of talent, the big differentiator that they are looking for is a positive attitude. Once you are in an environment where you have to work with others, the person with the right mindset – who is teachable, open to challenges, growth and collaboration – is the one who will succeed. Intelligence might get you through the door, but a positive attitude will create the most opportunities and best outcomes for you.
- Adaptability in a fast-changing world is crucial. You might score excellent grades in a degree program that is no longer in demand by the time you graduate. If that happens, you need to be able to critically analyse how to apply the skills you learned in the industries that are growing at that time. No experience is ever wasted, all learning enables growth.
One thing I love about this era we are living in is that regardless of what your academic grades are, you can literally show the world how good you are by doing practical things that demonstrate your skills. The list I’ve shared above just scratches the surface. Be sure to capture these extra-curricular activities in an attractive CV so you can draw attention to your accomplishments. When you’re competing for opportunities, leave no stone unturned!
It’s quite feasible that you might have struggled with an academic subject like maths but be able to study and excel in more practical subjects like computer programming. Doing short courses or other practical work connected to the actual work you want to pursue outside of formal education is a great way to prove that you are more than your academic grades. Don’t simply talk about how good you are, show it.
Right now, the impact of your academic grades can seem larger than life, and they certainly deserve your focus and intensity so that you maximise your options. However, there is always more you can do to bend things in your favour regardless of what you may have scored in the past. As mentioned earlier: your grades are a short-term data point in a very long-term career experiment. Whatever subjects you have selected:
- Stay focused on doing your best in future assessments, even if you’re not sure what career path those subjects will lead to.
- Good grades in any subject demonstrate a positive attitude towards learning and teachability. Don’t underestimate how valuable that is when people are considering recruiting you for any sort of opportunity.
- Keep a lookout for opportunities to gain experience and exposure that supplement your academic transcript. The more practical experience you have and research you do, the more you stand out as uniquely qualified, and the more confidently you can make career choices that are fulfilling.
Wishing you the best as you move forward!
Read more articles like this on the GenZim Connection Website (www.GenZim.com)