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The entire Navigate the Chaos collection of all 365 blog posts is now available in a paperback entitled Navigate the Chaos (795 pages for $24.99). A smaller collection of thoughts from the Navigate the Chaos collection is available in paperback entitled Wonder (94 pages for $4.99)

How often do you realize grades have nothing to do with your brilliance?

Today is July 10 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you realize grades have nothing to do with your brilliance?” Another way of phrasing today’s question is “do you realize all of the following have little to no impact on your ability to translate your dreams into reality: a)a lack of a college degree, b)your college major, c)where you graduated from, and d)your grade point average. That’s right, your major, school, and GPA have little to do with your future success.

In November 2016 Nobel Prize winning economist James J. Heckman and three colleagues published the paper "What Grades and Achievement Tests Measure” and concluded personality is one of the most important predictors of success. Grades capture personality traits like perseverance, diligence, and self-discipline, three helpful traits that can lead to success. On the other hand, IQ alone only accounts for 1% to 2% of income differences. Other evidence further supports that IQ and/or grades have little to do with your brilliance; nor are they related to determining your future income or career success.

In their 2018 book The CEO Next Door, Elena Botelho and Kim Powell concluded “educational pedigree (or lack thereof) in no way correlated to performance: Only 7% of the high-performing CEOs we studied had an undergraduate Ivy League education, and 8% of them didn’t graduate from college at all.” In term of one’s major The Association of American Colleges and Universities reported “93% of employers surveyed agree, “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” In short, the research is overwhelmingly clear that the school you attended, your major, and your GPA all make little difference to your future income. Nor do any of those factors have anything to do with your brilliance.

In 2020 a new trend emerged with dozens of companies no longer requiring a college degree for certain entry level jobs. Companies such as Apple, Google, and Hilton are three companies that have come to the realization a college degree does not necessarily equal self-discipline, a strong work ethic, and grit. Maggie Stilwell, Ernst and Young’s managing partner for talent noted “Academic qualifications will still be taken into account and indeed remain an important consideration when assessing candidates as a whole but will no longer act as a barrier to getting a foot in the door.”

Actor Henry Winkler learned this lesson while he was navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well. Winkler has said that he was very anxious as a child because of his undiagnosed dyslexia, and he was often considered to be "slow, stupid, and not living up to his potential.” He also said that his relationship with his parents was strained, due at least partially to their attitude towards his condition. His father spoke 11 languages and could quickly do mathematics in his head, and thus did not understand Winkler's problems at school and why Winkler would celebrate earning a C grade. His father often called him a "dumb dog" in German and punished him for his difficulties in school.

According to Winkler: “When I was little, my parents would ground me for six weeks at a stretch. I was a D student with an occasional C minus. Exasperated with my poor grades, my father had me sit at my desk for hours and told me to concentrate. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Nobody did. We weren’t aware of dyslexia back then.” When asked one of life’s greatest lessons, Winkler noted “How you do in school has nothing to do with how brilliant you are.”

Despite his dyslexia, Winkler would go on to have an amazing career as an actor, comedian, director, producer, and author. He initially rose to fame for his role as Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli, a greaser who became the breakout character of the sitcom Happy Days (1974–1984), for which he won two Golden Globe Awards and earned three Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. He later played Barry Zuckerkorn on the comedy series Arrested Development (2003–2019) as well as dozens of other characters in television shows, stage performances, and films.

In 1998, Winkler's agent at CAA, Alan Berger, suggested Winkler write a children's book about dyslexia, but Winkler did not think that he would be able to write because of his struggles with the learning disability. Berger was persistent, and a few years later, in 2003, he again suggested Winkler write. Winkler said yes and has since written 19 books. Through his writing Winkler helps people understand those who suffer from dyslexia.

  • Can you accept the fact that how you do in school has nothing to do with how brilliant you are?

  • How often are you pressuring your children, or yourself, into attending the “right” college, selecting the “right” major, and getting the “right” average?

  • Do you have the self-awareness to realize your grit, determination, and ambition have more to do with your career than your major, school, and GPA?

  • How do you define brilliance?

  • When comparing two people – one with an A average and the other with a C average – do you automatically assume the A student is smarter? If so, why do you think that is?


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