You can’t earn straight A’s in life

The majority of your days as a teenager are spent as a student where you’re constantly measured by grades. If you do the work, get the right answers, and please your teachers, you’ll earn good grades. Do it exceptionally well and you might even get straight A’s. Perfection is an available path you can choose to walk down if you’re willing to work hard enough.

But the real world doesn’t work like high school.

Life isn’t graded on an A-F scale. Not everything has a right answer. You don’t always know what’s going to be covered on the test. Jobs, careers, friendships, relationships, marriage, parenthood—none of them come with a syllabus, study guide, or answer key. Sure, there are good ways and bad ways to approach all of those things. But you can’t summon perfection just by paying attention and studying hard enough. Sometimes you do your best, do seemingly everything right, and it doesn’t work out like you’d hoped. It’s not always fair. It doesn’t always make sense. But that’s life. The curve doesn’t always reflect who made the fewest mistakes.

It’s important to make your academics a priority in high school, and not just because it can help you get into college. Feeding your mind, setting goals, working hard and handling some stress–these are all valuable skills that will go a long way towards getting you wherever you want to go in life.

But getting a “C” on an exam, asking for and accepting help, and persevering through the end of the course without ever throwing in the towel? That’s worth a lot no matter what grade you end up with.

Congratulating the third baseman who gets the starting nod over you–that’s good life training.

Introducing yourself well to people you don’t know, writing good emails, and making good phone calls—they may not be graded, but they do earn you extra life credit.

Most adults who’ve looked for a job in the last 10 years would tell you that applying—and being turned down—for six summer jobs and still having the gumption to go land the seventh one is an experience that will come in handy someday.

Figuring out how to make yourself as valuable as possible while you’re volunteering, interning, or working, even when there’s not a lot of supervision telling you exactly what to do, should be required learning while you’re in high school.

What about asking a reporter at your community paper if you could buy her lunch one day to learn a little more about journalism? Or reaching out to ten non-profits and offering to create promotional videos of their work for free? Or writing the definitive guide to running a successful prom and making it available to any senior class president who wants to download it? They don’t earn you better grades. But I don’t care what your GPA or SAT score is now—the student who finds her own way to do things like these will be going places in life.

Accepting responsibility, apologizing when necessary, deflecting credit to people you work or rehearse or compete with–traits like these don’t show up on a transcript, but they influence your ongoing permanent record.

Grades and test scores have their importance, but they don’t measure everything. It’s important to recognize other opportunities to learn and grow, to occasionally put yourself in failure’s path, and to do lots of things that may not appear on your college applications, but will help you prepare for life.

The more often you’re faced with situations where there is no right answer, where you persevere, when you come back after a failure, or when you do the right thing rather than the easy thing, the smarter, savvier, more prepared and more resilient you’re going to be.

You can’t get straight A’s in life. But you get lots of credit just for showing your work.