Crap. I think she knows. I’m going to get in so much trouble.
I’m in grade school. I’ve done the unthinkable – again. I completed the week’s assignments in advance due to sheer boredom after waiting for my non-punctual father to pick me up from daycare.
Now my teacher is checking to see if we did our homework so we can get a checkmark for completion. I tried to hide the portion that showed that I had went ahead. I think she noticed that I did the assignments ahead of schedule. I was caught red-handed.
I swear, I’ll never do my work ahead of schedule again. From now on, I’m going to wait until we are assigned the work before completing it. Man, I’m such an idiot.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? To worry about taking initiative for fear of getting in trouble. I eventually did stop taking initiative. I got smart and decided to wait until I was told before taking action. It got to a point where I did the minimum necessary to get by without getting yelled at.
I used to get bored at school. I could finish an entire week’s worth of work in a couple of hours and the rest of the time I was thinking about going home and leveling up my character on my Super Nintendo. I used to secretly craft projects while the teacher was encouraging the slow-speech student to practice his reading aloud while the rest of us suffered. I’d write stories (mostly based on my nerdy fantasy-video-game background). I’d create interactive games that I’d pass between different classmates. I’d write notes to other students.
Any time I was caught doing any one of these things instead of reading along with the super slow speech student, I was singled out and humiliated.
At home, I faced the opposite problem.
A 94% What about the other 6?
Great, first I’m in trouble at school for going ahead of the teacher. Now I’m in trouble at home for getting an A-. I think I’m going to play more video games and start copying answers right before the assignment is due.
I was smart. I even developed a solid defense that settled this argument once and for all.
I’m trying my best! You can’t get mad at me for doing my best! I’m still doing better than most people in the class.
That usually worked to get my parents off my back.
But I wasn’t trying my best. My mind was sinking into oblivion. I was feeding an addiction that wouldn’t reveal itself until I grew up and had real-world priorities. And by the time I realized that I had been sabotaging myself all this time, it was already an uphill battle to get myself to where I should have been many years before.
I didn’t have a way to verbalize what I was doing until I read Atlas Shrugged. I was putting my mind on strike. If I wasn’t going to reap the benefits of using my mind, I wasn’t going to use it.
A not-so-successful relative of mine has a philosophy of work: Do the minimum amount possible for the maximum amount of gain. I see now that I did this for most of my grade-school, high school, and college life. Things aren’t working out so well for him. And things didn’t work out so well for me.
I never played to win. I always played not to lose. Sure I passed all my classes. I graduated from college a year early, in fact. But I didn’t have any marketable skills to show for my lack of effort. I had a meaningless piece of paper, and my parents had a boatload of debt.
Times have changed. Society doesn’t need a bunch of brainless, compliant factory workers. It needs leaders. It needs what Seth Godin calls, “Linchpins.”
For all the creative initiative that was suppressed in our youth, so too are we suffering in positions of financial lack and personal discontent. The worst part about it is that the one thing that will get us out of the trouble we are in – our personal initiative – has atrophied from lack of use.
We have become a generation of zombies.