Bullish Q&A: Help! I Didn’t Go to a “Good” School

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I’m working on a grad degree. I’ve been following successful women in my field on twitter, and noticed that almost all went to top-tier schools. I went to a no-name undergrad, and am at a mid-tier now, and I feel I will never be successful compared to them, due to not being elite. Any advice?

 

Yes. Yes, I do have advice.

Remind yourself that nearly all of these people you’re looking up to all have some degree of unearned privilege. They may be great, but probably not quite as great as you think they are. I’m not trying to tear down successful women here; a person can have unearned privilege and also make great contributions to science, for instance. That’s really quite common, actually.

I’m saying to peel back the mystique in your head.

Now, figure out what the signs of success are in your field. Publishing in certain journals? Great. Get that done, and cut out everything else. Look at your to-do list. Mercilessly kill – or half-ass – any items that do not get you the high-impact, high-profile wins that you need.

Women are often socialized to multitask and get everything done in a nice, neat, timely package. Don’t do that. Don’t multitask. Pick the big wins and let your laundry stay unwashed. Let people think you’re arrogant. What people perceive as arrogance in a woman is often what would be considered pursuit of greatness in a man. The people who think you’re arrogant – most of them don’t matter. If there are a few people whose opinions do matter – an advisor, for instance – manage those relationships with as much artifice as you need.

You may need to network aggressively – which may be uncomfortable – in order to get where you need to go. Do you need to coauthor something with one of those Harvard scholars? Do that. You may have to approach a lot of people to get a yes. Do it anyway. Rejection just makes you feel bad for a minute. That’s a cost you can afford.

Is it a job or a mentor that you need? Identify it and get it. Do not wait to be chosen. Ask a hundred times. No one will come find you and tell you your work is good. There is no Prince Charming of work.

Also – check out the blog of Cal Newport, who is both a professor and an author of several books on getting important things done.

Stay bullish,

Jen

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