In college, one of our professors in the Mass Communications department was usually approached with trepidation, if not outright fear.
She was supremely confident, unapologetic about it and didn’t take pains to dilute who she was to make others’ comfortable.
Dr. D was in her late 50s, I'm guessing.
Looking back, it's easy to see now that she was, perhaps single-handedly, trying to raise the caliber of the department she worked in and we studied in.
That kind of person always scares the hell out of mediocre people who, as it turns out, are often in charge of departments both in and out of college.
Dr. D's high expectations were another thing that made people around her nervous.
She distinguished herself by setting the bar higher for our soon-to-be graduating class.
We didn't suffer from lack of ability but from the habitual low expectations of her peers.
And she wasn't having it.
Laptops didn’t exist in those days. Most of us used tower desktops in the college computer lab.
VHS was the latest in video technology.
To show all or part of a video, a professor had to wheel in a (not flatscreen) TV cable locked onto a cart with a VCR bolted to the shelf beneath it to prevent theft.
Final semester of college in a class with Dr. D, she ceremoniously wheels just such a TV/VCR combo into our class before the mid-term exam.
Without introducing it, she showed a very short clip from a video of a movie that had been a big deal the year before: Flatliners
The movie is about a group of medical school over-achievers who play with death and learn about humanity.
The characters in the clip were also getting ready to take an exam.
Dr. D hit "Play."
The professor in the movie begins...
“Good morning class. Today’s exam will be scaled.
Three As will be given.
Five Bs, 10 Cs and the remaining four will get Ds or Fs.
Once again, as in life you are not in competition with me, yourself or this exam but with each other."
A girl in my class gave me a look that asked, "What the hell was that?"
She was one of the ones who was scared to death of Dr. D.
When you’re in college, you think life is like the movies anyway, so when one of your professors cites a movie as an example it’s not such a stretch to believe the people next to you are your competition.
As it turns out, the "everyone is competition" route is narrow, often petty and leads to lots of misery-inducing comparison.
It’s thrust upon us at such a young age, we don’t get a chance to see it's a terrible strategy for motivation and accomplishment.
Dr. D wasn't wrong to prepare us for the scrum of finding our first job out of college. I'm guessing that was her motivation.
That was pretty good insight then.
The thing about even memorable advice is no one tells you when it expires.
If you're not seeing the results you want, don't assume it's you or something you lack.
Maybe the guidance you're basing it on is past its expiration date.
The best thing you can do for your career is help someone else with theirs.