When it comes to education there are two things that are common the world over. The first is teachers who are always advocating for a more practical, relevant and inclusive syllabus and the second is students who want to succeed no matter the cost. Admittedly some go to extreme measure but do not be deceived, education is one huge war based on survival of the fittest.
It is a war that recruits children as young as age 6 and takes them to the front-lines until they are at least 14 or 16 in some places. So for advise on how to succeed I will be referring to some military tactics, not from a modern day general with drones at his disposal but rather a general with battle tactics that will put him above Yaa Asantewaa, Joan of Arc and even Alexander the Great. For this we turn to Sun Tzu (not to be confused with Shang Tsung, another general in his own right albeit fictional), who was so great that his tactics are collated into a book which is still relevant today.
1. Know yourself
“Know yourself and you will win all battles” Sun Tzu, The Art of War
We are made to believe that peer pressure is a social problem limited to the teenage years but nothing could be more false. No matter the age or institution so long as people have to interact with one another, peer pressure continues to exist albeit a bit more subtle as one gets older. So know yourself, where you excel and what you suck at. Know to differentiate when pulling an “all-nighter” means staying in the library or in the club and know what your chosen field of study requires of you. In my experiences Science degrees assign more lecture hours than the Arts, whereas the Arts entail more continuous assessments than the Sciences. The two degree programs cannot be approached the same way. Whatever your field, you need to know yourself so that you will know what to do when you hit a road block which may appear impossible to get round.
At such times the secret weapon is the answer to this one question; ‘What is your goal and what motivates you?’. Agreed that could be two questions but the answers are usually intertwined. Know this answer and know it clearly. Recite it as your own personal mantra, have it as a screensaver, write it on your doorpost and on your best friend’s forehead. When the going gets tough, that personal mantra is what will see you through.
2. Know the terrain
Everybody makes it into University these days so much so that there is not enough space to accommodate them all and having excellent grades to show potential employers is nothing special any more. Know that you are not alone on this battlefield and to take out your enemy in one shot, you need a clear line of sight. So if you are not naturally blessed to be heads and shoulders above your colleagues, take a page out of Zacchaeus’s book and climb a sycamore tree; actually any tree will do. Simply put, you need to stand out from the crowd and to do this you need a plan and you need it now.
There is nothing worse than coming up with a good plan half way through your education only to realise time is not on your side to be able to implement such a perfect plan. This said plan should involve extra curricula activity, it doesn’t really matter what you choose. Anything to show that you are different from everyone else will do, the more unique, the better.
3. And so what?
Let me paint you a picture, in primary school you may be applauded for doing your homework, at secondary school you may be applauded for answering questions, as an undergraduate you may be applauded for thinking outside the box, as a postgraduate all these things are expected of you as a bare minimum. So at whatever stage of education you find yourself know what is expected of you as a bare minimum. No one will applaud you for doing your homework at university and most importantly do not expect to be rewarded for every achievement. If you get encouraged when they say you are great, then you will feel discouraged when they say you aren’t. So do what you know is best or else you may just find yourself throwing a tantrum if you are not acknowledged especially if it appears others are been rewarded for doing the same things.
4. Who is watching your back?
“He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight” Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Unless your name is John Rambo then chances are you are not a one-man army. Even Batman has Robin, Scooby has Shaggy, Kalybos has Ahoufe Patri, and Bob Okala had his wristwatch/clock. If you are wondering who the other members of your elite team are, well that will be your colleagues with a similar vision to yours……find them!.
These are the ones that will help you decide when to fight and when not to fight. These are the ones that will pick up your slack and motivate you when needed, the understanding here is that you will also be doing the same for them in their time of need. They do not have to be your best friend but the mere fact that you can work/study effectively together is what matters here. They say “Iron Sharpens Iron” and “Real Recognise Real”, so if you do not have such a person/people in your life then you are not made of iron neither are you real. Thankfully, these are not permanent conditions and you can do something about it.