I used to be obsessed with getting the right credentials. I performed tirelessly for admissions officers, recruiters and all kinds of gatekeepers. Over the years, I’ve come to the clarifying conclusion that none of it matters. Your market and customers don’t care where you went to school, or even where you worked before. An Ivy League degree or a FAANG title is like a wind that gives you an early push. But your ability to create experiences and solve the right problems is the enduring current that predicts where you end up. Let’s unpack what this means, when it applies, and what to do about it.
I graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. But what you don’t see are the choices I made to get there. In college, I made it my mission to get good grades to secure a prestigious job. So I took the easiest path I could find. Instead of majoring in Molecular Cellular Biology, I chose Human Evolutionary Biology — fewer advanced science requirements. Instead of taking Intro to Computer Science, I chose its watered-down sibling: Great Ideas in Computer Science where we coded in Scratch. 😳 I also cut out any hobbies that could distract me from the GPA and interview prep race. When I landed a coveted consulting job, I felt supremely validated. But once I started working, I realized:
Underneath my paper credentials, I was an empty suit. I spent 4 years gaming the GPA system instead of learning how to be useful. The great irony is that I’ve since had to learn data analysis and coding — not doing the real thing was mere procrastination.