What I wish My College Professors Would Have Taught Me: In the real world, you’re not expected to have every answer.

There are some things that can and will never be taught in the classroom. Maybe it’s because those topics are seen as too radical or have been flagged as a lawsuit risk, but truly these are the missing pieces of wisdom that leave many college grads as an incomplete puzzle with still much to figure out in the real world. In the spirit of Back-to-School, this will be a 5-part series exploring the top lessons I wish would have been included in my own college degree. It’s blunt and it’s honest, but it’s sure to be interesting.

Lesson three: In the real world, you’re not expected to have every answer.

Pop quizzes and cumulative exams have taught us to panic at the thought of not knowing every answer. But this neither prepares us for reality nor sets realistic expectations. If you think you know everything, you’re going to learn nothing from life. Instead, I wish at least one of my professors would have tested us not on our ability to memorize answers but to handle questions we had no way of knowing the answer to in a professional and educated manner.

This would have been the ultimate test to our ability to survive the real world.

I have yet to make a pitch to a client where I haven’t been asked at least one question that I had to go home, gather more information and get back to them about. I feel like being able to openly admit when you don’t know the answer is both humanizing and demonstrating your thoroughness of getting an accurate answer rather than faking one just to look good. I’m not saying DON’T be knowledgeable in your field, but focus more of your efforts on being a genuine and approachable person who has a sincere desire to seek the answers they don’t know.  This will win you more business and more respect than by being a know-it-all or rather—a “fake-it-all.”

In case you missed a few “classes”, here’s some reading homework:

Lesson One: Group projects can be completed alone.

Lesson Two: It’s okay to NOT like everyone you work with.

6 thoughts on “What I wish My College Professors Would Have Taught Me: In the real world, you’re not expected to have every answer.

  1. I’m not sure this comes from professors. I didn’t attend college and have been in an office environment for 30+ years, and I still have the feeling I’m supposed to have the answer instantly. This may be more related to the pace at which we live. Instant emails, instant texting, instant answers.

  2. Isn’t it that we live in an illusion that if we’re studying something, or working in a field we are supposed to know the answer to everything.

    If you admit when you don;t know the answer it makes you brave and it also makes you human. I prefer people who admit they need to look into something instead pretending to know-it-all.

    Maybe it comes from parents? When a child asks a question the parents never dare to admit not knowing something, they rather guess or answer anything to stay omniscient in their child’s eyes.

  3. I agree with both Linda and Mia. But, I also see Stephanie’s point about needing the answer. Putting together all three of the opinions here, I think it is a good thing to admit you need time, but also to take the time to find out answers you don’t know. The most productive thing (I think) I do with my time is ask questions, even if I think I understand. Just to make sure that I have the idea correct or that I am not missing some details.

Comments are encouraged!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s