American college students have been trained from an alarmingly young age to believe that as long as they show up, they should be rewarded. And that is lulling them into a false sense of security.
After all, simply being there isn't the same as contributing, and participating isn't the same as succeeding. No one will be rewarded for just showing up in the real world.
Success isn't found inside a rubric. And it certainly isn't something achieved without a few experiments, mistakes and failures along the way. Here are seven common lies that young people hear growing up -- and the blunt, uncensored truths behind them:
1. You're amazing at everything you do
Any 5-year-old will tell you it's not polite to hurt a person's feelings. Instead, society sells us a lie because, apparently, it's better to tell someone she's great than tell the truth when she isn't. We think we'll stunt growth if we tell the cold truth; in reality, we're stunting growth by handing everyone a participation trophy instead of rewarding real talent and achievement.
Beyond that, it's much more traumatic when, after 20-something years, someone finally tells you that you're not as amazing as you thought. Here's an example: I teach college, and after completing their first college-level course, many students tell me, "This is the first 'C' I've ever gotten." My response? "Welcome to college." Why? An "A" isn't something that you're entitled to; it's something you earn.
2. You have to be perfect
Failure is a great teacher. You don't learn anything if you go through life being told you're perfect. Writer and director Kevin Smith put it best when he said, "The truth is... failure is success training."
So you don't have a 4.0? That's okay. Don't have a job lined up right after graduation? That's okay, too. You don't need a perfect track record, grade point average or plan to make a good career and life for yourself. You just need the perseverance, bravery and grit to forge a path for yourself.
3. You have to be married before you're 30
College isn't for everyone. Neither is marriage. Need proof? Just look at the divorce rate. There's a lot of societal pressure to find the perfect person to spend your life with by a certain age. It's completely arbitrary -- and for a lot of people, it's completely wrong.
Don't force it. Don't stress. And don't buy into the myth; not everyone is ready for marriage by age 25.
4. You can only succeed if you go to the right college
Success comes from all walks of life. Today, there's unbelievable pressure on students to get admitted to their first-choice college. Give yourself a little more credit. It might require some work, but you can succeed in all different kinds of environments.
5. You can get a great job by just having a degree
Some of the most valuable lessons are learned outside the classroom. Before you graduate, get involved, intern, study abroad and network. Employers are looking for students who did more than just sit through four years of classes.
6. Your first job defines your career
College graduates often buy into the "perfect first job" myth. They think they need to be in the right place at the right time right after graduation. That isn't true.
My first job was pushing carts at Walmart. Skills and lessons are transferable, especially the ones you learn during your first job out of college. Those lessons will get you all kinds of places -- including your dream job.
7. You'll be in a better financial place than your parents, immediately
Many millennials are incredibly sheltered. Some don't even know what their parents do; they think the money just shows up. When you begin your career, you'll have to work hard. You'll have to put in time and pay your dues.
Don't expect to live the same lifestyle that took your parents 20 years to achieve. Make peace now with the fact that the baby boomers have gobbled everything up from the table and you are now on your own to thrive.
Find your own truth
Society, peer groups and the media may have good intentions, but they often reinforce these seven lies.
To find your own truth, test everything. Ask hard questions. Demand -- and give -- honest answers. And don't be afraid to fail. The best life lessons are learned through mistakes and imperfections, getting you closer to success than any participation trophy ever will.
Charles W. Keene is an award-winning assistant teaching professor at the University of Missouri's Trulaske College of Business. He is a proud member of Generation X who took 11 years to earn his undergraduate degree, was married at 28 and has never received a participation trophy in his life.
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