What if school could prepare us to be happy rather than prepare us for a job?

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Marie Dobenesque

I created Corporate Game Changers for people who want to turn around their bullsh*t job into a positive force for change. Together we can use human-centered leadership and business-for-good practices to pave the way for a better future.

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What if school could prepare us to be happy in life rather than be ready for a job? What if school would develop our unicity rather than normalise us?
What if school could prepare us to be happy in life rather than be ready for a job? What if school would develop our unicity rather than normalise us? | Photo credit: Wokandapix (Pixabay)

As a kid I was a good student. I liked school. I had understood the rules of what was expected of me - lessons then test, test then score, score then quarterly letter to the parents, parents happy then nice gifts for me. This was my first experience of “If you can measure, you can manage”.


In the first school years I was systematically first in class, until that quarter when I ended up second. At that point, I realised it actually did not bring much to be that competitive and I was much better off being in the top 5. Less work, less stress, less pressure.


Still today I can get utterly fascinated by one topic after another (from astrophysics to neuroscience through blue economy, you name it) and I proudly honour my belonging to the underrated geeks club.

If I choose wrong, my life is wasted

But then as you progress through the stages of school, choices need to be made. First at age 15 I needed to choose between 3 directions for my high-school diploma: science, economy or literature. I was a good student so science it is. Not much more to it than performance.


Then for university a few years later, the same dilemma popped up - math, physics/chemistry, biology or medical studies? Business schools could also have been an option but I did not have the financing for it, and I had no understanding of which job it lead to (if only I knew then what I know now!).


I contemplated the idea of becoming a surgeon, I have the advantage that I am not scared of blood. But I realised that there is no choosing your medical specialty - it’s down to a ranking out of an exam. A medical career also means signing off for 45 years of work in the same field - not sure I am up for that, especially if you can’t choose which field!


Decision making by keeping as many options as possible open, like the doors on this photo
Decision making by keeping as many options as possible open |Photo Credit: Qimono (Pixabay)

So Maths OR Physics/Chemistry OR Biology - hum. The biology curriculum had the advantage that it still had some Maths and Physics/Chemistry in it, so it was the most diverse offer from the three.


Plus I liked nature and animals, and there were many bridges to many careers at the end of it. So Biology it is.



After that - a tough but pretty much straight line to a university diploma. And that is reassuring, that’s comfortable. Every now and then an exam, every now and then the choices of eligible courses, but all in all, you feel you are on the right path.


The reassuring path of a renowned certificate. The passport to belonging to the group of highly-educated people. The promise of a well-paid job. The prospect of a good life. Mommy & Daddy are relieved, you are on your way to making it in the world.


5 years later, your head is full of theoretical knowledge and a bit of work experience (if you’ve done some proper internships). It’s time to find a job. Like for all previous decisions, I approached this decision by elimination and keeping doors open. In my case - I headed for food and nutrition. Because, you know, people will always need to eat.

From school to real life: I need a job 'cause I need money

At the time, there were no job opportunities in France, the students of the previous year were still unemployed. Fine, let’s maximise my chances, by searching beyond the borders AND by searching for a PhD at the same time, as back-up.


Good news, there are two companies hiring on graduate programs and interested in my CV! One in Germany and the other one in the Netherlands. Ok, I don’t see myself in Germany and the company in the Netherlands sounds more ethical.


Simple choice. Netherlands, here I come.


Fast forward to two years later, I find myself in a depression. Why? The job was interesting and I had made my first promotion. The company was great and well-intentioned, caring towards its employees. My colleagues were lovely and the atmosphere in the office was relaxed yet ambitious. Life in the Netherlands was safe and exciting. I had lots of money and I could follow my passion of travelling the world.


So what was going on with me?


Long story short - I was fulfilled on the material level but depleted on the deeper level. I was overwhelmed with questions. What am I doing here? Where does it lead me? Why am I doing this job beyond paying for the bills? How do I contribute to the world around me and not just to the capitalist system of companies and stock exchange?


Boom - quarterlife crisis. In my face.

(Read what happens next here...)


The realization that society led me to where they wanted me to be. Not where I wanted to be.

The current education system is a normalizing machine

School never helped me figure out who I uniquely was, and did not support me in embracing my needs and desires. School only helped me fit in the demand of the job market waiting for me when I got out of the education system.


As Idriss Aberkane describes in his book Free your brain: “At school we are taught that conformity is the supreme virtue. [...] Because our society is a sort of machine. So in order to have a spot in it, you need to be a conform piece, and of a certain quality.”


School did not tell me how to deal with decisions and how to figure out what will make me happy. School only told me that there are some most common options and set a deadline at which I needed to proceed to the next phase.


School did not prepare me for the question of satisfaction and fulfillment. School prepared you for a job in a system where, if my basic needs are covered (you have a roof, clothes, food and way beyond this minimum level), then I should be happy.


It was certainly true in the past. Just a century ago as the industrial revolution was soaring, many people of lower socioeconomic classes were leaving in poverty and struggling for survival. So having a reliable income every month which would ensure not being hungry and not being cold was a boon.


It is certainly no longer true nowadays. While I am not denying the existence of poverty still today, I would like to point out at the fact that most of us do not know what it is to be truly hungry, to be cold, to be scared. This creates a new society where motivating employees through money is not enough to make them happy.


I am grateful that I could use education to lift me up the social scale and to transform my hard work into a springboard for a better future than my parents could ever have access too. I am thankful to my school teachers and the university staff who have done their best at satisfying my curiosity, preventing me from getting bored at school and opening opportunities of exchange programs across borders.


Yet I dream of a school system that helps you discover who you uniquely are and that helps you embrace the differences in others instead of normalizing you and excluding whoever does not fit. A school system that teaches you how to create your job within or outside of companies rather than fit in the antiquated mold of what jobs have been so far. A school system that helps you discover what makes you happy, and sets you on the path to finding fulfillment.

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How about you? What are the 3 things you would like to have learned at school to prepare you for real life and not just for the job market?

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