Back to School

Adam Feil
3 min readAug 23, 2018
The kindergartner attached to that giant backpack is my daughter

Facebook feeds are full of children holding those little chalkboards, so the school year must be starting up.

It’s not a bad time for adults to go “back to school” as well.

I’ve mentioned before, one of the worst things about the way we structure our school system is the graduation ceremony. The diploma, the moving of the tassel, the whole thing is designed to indicate that one phase of your life — learning — is over, and a new phase — work — is beginning.

So here are some things we adults can do to get better and not just older this “school year.”

Set personal goals, not status goals

Sure, you might want a promotion, a raise, or to win that coveted salesperson of the year award, but think it through further. You don’t want to get those things because you were a jerk who took credit for others’ work… right? The recognition, position, and even the money won’t really bring you fulfillment if you aren’t improving yourself as a person.

So think about a personal goal — something that doesn’t depend on anyone else. Maybe it’s learning that data analytics program, or maybe it’s to read 12 books. Setting a personal goal will give you satisfaction even if you don’t get that promotion, and you’ll have no one to blame if you fail.

I would have gotten that promotion if it wasn’t for that jerk Larry who stole my idea.

Identify something about you that needs to change.

You’re not perfect, right? So it shouldn’t be hard to identify just one specific thing that you should change about yourself.

If you need guidance on this, I highly recommend the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. It lists 20 common bad habits that many of us have. You’ll read some and say, “Oh my God, I do that!”

So pick one thing that needs to change and work on that. Write it down somewhere you’ll see it often. Tell your friends or colleagues what you’re trying to change. They can help.

Grade Yourself Weekly

How much would you have learned in school if your work was not graded? Who knows. And that’s the problem. Without any evaluation you don’t know if your efforts are working or not.

Come up with a weekly routine to grade yourself. Did you read as much as you planned? Were you able to create that data visualization you wanted to learn how to do? How many times did you do that thing you’re trying to stop doing?

Even though somewhere in your mind you know what you did and didn’t do, taking a few moments to pause and reflect can have a powerful impact on your behavior.

Think about what you did and give yourself a grade.

What works for you?

Have you found any techniques for personal improvement that worked for you? Or does your company do things to promote learning and a growth mindset? I’d love to hear about it.



Adam Feil

Educational Psychology Ph.D., business analytics nerd, computer scientist, President @MakeStickers