Do your homework.
What a bloody annoying phrase.
It is annoying from age seven to 17 and there’s a point in your life where you don’t think you will ever need hear it again . . .until you start saying it incessantly to your own kids. You realise you’ve become your father – but here’s a little kernel of advice for we grown-ups – while you’re saying it, you should be listening to it, because no matter how old you might be, no matter where you might be on life’s journey, you always have to do your homework.
While this sounds like a tired metaphor about always delving deeper, researching and probing, I’m afraid it isn’t. Here’s a true life story about me not doing my homework – and paying dearly for it. Make of it what you will.
At the start of the year, I enrolled in the Australian Institute of Company Directors course to be run over six consecutive Thursdays. It looked pretty serious and it cost close to a bomb. It was really very good. Thorough and challenging, the class sessions were great and the lecturers on the whole quite compelling. The subject matter?! Pretty serious, complex stuff. For a bloke used to discerning not a lot more than the difference between Barolo and Barbaresco or grain-fed to grass-fed, it was mind shifting. But good. I really loved it.
The course requirements stated clearly that while much would be covered in class, we students would need to put the same amount of time again, and maybe again once more, into homework as the sheer breadth and depth of learning about responsibilities of company directors in today’s environment couldn’t be covered in 45 hours of class…
There would be a written assessment and an online exam consisting of multiple choice and short answers at the end of the course. How hard could this be? After all I’ve been director of my own business for 13 years and soon I would be DS Gregor GAICD – nice.
And so the course was complete. I had an assessment to write and I completed a smart, sassy and occasionally pithy reflection on the failings of Vector Corporation, my chosen case study. I made fun of their incompetent CEO and Chairman Mick and argued why board renewal was essential and financial ratios were troubling.
And then onwards to the online exam . . . 40 multiple choice questions and a few short answers . . .
So confident that I had this in the bag I drank myself to a complete and utter standstill the night before. No less than 30 drunk media company execs at my house smashing as much good gear from my cellar as they could…a 2am finish. A 9am exam.
It was a doddle. Hubris and a hangover combined beautifully. Done with 30 minutes to spare. Happy days. Job over.
If you haven’t figured out what comes next, I’ve failed in my rich, purposeful narrative . . .
Yep. I failed.
Failed the assessment and failed the multiple choice. THE MULTIPLE F***ING CHOICE!?!
You can’t fail multiple choice – ever. Not in 4th grade, not ever. Not now, not at 44. I could not have sworn more had I borne witness to Richie McCaw hanging off-side for the seventh time in a half…or Darren Goldspink returning to the AFL umpiring ranks (that’s one for the OLD SCHOOL Swans fans).
On both communiques from the AICD, there was feedback about the modules I had clearly been neglectful of and an offer to re-submit the assessment and re-sit the MULTIPLE CHOICE with, of course, another additional fee.
Anger swept me, pride really ate at me and I felt genuinely shithouse. I failed. Hate failure.
I’m not a motivational, hand-clapping, kum-ba-ya, cheering, whooping type. In fact I know I’m not – I’m not sure Anthony Robbins would get THROUGH to me, but I know I hate failure. Just hate it. And the thing that hurts most about failure is when you know, in your guts, you simply haven’t given it your best shot.
I hadn’t done my homework. I’d been lazy, over confident, full of my own bullshit. I had forgotten that success needs sweat and a pass mark of 65 percent requires a student to read and comprehend every bloody bit of those unbelievably cumbersome and heavy black folders (memo to AICD, how about an iPad app or similar – it is 2013 afterall?! #justsayin).
I had taken the books around the country and even at one stage as far afield as China but with dumplings and beer or pinot and pizza or any other excuse, they just remained way too unread. So after I failed, I read them. I even rediscovered the highlighter pen (aren’t they good?) and I read whole chapters, indeed modules that I’d passed over on the initial skim.
I took those goddam folders to bed and the wife, who had last seen me study at Roseworthy in the Barossa in 1994 (to be truthful it was a different sort of study), said she’d never seen anything like it from me. And I loved it. I was determined, the material was interesting, challenging – I started loving learning again and I knew I was riding my luck. I had only a single shot left. A second fail meant eternal fail.
On re-reading my initial assessment, it looked glib, shallow and light; the re-submission looked at least a little more thorough, insightful and correct.
Then D-Day – re-sitting THE MULTIPLE CHOICE. And it was HARD! Really hard. Christ knows what I was thinking the first time. Might still have been a bit pissed in hindsight.
I finished with less than a minute to spare. Spent.
And yep, I passed. To be honest, I was more relieved than rapt. The fear of failure had gotten me through.
I’m not big on the lectures to the kids but I made a point to tell them more than once that I’d failed because I hadn’t worked hard enough – hadn’t put in the required effort. And I showed them by doing better, that I could turn things around just by working harder and smarter and being fair dinkum to yourself – not leaving anything in the sheds.
I don’t know if it made any impression on them but it did on me.
You can become a right wanker when you’ve been in business or anything in life and done all right. You can think you’re better than you are. But you’re not that special. You only got where you are through hard yards and the hard yards get no easier. You have to keep working your arse off. If you get complacent you lose.
I look back, just a month, and realise I’ve learnt my best lesson in ages.
Do your homework.