The Fashion Magpie Dixie Design Stationery

Weekend Vibes, Edition No. 96: The One on A Students.

My Latest Snag: Dixie Design Invitations.

I am throwing a baby shower in a few weeks and was particularly excited about the prospect of selecting invitations.  I have a weakness for paper.  I had long eyed the traditional-meets-preppy designs of Dixie Design, and so had a ball selecting just the right set for my best friend.  (I’m not sharing the exact design I went with because I want her to be surprised!  This was the runner up — a reminder of those Herend bunnies I was talking about the other day.)

You’re Sooooo Popular: Le Scarf.

The most popular items on le blog this YEAR (yes, the last 12 months!):

+Every time I have featured one of these on the blog, it has sold out.

+My favorite sweater.  (Seriously.  I think I’ve been wearing it in the last 10 Instastories featuring myself.)

+Such a fun shoe — and now marked down even further.  I currently have the blush in my bag.  Do I need these?!?!?!

+This statement-making dress sold out, but is now restocked!  The 80s are BACK baby.

+I wear these shades constantly.

+Saloni sauciness.

+A very trendy (and apparently flattering!) cut for jeans.

+Wore these breezy caftans all summer long (I loved my first, shown here, so much, I ordered a second!)

+Lululemon lookalike.  (Reviews!)

+My favorite pantry storage secret.

#Turbothot: On Being an A Student.

I recently came across an article fetchingly titled “What Straight A Students Get Wrong.”  I found it via my friend Hitha, who features “five smart reads” almost every day of the week in her Instastories.  I appreciate that she often shares contradictory viewpoints from the DMs she receives in response to these links; I respect a woman who fosters productive debate and permits all voices to be heard. 

But I digress.

Onto “the problem” with straight A students.

The crux of the argument is that within a few years of graduation, my hard-earned 4.0 GPA was as worthless as the class ring I somehow convinced myself I needed and then promptly never wore again.  (I know that’s a dicey simile as I have several friends who wore their rings religiously for years.  #wahoowa #gohoosgo #ireallydoloveuva #justnotthering).  The author cites research that demonstrates only the faintest of correlations between grades and job performance.  He goes on to point out that brilliant creative types tend to have a history of “spiky grades,” inferring that they prioritized activities that sparked creativity over an even cadence of high scores.  He goes on to say: “Getting straight As requires conformity. Having an influential career demands originality.”

OK.

OK.

OK.

I came to a quiet simmer within the first few paragraphs.  “Shhh, shh,” I shushed myself, annoyed by my defensiveness.  Midway through, I was at a rolling boil.  By the end, when he tells me that I should “apply my grit to a new goal: getting a B,” I was apoplectic — not only because I did not care for his know-it-all tone (it smacked of mansplaining and something about it felt like the written equivalent of an irritating tapdancing scene with a Gene Kelly wannabe: stagey, pretentious, and cloyingly carried off with a smile), and not only because I was a straight A student (though this fueled a rage I did not know I had in me), but because — though he does briefly acknowledge this towards the end — his criticisms are misplaced and his conclusions unscrupulous.

If you don’t care for A students, change the grading system.  High performers will always adapt to the rubric.  Right now, students are maneuvering within the system they’ve been handed.  

If you think A students are driven by conformity above all else, my guess is that you are shortchanging and misunderstanding many of them.  What about work ethic?  What about healthy competition?  What about a desire to succeed?  What about inborn curiosity?  What about overbearing parents?  What about going to school on scholarship and feeling a drive to prove yourself?  What about loving academics for its own sake?  What about not wanting to let your family down?

But even if we accept that A students are “conformers,” I, for one, learned a lot by “conforming” to the grade system, and I applied those lessons to my (not entirely lackluster, thank you very much) career.  To begin with, I learned how to evaluate professors early on in order to determine what they’d care about and adapt my study plan to their style.  Was Professor X the type to issue fact-driven pop quizzes?  Open-ended questions seeking creative responses?  Group projects that assessed collaboration skills (incidentally, my least favorite kind of project)?  Did she favor class participation or perfectly written essays?  Did he prefer frequent office hour visits or the occasional well-worded email?  Diagnosing the professor’s style was an art form unto itself and it prepared me to work with and under different kinds of bosses.  Because let’s face it: the working world might value “creativity” and “originality” to some degree, but not before you’ve worked your way up the ladder by impressing the pants off of each and every boss along the way.  And the only way that happens is by making them look good and absorbing their work preferences, which infers a certain level of familiarity with — yes — diagnosing your boss’s style.  

But finally, and most pressingly, I take great issue with the myth of the dropout-student-turned-massively-successful-businessman.  Yes, there have been successful entrepreneurs who have skipped school and turned out more than fine, Peter Thiel being the face of that small and bright elite.  But to tell students that “underachieving in school can prepare you to overachieve in life” is not only misguided but unethical.  I say this pointedly because I worked for many years in the area of educational access and college attainment and the deeply sad truth is that the odds are not in the favor of students who leave school or struggle academically.  Now, I know I’m taking his comment out of context and running across the field with it, but even if we presume he is talking to a classroom full of privileged, conformist, straight-A students and that little harm can be done by telling these prigs (using that term facetiously, as I’d count myself among their ranks were I still in college) to loosen their ties a bit (an irritatingly elitist set-up for an article in and of itself), I still find fault with his reasoning and tone: he’s focused on the symptoms rather than the system, and with a distastefully self-satisfied air about him to boot.

Aaaand scene.

Is that the fieriest I’ve ever been on this blog?  Pardon.

My chorus, your thoughts?

#Shopaholic: Skin-Clearing Magic.

+I have been reading insane reviews of this “radiance oil,” designed specifically for problem skin. I might buy a bottle to combat my next break-out.

+Back in the day, I frequently gave presentations. One lesson I learned from a speech coach who counseled me was that I should always wear what makes me feel most empowered when making a presentation. When you feel good, your entire carriage changes. I tended to wear high heels and sleek dresses. This is just the kind of thing I’d have picked for such an occasion. Serious but form-fitting — and the frilled collar adds just enough panache.

+Have heard this candle smells like magic.

+Found some great new finds at J. Crew. Love this boxy denim popover (with white skinnies), this patterned cardigan, this quilted denim coat, these cateyes in the glitter tortoise, and this elegant dress for an Ingrid Bergman moment.

+I bought mini this magnetic booklet for Church on Sundays and it has been the BIGGEST success. Keeps her busy for a long stretch — and it’s quiet. I also pulled it on our long car ride down from NYC to DC for Christmas, and it entertained her for maybe 30 minutes straight? Genius for car travel and Church. Is it the most Catholic toy ever? Yes.

+Mr. Magpie and I are returning from a lovely weeklong trip to DC and Charlottesville with the beginnings of twin colds. Ugh. While we visited the spa at the resort we stayed at, I was digging the eucalyptus diffuser — it cleared my sinuses. It reminded me that I read good things about this eucalyptus spray for the shower and it sounds ultra-appealing right now.

+This bag came in handy on this trip. It folds up into a tiny square and holds quite a lot. I swear we doubled our baggage on the return. A great gift for a frequent traveler — or yourself. I keep mine in my suitcase.

+A friend recommended this for air travel with mini. The raised ridge keeps toys, snacks, and crayons from rolling off and also gives the germaphobe in you peace of mind. Related: 8 things I never travel without and my favorite travel gear for mini.

16 Comments

  1. I love this fiery rebuttal, and also reading the comments has been enlightening for me — Liz’s and Joyce’s in particular. I, too, was a straight-A student and sometimes feel like I peaked in college … oof! Not a great feeling, but I will carry some of these lessons from the comments with me.

    Those glittery J.Crew sunglasses are SO tempting … I have a tiny credit there which brings them to about $20 with the sale price. Think I need them!

  2. I do agree with the authors assertion that the 4.0 grade average fades in the minds of the employer or the outside world following a graduates first job or professional project. But the work ethic that created the 4.0 never fades. The creative types who are non-conformists can be incredibly successful, but they are not a smart bet for an employer or partner. As someone who has hired many graduates, the grade does not indicate intelligent or even subject matter expertise. Those facts fall from the mind quickly. The grade point average indicates focus and work ethic. I often hear the argument that a grade can be manipulated by a student who the professor and complains or asks for special treatment. I always laugh. As if someone who would visit, collaborate, argue and work with a boss or partner for the best possible outcome would be similarly ridiculed. It shows initiative! Drive! And dare I say creativity 🙂

    1. Such good points, Liz — you are so right! Thanks for writing in on this front. Interesting to think about this from the hiring/recruitment perspective. xoxo

  3. Okay! I don’t like the guy’s tone, and think it’s irresponsible to send the message that dropping out of school is somehow superior.

    But…I do think straight-A’s can be damaging, because many straight-A students (myself included) essentially are taught to (subconsciously or consciously) link their worth to their external results. I feel good—because I got an A. I have value—because I’m smart, here’s my report card to prove it.

    And hanging your worth on ANYTHING external to you is akin to building your house on the sand. A wave comes crashing in (you get an F!) and the entire foundation of who you think you are collapses.

    I know what some straight-A students are thinking, “Well, I would never get an F.” Okay, sure, grades are relatively easy to control in the scheme of things. But you can’t control life, so my point remains. What is it OUTSIDE of yourself that you are hanging your worth on? Your appearance? Your financial status? Your job? Your followers? Even your family?

    [I am using the general “you” here, not talking to you specifically :)]

    None of those things are you. None of those things give you value. It’s critical to start believing in your own inherent value, regardless of anything external.

    I am not my grades, I am not my job. I am not my bank account. I am not my zip code and I am not my body. I truly believe I am much more than all that. I am an infinite soul, a child of God, I am the divine light within. (Call it what you will, different religions use different language here.)

    And when I made that shift in my life—away from my worldly so-called “achievements”—and centered me into myself, into my inherent worth, it felt like building my house on a rock. I feel like, as Jesus put it, I live in the world, but I am not of the world.

    When I did this, my former grades started feeling entirely insignificant. And honestly, at this point, I don’t think they matter at all.

    Just my two cents! 🙂

    Namaste. And happy new year!<3

    1. Hi Joyce! I love this — what a refreshing perspective. I lingered over this in particular:

      “None of those things are you. None of those things give you value. It’s critical to start believing in your own inherent value, regardless of anything external.”

      Wow! Thanks for writing that in. Such an important reminder. And I would have embraced this kind of constructive critique as a student! xoxo

  4. I had a very mature/immature reaction when I saw the headline of the article this month: I did not read it. I knew I would disagree with it SO much, I could not be bothered. Ignorance is bliss or did I make an informed decision? I did not want some MAN putting me down, so I silenced him from the onset!

    1. HAHA – and you are entitled to do so. A friend recently forwarded an article about parenting and I read the title alone and thought, “Nah. No thanks. Don’t even want to go down this path.” thank u, nexttttt.

      xoxo

  5. I agree with all these thoughts! I think what my ambitious/overachieving nature in school has held me back a little is in regards to perfectionism (if that’s even a word). I approach the things I do at work in the same way I did with assignments at school – if I put my name on it, I need to be proud of it and it needs to be of the highest quality. An admirable goal for sure, but everything at work does not lend itself to this. I have burned myself out, and on things that kind of didn’t matter that much. It was definitely a lesson I had to learn, and am still learning. Put an A+ effort into the things that need it, and just get the rest done or delegate it. Speaking of which, management classes should definitely teach the art of delegation, ha!

    I loved your mention of looking the part during presentations. I have a Ted Baker “go-to” dress for just those occasions.

    So glad you had some well-deserved time off, too! xo

    1. April — I so relate to this! It used to be SO hard for me to turn something in / pass something off if I hadn’t spent hours and hours perfecting it. Strangely, this blog has taught me to be a little more comfortable with the concept of sharing something in draft form. I have prioritized volume over perfection — possibly to my detriment? — and that means some things go live before they really should. I think that’s helped me in other arenas of my life, too. But when you talked about “if I put my name on it, I need to be proud of it,” I saw a mirror image of myself, five or ten years ago. It’s a tough habit to break!

      xxx

  6. I have SO MANY THOUGHTS about this. Hi, fellow former straight A student here . I was just talking to my husband on this subject the other day. While I would never ever agree with most of this article (try to get a B?? Are you kidding? For what purpose? To what end??? Getting a B – or a C – is not inherently bad, if you did all the work and tried your best but it was just a really hard class. But…intentionally? No.) I do feel like I will never excel at anything career-wise like I excelled as a student. My personality and work style are just really suited to that structure. And most jobs are not that structured…except perhaps more menial, entry level (I.e. low paying) positions. And since I’ve always been a high achiever, I feel…above? these jobs, as bad as that sounds.

    Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this a lot during this time that I’m taking off to raise my daughter. What type of job would be a better fit for me than my last one, which I didn’t enjoy? How can I approach work differently to make it more like school? I also think that colleges (and high schools) need to do a much better job of preparing students for real life. I don’t remember anyone ever explaining how you have to advocate for yourself and your career. That checking all the boxes and doing the assignments and meeting goals in itself will not get you a promotion. In fact, no one may even notice unless you brag on yourself a bit at your annual review! You have to map it all out yourself, instead of just proceeding on to the next grade like you have for the last 12+ years.

    I’ll wrap this up now but thanks for posting and letting me vent my summa cum laude feelings 😉

    1. Ooof, I feel you on this. There have been times in my post-academic career where I have wondered — “Did I peak in college from an achievement standpoint?” I’ve come to not feel that way over time, though — as I’ve accrued different skillsets (like managing people, which is possibly the hardest skill of all; public speaking; expertise in new and different fields). So, don’t get too down on yourself; I think you’ll be surprised that if you were a high achiever in school, you’ll be high achieving in other realms of your professional career as well. It all takes time, though.

      I 100% agree with you on the fact that college does not prepare you for the working world. But then — sometimes I think a lot of us are working from different assumptions as to what college is meant to do. And different colleges market that meaning and intent differently, too. Is college meant to prepare us to be good citizens of the world? Thoughtful, intelligent, broadly-grounded people? Experts in specific domains? Career-ready? Etc. I do not think UVA (my undergrad) prepared me for my job but I also don’t think it set out to do that necessarily — at least not in my field (of literature, which basically sets you up for nothing except for success in a job that requires a lot of writing). Technical schools are more explicit and well-oriented around career. I do think that in the 21st century, there should probably be more of an emphasis on workplace skills REGARDLESS of program. Even the intangibles — like professionalism in the workplace, email etiquette, interviewing skills, negotiation. These would all have been handy to have leaving UVA.

      Anyway, a lot to chew on here and I found myself nodding right along. Thanks for writing in!!

      xoxo

    2. I wanted to chime in on the question of what college is meant to do, as a professor in the humanities. I don’t particularly care about grades — grading is in some senses a necessary evil in the current academic system. But I do think professors are there to push students to critically engage with the world around them. I may not prepare students for the ‘real’ world in a concrete way, but I do help them to grow as individuals, as intellectuals, as thinking people in the world, as people that need to be able to pick through the images and texts they encounter. Work ethic doesn’t change, but more than that schooling — and really and truly working to engage with what faculty present — is also a springboard for evolving ways of critically thinking and seeing. To my mind, the importance is perhaps not the grade but the depth of intellectual rigor and experience (often and ideally but certainly not always reflected in that grade) — but I’d just say that it’s not fundamentally creative to flout that or fundamentally conformist to plunge into that schooling, because school is also one valuable route to that personal intellectual growth. (We also work towards questions of professional etiquette, expectations, development within our classes — but it’s our loss if liberal arts programs become too pre-professional.)

    3. Thank you so much for weighing in on this as someone who has dedicated a lot of time and intellect to this very topic. It sounds like your students are lucky to have you. It occurs to me now that certain disciplines are better suited to “pre-professional” training vs. others, and certain schools, too. I wish some of this were more legible to students in high school, for whom the concept of “college” seems like a monolith despite the many colors and gradations of post-secondary options out there. Anyway, thanks for writing in on this!

  7. I completely agree, and commend you for finding constructive and graceful language to rebut. My reaction to his claims and tone would have been, well, more reactive, to say the least.

    1. Haha! I will admit to dialing back my language after re-reading the first draft of this. Where does my rage come from? I think it’s a combination of his tone and the problematic messaging. Anyway, glad you agree!! xo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *