Whoring for Participation Points

Funny story.

I met my future wife when we were both students at UC Berkeley. At some point we decided to take a class together, which was as much an academic decision as it was a decision to spend more time with each other. The class is the stuff of family lore now, but suffice it to say that taking Medieval Russian History together wasn’t prompted by our scholarship of Russian history, medieval or otherwise.

To make a long story short, this is how I came to coin the phrase which is the title of this here post. Whoring for participation point basically referred to my wife waking up periodically during class to ask a completely inane question just for the sake of appearing awake and interested. You only needed to hear one sentence after waking up, so the on-time was minimized.

Consider this contrived example. My wife would wake up. The professor would say to the class: “Thus the asceticism was a key element of the medieval Russian Orthodox tradition adopted from the Greeks.” The wife would raise her hand and ask: “Is this true that the Greek Orthodox ascetics predated the Russian ones?” Not her exact words, but you get the point.

It was then that I realized that I had found my one true love (and a person of formidable cunning to boot). Just kidding, I realized it well before.

Whoring for participation points works great up to a point, yet it starts to fail spectacularly once you leave school and enter the real world. Here is why I think it doesn’t work outside of classroom:

  1. Participations points are no longer 10-20% of your grade. Life, as we come to know it, is 100% participation.  The academic environment is way too lenient to non-participants. The industry is not.
  2. In the ultra-competitive real world, the difference between someone who is engaged and someone who isn’t is not 10%. It’s no longer a marginal difference, it’s a qualitative difference between success and failure.
  3. Ultimately, seizing opportunities is a full time job. You can’t be half awake and not expect to miss something.
So I guess I am trying to use this little vignette to tell you that you really need to genuinely get yourself in front of people, to soak up all the information, and to engage above and beyond the bare minimum level many of us got used to in school. Because if you don’t, someone else will, and they won’t be just 10-20% ahead.

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