I recently had an experience related to my Master of Media (Strategic Communication) course that caused me to reflect on how we can effectively choose what we need and what we want, and what can happen even when we make thoughtful choices.

I received a mark two percent below a high distinction from the University, for my final report for my internship with the Auscast Network, and for about five minutes I was very annoyed. In order to work out why, I started asking myself questions. I have shortened my series of Five Whys (and Five Whats) to keep the below salient.

What had I set out to achieve? To write a report that summarised and contextualised what I had learned in a way that would contribute to my long-term aims. Had I done this: yes.

Did I attempt to game the system to get a high mark? No, because it is a waste of time and opportunity, unless it is a high mark that is valuable as a means by which to progress.

Is a very high mark going to help me professionally? Most likely not.

So why was I annoyed that I had not received a high distinction for my final report? Because in the moment I wanted institutional and social confirmation of my intellectual capability.

Why did I want praise? Because it feels nice for a short period of time, even if it is not significant later on.

My conclusion: even when I have decided what my long-term goals are, and have made sensible decisions to do what I need to do to achieve them, the very Human desire for praise can push me toward wanting instant gratification rather than doing what is most useful for me later on.

So, what is the broad lesson concerning needs and wants that can be drawn from my experience? Needs and wants make themselves known in the moment, and we can choose to act on them in the moment, but whenever possible, we should try to take a breath and reflect on what we want in the longer term, and remind ourselves what we need to do to achieve our longer-term aims.

When I started studying in March 2021, I had already decided that my aims were to learn as much as possible to help me develop as a content creator (Blind Insights and this blog), and to increase my understanding of Strategic Communication and Media, to expand my skill-set as a Human Performance, High Reliability, and Antifragility consultant. My plan was to undertake my study from the perspective of how it could benefit me professionally, rather than to try to be the most successful student I could be. Now that I have had one moment of annoyance, I expect I will have more moments of annoyance, but I know what to do when a want in the moment conflicts with my long-term needs and wants.

What we want in the moment can derail us from doing what we need to do to achieve our long-term goals. We need to remember that being Human means being subject to the desire for instant gratification and praise, and that we should question what we are feeling in the moment when it doesn’t align with our long-term aims.

I used to get frustrated when students would quiz me to work out what they needed to do to get high marks. After my recent experience, I now have greater appreciation for why they so often focused on marks instead of what they could learn. Too much of our education system privileges high marks over competence based insights, so it is logical for students to be more interested in gaming the system for high marks than working out how what they are learning might contribute to their preferred future. It only took me one semester of being a student to toy with the idea of gaming the system, and what stopped me from deciding to game the system was having already decided that this is not my preferred way forward toward my goals.

If you are currently a student, and if you currently think you might be spending more time trying to get high marks than learning, then please take some time to reflect on where you want to go and how you want to get there. Being able to game the system can only get you so far, and it cannot help you to become the person you want to be, unless you are happy to live in a permanent state of alternating annoyance and instant gratification. The desire for instant gratification and praise will barge into your consciousness from time to time, but, if you know what you want in the long run, you can increase the chances of continuing to do what you need to do to get where you want to go.

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