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7 Lessons You Learned in High School That Still Ring True in the Workplace

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high school

High schools get a lot of criticism for the way graduates are prepared (or not) for the rigors of the real world. Nowhere does that lack of preparation get highlighted more than in the workplace. But you’d be surprised how much happens in your average high school that’s related to the workday world.

High school can teach us plenty of lessons about how to win friends and influence people professionally. Here are seven shining examples that prove what goes on in high school hallways isn’t that different from what’s happening around the water cooler.

1. Fake it until you make it

Whether it was walking through the front doors of your high school for the first time or trying out for the school play, there were plenty of times in high school when you felt out of your comfort zone. The bad news is those feelings still happen in the professional world.

But the same advice you were given to overcome your fears and project confidence can still save your booty at the office. Don’t misrepresent your skills or knowledge, but don’t sell yourself short if you don’t know the answer to every question when you’re put on the spot.

Sometimes it seems like it’s better to get what you want now instead of later, but it’s not complicated. Be patient and don’t jump at the chance to be boss’s pet. An eloquent response that shares the knowledge you do have and promises additional research will buy you the time you need to get the information that’ll blow your boss’s socks off.

2. Tardiness isn’t tolerated

Even though most offices don’t have a tardy bell, you can bet someone is taking note of who shows up late and who skips out early. Attendance is a basic tenet of all schooling, and that’s because — like it or not — it matters. Forever.

Showing up on time is a sign of respect, courtesy and responsibility. You won’t get the keys to the executive bathroom if you always show up 10 minutes late.

3. Don’t be a mean girl

Bullying, petty competition and vicious gossip aren’t left behind with bad cafeteria food and unrequited high school crushes. Mean girls persist in the workplace, and it’s women picking on each other 80 percent of the time.

Whether you were poked fun of for your braces or you were the one who did the poking, tearing other people down never helps you get ahead. (Click here to Tweet this thought.) And like high school, trying to boost yourself up by making fun of someone else, spreading gossip or giving people the cold shoulder is a surefire way to lose respect, inspire distrust and become someone who coworkers avoid.

4. Prank at your own risk

Everyone loves the class clown, right? Well, maybe not. Pulling off the perfect office prank may be your Holy Grail, but it’s not always viewed in the best light. In high school, you might be able to get away with never taking anything seriously and humiliating others in the name of laughter, but at work, being known as the office jester can work against you.

If you can’t resist getting one over on your colleagues, prank judiciously and never cross the line into anything that leaves you or your company open to a lawsuit.

5. Where you sit matters

Where you sit on the first day might be where you’re stuck all year — and in the conference room, as well as the classroom, the seat you choose can say a lot about you. It’s a delicate balance between looking like a suck-up and seeming completely disengaged (slackers only in the back row!).

If you’re looking to move up the career ladder, be strategic. Observe what other leaders in your company do in meetings and follow suit. Sit near the person leading the meeting, sit up straight and take notes — no checking your email or sneaking in a round of Words with Friends.

After all, in the workplace, they don’t just take your phone away for the day; disruptive or inattentive behavior might put your job at risk.

6. Jump in and have some fun

Remember how your parents pressured you into taking up the trombone and joining the marching band? Do you also remember the awesome friends you made and how you can honestly start a story with “This one time at band camp”?

What you didn’t know when your folks coerced you into joining is that it’d make your life better. The same phenomenon happens at work. Look for opportunities to be on the party committee, help with a service project or bring that killer dessert you make to the next potluck. You’ll strengthen your relationships and gain clout with the higher-ups.

7. Focus on what you love

One of the best parts of high school was having more control over the classes you took. If you loved photography, you had a slew of classes to take, and you could even put your skills to work on the school paper or yearbook. There’s no reason to stop doing what you love after high school.

While not everyone can be the next Justin Bieber or Annie Leibovitz, you can still find ways to pay the bills and do what you love. Whether you become the unofficial office photographer or go into graphic design where photos are part of your job description, it’s important to find work you can be passionate about.

Even though high school may have felt like it lasted a lifetime, you’re going to be on the job for much longer, so make sure you don’t sell yourself short from 9-to-5.

What other high school lessons do you find applicable in the dog-eat-dog world of business?

Elli Bishop is a writer for BusinessBee. You can follow them on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Alyson

    Um, where’s the stat that says it’s women picking on each other 80% of the time?! That seems like a pretty bold claim in a world where women are still vastly underrepresented in leadership positions across sectors.

  • TwiggyB

    Teaching women to “respect” other women even though they’re different on all levels! The security guard at my job is such a B!tch, the Others hate her as well as me. But when we complain to the interim director, a man, he just ignores it.

    Wonder if he’d react the same if it were him and a male security guard just beat him down in the parking lot??? Hard to talk through a straw.

  • jrandom421

    Here’s the biggest thing I learned in high school. The “nerds” and “geeks” will be mercilessly abused and denigrated and disrespected, until their skills, talents, and technical abilities are needed to save someone’s bacon, and the one who needs them will pay through the nose for their services, while still disrespecting them, only to find that while the job is done, something else will happen.
    In other words, don’t abuse those whose technical work is going to save your ass!

    • Carol Christen

      As one of my clients said long ago, the nerds with people skills turn from pariahs to profits after high school.

      • jrandom421

        If I had people skills, I wouldn’t have been a nerd or geek!

  • Carol Christen

    Excellent post. Thank you. My clients and I have played a game to make a list of what habits learned in high school don’t help in the world of work. It’s fun, but your list is better! PS. Will be putting a link to this article in the 4th edition of WCIY Parachute for Teens.

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