Life School: Achievement is More Than Getting an A


Doctor Neha: This week I have a special guest, Bo. He’s on his lunch break, and he’s agreed to share his communication question that will allow all of you to learn while he does. Thanks, and welcome, Bo.

Bo: Thank you for having me.

Doctor Neha: Yeah. You are quite an efficient guy. You’re here on your lunch break, and you’re going to go back to work. What’s on your mind?

Bo: Considering I am on my lunch break, my question actually relates to being an employee and also being a student. There is a balancing act, or a way that you have to judge how you’re going to confront each problem that arises, especially when there’s a lot of role strain on being a student, being a son, and being an employee.

So I was wondering, how do you check your ambitions? And what is the proper way to handle being a student and going into a competitive field while striving for that one goal alongside so many others?

Doctor Neha: I love that you’re interested in achieving. I also hear how hard it is to balance all of these roles. In the same day you’re a son, a student, and an employee—and now a guest on my blog. The answer comes down to what you really value. Do you know what you want to study?

Bo: Neuroscience.

Doctor Neha: Wow! Neuroscience is what you want to study, and you’re passionate about it. What do you like about neuroscience?

Bo: It’s intriguing because it’s something to do with what every person has. The brain allows us to navigate through the world and through a variety of circumstances. With every year, new things come up to learn about in this field. It’s something that won’t be dying out quite yet.

Doctor Neha: Fascinating. You like the scientific piece. You like that it relates to the way in which we interact in the world, and we grow, and we learn. Not only do you love learning; you love the organ that enables that.

Now, all of your life, all of my life, each of our lives, really, is life school. We often artificially break it up by saying, “I’m a student” or “I’m a son” or “I’m an employee,” but the truth is it is all one big school.Would you say that your brain learns to navigate each of those roles as part of “school”?

Bo: Yeah. That’s a good way of thinking of it.

Doctor Neha: We get different lessons in each one of them. In order to make it manageable, we call it by these different roles. Tell me some of your lessons in each one of those schools.

Bo: Well, I guess a lot of the lessons coincide, which would be learning to value each other’s opinion in a specific matter. For instance, in school, the most basic thing would be to wait your turn. As an employee, a lesson would be to respect the authority or your boss, as well as the customers who come in. Then with your parents, you have to learn to allow them to tell you what may be the better choice in a specific circumstance.

Doctor Neha: In school, the way that you would interact with authority would be with your professors and when you need to take test and exams. When you move into your work life, it might be a boss, but you alsohave colleagues (similar to your peers at school). At home, you have siblings or not or cousins and parents. Those different roles of authority and peers transcend all thesemini areas of your life. They look like they’re different, but they’re actually the same.

I work in corporate settings, and when I do, sometimes I find people have an issue with their boss. And I can trace it back to an unresolved issue with their parents. Or, if they do just fine with authority, they may not get along with their peers. Where do I trace it back to?

Bo: Their cousins or siblings.

Doctor Neha: Yes. My little niece is an only child, and she is much better with authority than she is with peers. Because she never gets that sibling interaction.It’s interesting because your roles and interactions usually depend behaviorally upon how you were raised and the circumstances of your upbringing.

That’s one aspect. Do you know David Eagleman?

Bo: I have not heard of him.

Doctor Neha: David Eagleman is a good friend of mine. He’s a neuroscientist, and he wrote some pretty incredible books. One of them is called Incognito. The other one is called The Brain.

Sometimes people think, Science or math are boring. The truth is both are fascinating, and our job to get other people interested in whatever it is that we’re doing is to make it fun and engaging to learn. David Eagleman is one of the people in neuroscience who does that.

Doctor Neha: Tell me if there’s anything else.

Bo: The other thing was how do you check your ambitions? When would it be appropriate if you’re trying to obtain a goal?Would it be fine to go against your coworkers, your siblings, etc. in order to obtain the goal?

For instance, I had an issue with a classmate of mine. We were doing a group project. It was just the two of us, and he was in charge of a certain aspect of the task. But he wasn’t able to finish it. I ended up having to take over, finish it and turn it in. I didn’t know if it would be appropriate to tell the professor that I had to do the majority of the workload. How would that affect both my peer and how would that go with my professor?

I ended up not saying anything and allowing both of us to get a good grade, but I felt like I was kind of cheating.

Doctor Neha: Unfair.

Bo: Yeah. It was a little unfair.

Doctor Neha: That’s a great question, because if there’s ever a time that you feel like you’ve done an unfair share of the work load or someone didn’t keep their agreements, the first step is to get clear about what is bothering you. Whenever you think of this situation, does your body give any signals as you talk about it? Could you feel anything like heart racing, stomach turning, anything like that?

Bo: My heart was racing because I relived it a tiny bit just thinking about it.

Doctor Neha: That’s right.

Bo: It was, to me, incredibly unfair that I had to stay up an extra night in order to finish the work.

Doctor Neha: Before you go to your professor—because that’s going to authority and the equivalent of telling on your sibling to your parent—the first thing you’d want to do is have an honest conversation with your friend.

Because what I wonder is how clear were the agreements made up front about whose job was what. Sometimes, if expectations aren’t set clearly up front, they can be ambiguous.You might think someone was supposed to do something and he didn’t really have that idea.

Bo: Okay.

Doctor Neha: So pay attention to your agreements. In chapter 21 of my book Talk Rx, you may learn something on setting up agreements. Then if someone’s not meeting their agreements, the next step is regrouping with that person and having the courage to say, “This is what I thought I was supposed to do, and what I thought you were going to do. It felt like I did more than was asked of me, and I feel disappointed and upset. I’m wondering what happened for you.” You have to stay curious.

But most times when we have feel hurt, we’re not curious at all. You know what I’m talking about.

Bo: We’re trying to get through it and get on to the next step, next moment.

Doctor Neha: If you shove it under the rug, it doesn’t go away.When I asked you, “Hey. What would that be like?” The emotions came up instantly. Your brainholds emotional memory very strongly. If you don’t resolve this situation and have this conversation, guess what! The next time you think somebody isn’t doing his or her fair share you’re going to have an out-of-proportion reaction. What it will mean is that you didn’t resolve the last one so now you’re much more guarded moving forward. Does that make sense?

Bo: It makes plenty of sense.

Doctor Neha: It’s called an amygdala hijack. Definitely, you’ll learn about that in neuroscience, too. Were there any takeaways for you?

Bo: Toward the endsomething really clicked for me. I have had experiences where I’ve had an out-of-proportion response, and I shouldn’t have put all that emotional response on someone.It was definitely related to a prior experience.

Doctor Neha: The beautiful thing is, the brain and your emotions don’t let you get away with just shoving it under the rug.

Bo: Right.

Doctor Neha: It’ll come backin spades. Thank you, so much.

If any of you have experienced thinking, Oh. It’s not worth actually having the honest conversation. I’m just going to sweep that under the rug, and, listen, let bygones be bygones,but then you find it in another situation or another name, the same thing is happening.It looks different because it’s a different person and it’s a somewhat different situation but in fact, it’s not that different. Your brain doesn’t let you forget it. If you stay clean and something comes up and you have to the confidence to have a conversation about it, you can clean things up as they occur, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal. You don’t have to have a huge emotional response for something that might be a misunderstanding on someone else’s part. If you want to keep up your relationships and your energy, make sure you clean things up as they go.

Bo: Thank you.

Doctor Neha: Thank you, and until next week.

Awareness Prescription

  1. Pay attention to when you think achievement is more important than how you get there
  2. Notice the parallels of how you struggle in your work life with the struggles in your family of origin:

    With colleagues = your struggles with siblings

    With a boss or authority figure  = parental challenges

  3. Before you react, make sure you know what level of agreement you had.

Send me your questions — drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha or write your question and comments down below.


To success in life school,



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