We’re all pretty used to assignments. In fact, most of us are so used to them that we have a hard time completing projects or tasks outside of the artificial assignment structure.
Assignments typically take the form of a supposed authority figure or expert telling you to complete a task, providing a deadline, and giving criteria for what constitutes success. The idea is to teach you particular skills and how to complete a task satisfactorily, but when you think about it, it’s a pretty absurd way to teach. What’s the point of learning how to write a paper on a topic someone else cares about, in a format they prefer, with their desired number of citations?
In the world outside of formal education, projects rarely are so arbitrary or concrete in their goals. Rather than, “produce X using Y and Z inputs, with method A, by deadline B”, it’s more like, “produce something of value to others.” Because of our reliance on the assignment model, the hardest part for most young workers and job seekers is not how to do a pre-defined set of activities, but how to even figure out what activities to do. They’re used to having the details provided, but the market rarely does that.
Why not scrap the whole assignment model? Rather than creating a business plan for a pretend business that will be judged by some teacher as to whether it has all the technically correct information, length, and layout, create an actual business plan for a real business and try to get it off the ground. You’ll find out quickly whether the plan is of any value. The assignment approach will teach you whether you’re good at making business plans. The action approach will teach you whether your good at making business.
Rather than painting a picture for an art teacher to critique, paint one with the goal of getting it up in a gallery, museum, or store to see if it’s valued in the marketplace. Don’t make a budget and timeline for a pretend event you want to run, run an actual event. Don’t write a paper to fulfill someone else’s criteria, write one to help you learn or to get published.
The point is not to create something that meets supposedly objective criteria of “good”, or passes the test by some expert. The point is to create something that brings about your desired end. Most people never think about their desired end, because it’s always been provided for them.
I’ve met so many people who are constantly tweaking things and looking for some expert to show it to for input. Who can look at my resume and tell me if it’s correct? Who can look at my blog and tell me if it’s good? There is no correct or good. A little input may be helpful, but the only correct with a resume is if it gets you the interview. If you want to know if it’s good, send it to the employers. Your blog is good if it makes you happy, or attracts readers (often connected, but not necessarily).
If you approach the world with an assignment mentality, looking for people to define what you should produce and when and how, you’ll struggle mightily to find your groove and really enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about experts and what’s “proper”, set your sights on the outcomes you want to achieve and let those be the test for the value of your activities.