Some of the most important things I learned in college came from two classes I flunked. I believe that most of us are our own worst enemy. It has been too true for me.

When we think we’re bulletproof, when we are on a roll, it is harder to see, hear, or understand warnings. People around me have often tried to warn me about my pending folly. Too often, I thought, “Those rules are for regular people, not me.”

Two Lessons from an Economics Class

I was on track to get a solid B in my senior-level economics course. I thought I could get an A if I did very well on the final. Like many college students, I pulled an all-nighter. At 6 AM, I was satisfied with how much knowledge I had crammed into my skull, but I was utterly exhausted.

I had two hours before the exam, just enough time for a short, refreshing nap. You can guess the rest. When I woke up from the nap, the final was in process. By the time I got to the class, the professor was collecting the last of the papers. I asked him to give me more time or allow me to reschedule. He explained that professionals in this field showed up early or on time. The field didn’t need any irresponsible people with a degree from our university. He flunked me. I deserved it.

One lesson I learned was that being a professional means more than just knowing your stuff. You’re accountable for your conduct as well as your knowledge. I also learned to consider the cost of various options. Economists might call that risk versus reward. If I had not pulled an all-nighter, I would have earned a “B.” B seems better than F.

A Lesson I Should Have Learned

The other class I flunked was an honors class in English. I was not in that honors program, so the professor would have to make an exception to policy to admit me. There were more than twice as many better-qualified students as spaces in the seminar.

My sweetheart was a cherished student of the national-level professor. She told me how great the professor was and about some premier guest lecturers coming to campus just for this class. I persuaded her to lobby him to allow me to enter this prize class. She did; he did.

Then I missed far too many classes, far, far too many. Of course, I flunked the final. I failed the class. The professor was insulted by my rude and presumptuous behavior. I deserved that F.

I got a clue that my presumptuous behavior was not well received. However, my ego was so overblown I had to be fired by the world’s biggest bank for the same reason before I finally learned that lesson.


Am I the only one who was young and stupid?

Without going into detail about your folly, what lesson did you learn the hard way?


Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.

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