How Getting Straight A's Actually Hurts Your Chances Of Success

The downsides of academic success and how to overcome them.

young boy in school at desk, grown man at work in desk Gpoint Studio via Canva | martin-dm via Canva

Throughout school, I was always called "gifted."

That sure "gifted" me some heavy arrogance — be it the royal treatment from teachers or my name perma-etched at #1 in exam results.

College injected the first dose of humbling — as I realized other (more) "gifted" individuals existed.

Navigating dorm living, heartbreak, and subpar bodybuilding genes, my grades (and arrogance) dropped.

My fatherly grandpa’s death dealt the final blow. 


The choking weight of adulthood taught me things my education" never did: Property legalities. Developing real friendships. How and what to prioritize. Budgeting. Investing. Taxes. Empathetic communication. Finding real love. Finding yourself. Mental health. How to think — and think about thinking.

Reflecting on the pain-filled 180-degree switch from my nerdy self, I realized that the real world and the internet taught me more than school and college ever did.

I’m still unlearning the limiting beliefs and narrow POVs schooling etched into me.

See, formal education has positive: the competitive spirit, sports, deadline adherence, work ethic, social interactions, peer group diversity, and opportunities. For underprivileged kids, academic excellence can be a life-changing launch pad.


But the negatives are also real and serious — especially for high-performing straight-A students.

I want to go over 4 such major pitfalls, drive them home with stats/anecdotes, and share advice to overcome them.

RELATED: Why So-So Grades Are Okay — If Your Kid Has These 6 Traits Instead

Here are 4 ways getting straight A's can hamper your overall success:

1. Straight A's can lead to Expert Syndrome

In 1999, NASA’s $125-million Mars Orbiter burned and broke into space debris — as NASA engineers back on Earth were expecting to celebrate. The reason? Forgetting to convert Imperial units into SI units — by a team of experienced "experts" with PhDs from Harvard, Standford, and the like.


Despite all their knowledge, experts are also fallible — they can (and have been) flat-out wrong as well:

  • "No 'scientific bad boy' ever will be able to blow up the world by releasing atomic energy." — Nobel Prize winner Robert Millikan, Popular Science
  • "If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one." — W.C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954
  • "The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible because it will make war ridiculous." — Wireless Telegraph inventor Marconi, circa 1920

The close-minded "know-it-all" arrogance makes it hard for "experts" to keep learning. Be it racking up straight A's or degrees, the "expert" tag shuts off innovative perspectives and ideas.

To quote a study by The Conversation, "One of our most interesting findings was that as GPAs went down, innovation tended to go up. Even after considering a student’s major, personality traits, and features of the learning environment, students with lower GPAs reported innovation intentions that were, on average, greater than their higher-GPA counterparts."

This doesn’t mean you need to mess up your grades — or that grown-up A-students are doomed. You can have the best of both worlds with a simple mindset shift.


How to overcome Expert Syndrome:

Through Zen Buddhism’s Shoshin — or "Beginner’s Mind," the idea is to learn with a beginner’s eagerness and humility, regardless of your knowledge level.

"If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few." — Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Counter-intuitively, this is the path to true expertise — and as Master Yi from League Of Legends said, "A true master is an eternal student."

Psychology’s Dunning Kruger effect supports this. While the competent underestimate themselves, the incompetent are delusional.


In today’s fast-changing world, information becomes irrelevant by the minute — only with a beginner's mind will you stay relevant. Fake experts reliant solely on degrees today will be broke relics tomorrow.

2. Straight A's often lead to taking the "default path”

Score straight A's in school. Land a good college. A-grades again. Bag a lucrative job. Buy a mortgage. Grind your butt off. Eke out a pay raise. Marry. Expenses shoot up. Continue grinding. Get promoted. Have kids. Make them score straight A's too. Then, retire at 60 — with arthritis and a million in the bank.

Except for the rare case where you enjoy your 9 to 5 and it allows time for a life outside work, the default path is a rat race. Even the "rare case" might leave some feeling "caged" — and craving a different life (as I had).

From birth, we’re brainwashed into believing the 9 to 5 life is "The Path" — while it’s only "a path."


By design, schools groom us into "punctual and docile" 9 to 5 workers. The parallels are eerie:

  • Sitting at a desk for 8 hours
  • Weekends off — only to unwind and dread the coming week
  • Get good grades (performance ratings) to get promoted to the next grade (pay scale)
  • Be the teacher’s (boss’s) pet and snitch on others (office politics) to curry favor (promotions)
  • Obey and don’t question your teachers (higher-ups)
  • Holidays, Christmas, and summer vacation (annual leaves)

There's nothing wrong with a 9 to 5 if it grants meaningful work and time for hobbies, health, family, and leisure. But most don’t — according to a survey, 60 percent of employees are dissatisfied, and 19 percent feel miserable. No wonder the Great Resignation is still underway.

In a way, those who haven’t aced academics are fortunate. Unable (or unwilling) to land a job, they explore, realize non-default paths exist, and forge their own — through trial and error. But the A-graders often stay shackled to their golden handcuffs.

How to combat this brainwashing:


You don’t have to slap a resignation letter on your boss’s desk and walk out to build the next Facebook. Instead, undo the societal brainwashing that tells us a career is a black-or-white choice — the "safe" 9 to 5 path or "risky" entrepreneurship.

In today’s AI-powered digital age, infinite grey paths to a wealthy and meaningful life exist. Your curiosity is the only ceiling.

RELATED: The Most Undervalued Life Skill, According To CEOs

3. Straight A's encourage complacency 

In college, a pair of senior twins baffled me. Carbon copies of each other. Same IQ. Studied, gamed, and hung out together — but while one topped exams, the other got above-average scores.


The difference was "Exam Prowess" — an umbrella of exam-acing skills society overlooks. Calculated guesses. Neat handwriting. Illustration-rich presentation. Understanding examiner psychology. Exam-solving approach. Option elimination. Answer back-computation.

Exams don’t test actual knowledge — they measure your skill at reproducing rote information. Yes, intelligence, work ethic, and diligence are all factors — but none concrete enough to claim "An A-grader is smarter than a C-grader." But parents, companies, colleges, and society use grades as a proxy for competence!

Shouldn’t this be great news for us A-graders?

It isn’t — as the world is awakening to the power of Proof Of Work (POW).


In cryptocurrency, POW is the validation method of number-crunching crypto miners. In our context, POW means real-world projects, public portfolios, client testimonials, and content. Opportunities are already POW-based in tech, open-source, the creator economy, and freelancing circles.

Google, Apple, and Tesla don’t care about grades or college degrees. Google hired a 16-year-old government school boy from India for a $175K design position.

The ongoing explosion of AI, creator, and gig economies will favor the truly competent — more and more.

The solution, then?

Wanting to score straight A's isn’t a problem — viewing your grades as a "guarantee" and becoming complacent is.


As the world transitions from Proof-Of-Grades (POG) to POW, build competence alongside your grades. An 8-CGPA student with real-world projects will bag better opportunities than a 9-CGPA.

RELATED: How To 'Future-Proof' Your Career For Long-Term Success

4. Straight A's breed unidimensional thinking and living

Attempting smoke rings, "Why waste time in the gym?" my brother’s med-school mate quipped to him. "I can visit the OT or study gross anatomy instead."

Suddenly, my colleagues discussing Angular JS and No-SQL at the dining table didn’t seem all that bad.

While narrow focus is useful for mastering specific subjects — it can breed unidimensional thinking and living. In today’s rapidly-morphing world, multidimensional living and cross-disciplinary thinking rules.


Today’s greats rarely wear single hats — pro athletes and celebs being the only exceptions. Think Elon Musk, Andrew Hubermann, Jordan Peterson, Peter Thiel, Naval Ravikant, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. They’re entrepreneurs, visionaries, readers, and thinkers all rolled into one. Pro athletes and celebs like Kanye West, Connor McGregor, and Magic Johnson are also multi-dimensional entrepreneurs.

All subjects are one — as my friend Akshad Singi says, "Since reality is far too vast and complex for us to make sense of — we’ve chopped it up into individual subjects."

Only by going down rabbit holes of curiosity and pursuing novel experiences can we better connect reality’s dots. But academic and corporate progression enforces narrow learning and focus — stunting the expansion of knowledge and consciousness. Turning jobs into identities, colleagues into friends, and job nuances into post-work discussions — life becomes a unidimensional echo chamber.


How to develop multi-dimensionality:

The best way I’ve found is the "Straight-7" system.

Instead of being a 10/10 in one aspect of life, you work towards becoming a 7/10 in every aspect — aka all-round self-improvement. Building your dream physique. Practicing empathy. Reading books. Exploring dating. Going on spiritual retreats. Meditation. Consuming consciously. Upskilling.

Most crucial is the study of the 3 horizon-expanding subjects — psychology, philosophy, and spirituality. I can’t express how much freedom and power these 3 subjects unlock.

At the core of being multidimensional is realizing you’re supposed to be multidimensional — because you’re a human, not an AI bot.


Ironically, AI is multidimensional now — it can create stunning art, solve math, produce music, ace exams, and spout romantic pickup lines. We, humans, need to catch up.

For decades, formal education worked. It was an amazing system to standardize education. But the internet has democratized knowledge — and removed the necessity (and limitation) of standardization.

Now, anyone with an internet connection can learn, document, monetize, and teach their interests online. The biggest creators are building entire online schools — be it Hamza’s Adonis School, Ali Abdaal’s Part-Time YouTuber Academy, or Dan Koe’s Digital Economics.

Don’t drop out of school/college or quit your 9 to 5 to join the creator economy bandwagon. Instead…

  • Realize the underlying shift and focus on self-learning more than enforced learning
  • Break the close-mindedness of expert thinking by embracing the "Beginner’s Mind"
  • Become multidimensional — through curiosity-driven consumption and holistic self-improvement
  • Explore non-default options to bulletproof your future — through digital creation, side gigs, freelancing, coaching, consulting, etc.

College isn’t the end of learning; it’s the start — and the real end is when we walk into our graves.

"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school." — Albert Einstein

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Neeramitra Reddy is a 12x Medium Top Writer, Chief Editor/Columnist for In Fitness And In Health (IFAIH), and a Columnist for Wholistique.