What is your unfair advantage?

The Unfair Advantage book by Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba confidently states that we all have unfair advantages which
a. can’t be easily copied or bought
b. are unique to you
c. build on each other with a snowballing effect
and with that in mind, we have no reason to be sad that life is not fair. Well, yes, it is not fair for sure, but if you focus on yourself and what you have, you have as many chances to succeed as anyone else.

This post talks about students and has an inclination towards English and social sciences as I happen to know more about them. Yet, the ideas apply to all other fields of knowledge as well.

Advantage 1: Money

That’s the most obvious one people will talk about. I have been working in different private schools, from those oriented to families with modest incomes to schools hosting children coming from affluent families. If you wonder whether that fact affected the performance, the answer is very simple – no. At the end of the day, students earn their grades, not buy them and the way to earning requires much more than the ability to pay the school fee.

By default, the strong opinion I hold is that parents always want the best for their children. If they can, if there is any slightest possibility to help their children by providing them with books, tutors, materials, better schools, educational trips or anything of that sort – no parent will prevent their children from learning and getting better.

Unfortunately, almost everything has a price tag, from exams and application fees to notebooks and transportation to educational centres. It does feel heartbreakingly unfair that one cannot afford it.

Luckily, ‘can not afford now’ does not equal ‘can not afford at all’. With plenty of hard work and some luck, previously closed doors may open. Also, do not underestimate the advantages of the Internet, financial support programs and the importance of everything else below.

Advantage 2: Intelligence and Insight

Now let’s talk of what learning is about. Intelligence is usually understood as being book-smart. While it is a pretty good thing, especially for standardised exams, this is not enough. Creativity is that often missing key to taking everything to a new level, including problem-solving. Real-life problem-solving is tricky: you probably never had this exact problem before (otherwise it’s not such a big problem), and you have no idea if you have all the necessary information and if what you have is actually excessive. Creativity is certainly something expected in arts and creative writing, but STEM at higher level needs it as much if not more.

Your ability to see connections, patterns, and build systems will take you far in any field but social sciences with concepts in a vacuum make little sense and become bleak. Schools do not teach these skills yet we all need them.

And don’t forget about social and emotional intelligence. It might look like something for the future, not for the exam prep time; however… However, team projects are used a lot and without those skills can be rather miserable. Your attitude towards studies and, especially, your mistakes also fall into this category. How do you deal with stress? How do you communicate with your teachers and school staff? In the end, all of that matters: you can’t achieve your potential in a place where you don’t feel safe and comfortable.

Advantage 3: Location and Luck

a.k.a. being in the right place at the right time

It might seem that this advantage directly relates to the first point but nor really. First of all, it is applicable for the online environment. Next, it can be counted as simple as attending the lessons. You know how often the course seem to go slowly and then you miss a day and it feels like the group magically moved to a totally new stage and you are lost. Legends are of the teachers giving free grades left, right and centre on one seemingly insignificant day. Trust your luck but to maximise your chances be present and be present in more places and as often as possible. Keep your eyes open for opportunities and they will come your way.

Advantage 4: Education and Expertise

Unlike advantage number two, this time the focus is on what you already have. All the accumulated knowledge is your undeniable advantage when it comes to exams and education in general. The more you know, the more confident you get with a strong basis to build further knowledge on top of existing.

In the long run accumulated certificates and degrees will become the skeleton of your CV and a ticket to next stages in your education. Occasionally, you will need to present the proof of your education to authorities, for example when switching countries. Still, in daily life it will not be about the papers stating your education level and where you received it but about expertise. You can brag as much as you wish but the moment a real-life problem presents itself, your ability to solve it is all that matters.

Advantage 5: Status

including network and connections, how you are perceived, your confidence and self-esteem

Point number one: status is not money. They are in different categories and while they might come together, it is not necessary. Also, this point is an important addition to the second advantage in a sense that being book-wise is nice but being street-wise is just as important. Meeting people, staying in touch with them, developing connections – all of that matters in a long run and makes one’s life much easier. Mirror neurons do their part of job, learning brain cells do theirs and having people with the same goals and mindset certainly helps.

If you believe in yourself and trust yourself, others will have no choice but to accept it and play along. After all, you don’t lose anything if you make the first step, ask for help or advice.

What do we get from those areas of unfair advantage? Very few of them are out of our hands to start with. Most of them are about our actions and their results so we can work with it. Take a minute and think what comprises your own advantages. Maybe you are multilingual from birth (and a monolingual me is very jealous right now); it gives you not only a different outlook but also access to the information many people can’t get. Maybe you have good memory or your stamina allows you to study for hours. It is possible that book-wise is not exactly your quality but you are great at building connections so you would find your ways around and get explanations and advice from many more people. In turn, it will increase your chances to succeed.

Be strategic about your strengths and use them to your advantage. Don’t feel bad about putting your stronger sides upfront – others will do the same anyway so no need to be shy.