The problem with grading systems is they encourage people to focus their attention on a measure of success that’s unlikely to be relevant outside of a limited context – most likely a school of some sort. Prolonged exposure to these systems can turn into an addiction. Addiction is a coin with two sides; an appealing benefit that you get in exchange for dangerous side effects. Addictions are all the more dangerous because often you don’t know about the trade off.

With grading systems the benefit is the sense of progress you’re getting as you move from beginner to expert in small steps. From martial arts to music, grading systems are used to help encourage students to keep going on a journey that can easily span years. But the side effect may be the lack of a true purpose for the art. After all, if you’ve grown accustomed to earning a grade in return for the many hours of study and practice, what’s likely to happen when you graduate? Will you continue to hone your art when there’s nobody there to tell you how well you’re doing? Will you stop to consider that perhaps you owe it to yourself to make a selfless contribution with the gift you’ve carefully developed over the years?

The light at the end of the tunnel is that leaving school might be like going cold turkey; without the grading system, maybe we’ll renew our commitment for mastery, fuelled only by a passion for the art and a goal to contribute. Or perhaps we might instead seek to measure our value based on how many “likes” we earn on our favourite social network, effectively trading one system of measure for another.

If you enjoyed this article get email updates (It’s free)