someone doesn’t take us aside and teach us a few things (assuming we’d
listen) before we graduate high school, we are doomed to learn life’s
hardest lessons in the real world beyond the classroom.
With that in mind, here are 21 non-academic lessons every
person should know before he or she graduates high school; if you graduated
long ago (as I did), this list represents all the things you
wish you had been taught, yet had to learn (or are still learning)
on your own.
1. Choosing a Mate:
Your ability to select
a suitable spouse will greatly influence your financial and emotional
wellbeing, yet parents and teachers seldom mention it. A few common
sense guidelines: pick someone who’s a joy to be around and who makes
you happy; know the person well; ensure compatibility beyond the physical
because beauty and youth are fleeting, while the mind and heart endure.
2. Evaluating Relationships:
Given the tremendous
importance of relationships, it’s surprising we receive so little
instruction on how to evaluate, prune, and nurture them. Start
by asking yourself whether each of your relationships drags you down or
lifts you up. Surrounding yourself with positive relationships is half
Successful relationships require
body language, appropriate tone of voice, and eye contact; be friendly
and considerate of alternative viewpoints; persuade gently; listen, listen,
4. Handling Difficult People:
An essential life
can be taught, but seldom is.
I’ve written about this before, and there are several good books on the
subject, including Robert Bramson’s
Coping with Difficult People
Ask for business cards, maintain
a Rolodex (electronic or otherwise), and stay in touch with people who
respect you. Association breeds opportunity, personally
We are born egocentric, but by
the time we graduate high school, we should be capable of understanding,
appreciating, and sympathizing with others. Compassion helps us understand our
place in the world and ensures we are emotionally well rounded.
Work environments have gravitated toward
small teams. Sports, team projects, and group goals are great ways to learn
teamwork, but are seldom adequate. Evaluate interpersonal
skills regularly; correct as needed.
As a child, I always thought the expression
“it’s better to give than to receive” was trite and silly. As an adult,
I recognize the expression’s value. Having the capacity to give means
you possess; having the will to give means you want to make a difference;
having the desire to give means you care.
9. The Material Myth:
Pursuing happiness by
(granite countertops, plasma
televisions, designer clothing) is like jogging to the grocery store
on your treadmill: it’s not going to happen.
Keep 3 to 6 months salary in an emergency
fund, in case you lose your job; use online calculators to determine the
proper amount to save for retirement; keep money on hand for
unexpected expenses, such as car and home repair.
Financial gurus suggest that total debt,
excluding first mortgage, should not exceed 20% of take-home pay. This
includes car payments, home equity loans, second mortgages, credit card
debt, and so forth. Upper income consumers may be able to handle higher
debt loads due to greater expendable income, while lower income consumers
may be wise to carry less. And my number one rule of debt:
should never be used as supplemental income.
Live below your means. Look for bargains.
Shop at discount stores. Clearly delineate needs (transportation) from
wants (a big SUV). Feel free to indulge occasionally, but mind the consequences.
13. Debtor Responsibility:
I believe every person
who borrows money has a social, moral, and ethical responsibility
to make payments on time and in the correct amount for the duration of
the contract. Generally speaking, the credit bureaus agree.
School sharpens skills, but seldom
taps into your most powerful reserve of all:
. If you want
to be happy at the top of
, find a
While you’re chasing self-actualization, paying
bills remains important. Independent research using the
or other resources can
help you figure out how to make a living in whatever industry inspires
16. Politics of Advancement:
Advancement in the
working world often depends as much upon interpersonal skills as it does
upon job skills.
Unless you’re related to business
owners or have learned about business ownership on your own, there’s
a good chance that owning a business seems puzzling, daunting, and
overwhelming. The fact that young people in a capitalistic society aren’t
given the basic tools of ownership is unfortunate. Find
a mentor. Attend a workshop. Read.
18. Positive Thinking:
Attitude determines altitude.
If you believe you can do it, most of the time, you really can.
19. Personal Accountability:
Most success boils
down to perseverance, determination, tenacity, and other products of personal
20. Setting and Achieving Goals:
, research, planing, commitment, and
hard work are all required to reach any big, life-altering objective. In
other words, all the schooling in the world won’t help you reach your
dreams if you don’t take time to determine what you want and how
to obtain it.
Throughout my life, I’ve noticed that
no single thing does as much to improve my outlook as getting healthy.
Eat nutritious meals in proper portions. Drink plenty of water. Try to
get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily (or at least every other day).
Get plenty of sleep. High school health classes teach these concepts, but
seldom make the connection between health and the rest of life; the connection
is real. And it’s huge.
So there you have it: 21 lessons you can’t (or generally
don’t) learn in school.
These lessons are not intended to insult teachers or schools,
or to suggest curriculum. They are merely thought starters; something to
think about regarding lessons learned through painful experience.
Life is an exploration, and maybe certain lessons must
be experienced to be understood. Yet I wonder how much pain we could prevent
if we taught life’s important lessons to our young people instead of relying
on the real world to teach them for us.