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20 Things I Wish I Had Learned in School

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Everyone’s journey through life is unique. Public education is supposedly designed to even the playing field, but some would say it is the root of great social imbalances. Too many graduate from high school without ever learning the basics. If I could send a letter back in time to my ten year old self, this is what it would say:

1. Nobody knows what is going on.

Scientists who spend their careers analyzing the nature and origins of life on this planet have gleaned only a few more solid facts about the universe than your own parents have. Nobody knows why we are here or what we are supposed to be doing, and anyone who says they do is selling something. What each of us perceives is only a fraction of what there is to know, and we can only find truth by combining our perspectives without judgment. But how can we do this if so few people can admit that they don’t know the answers?

2. Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. (Frank Zappa)

For a lot of people, life is as simple as looking around at what other people are doing, trying to figure out what seems to be working, and falling in line without letting on that you have no idea what is going on. Every once in a while someone decides to do something nobody else is doing and suddenly, progress is made.  But this aspect of reality is not evident in the insulated hierarchical society of public schools. Imagine what would happen if we taught this to kids much earlier in life.

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3. Being cool and popular in school is a trap.

All but a handful of my most popular and talented grade-school peers went on to become miserable adults. Kids who grew up never questioning themselves or the authorities because everything they did was rewarded with acceptance missed out on essential steps in mental development. As a result of the imbalances this creates, many adults have confidence beyond their capabilities, and others grow up without the necessary confidence to reach their full potential.

4. Some of the highest quality human adults were late bloomers.

Some kids take their time, quietly trying to understand what is happening around them instead of taking everything for granted and at face value. They can come across as really weird to other children. Others are cast as ugly and weird as kids only to grow into the most beautiful humans on earth. Late bloomers tend to be paragons of perspective since they have the rare experience of viewing life from both sides of the coin. Their observations allow them to approach popularity and success with more wisdom as an adult.

5. Do not hate.

If you must hate, do not hate for what one has done to another. This is the root of 90% of drama and involving yourself in such conflicts is not worth it. This goes both ways, as it is also unwise to involve outside parties when you have a problem with a particular person. Confront them directly, as only your antagonist can provide closure. Involving other people who have nothing to do with the problem is only going to make it worse.

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6. You must know yourself before you can expect to truly know another.

Kids are raised to live up to all kinds of expectations. Many go straight from wanting to please their parents into long-term romantic relationships without ever taking time to address their own goals and desires. Selflessness can be seen as an honorable trait. If left unchecked, it can lead to misery and resentment. There is much more to life than graduating, getting married, and having kids. Many adults get so caught up in these things that the possibilities of their potential pass them by. People who take the time to become independent and happy in their own right while they are young grow up to be better partners and parents.

7. Do not start college until you have a sense of what your career should be.

Doing anything just because you feel it is expected of you and not for any particular reason of your own is a waste of time and resources. College is expensive, and taking random classes is not likely to result in a sudden revelation about exactly what you were put on earth to do. You can learn that kind of thing much more effectively from experiencing life and getting to know yourself better outside the classroom.

8. There will never be a time when it is okay to stop learning and growing.

Diplomas are intended as trophies of expertise and certification in particular or general areas. Adults reach these milestones and the career goals associated with them thinking “I did it right, I know it all, I can stop learning now,” or “I have this child who is looking at me for answers, I had better at least pretend like know everything.” I once imagined myself reaching some unknown, intangible state of knowing everything. However this sense of serenity never came until I admitted that, despite years of higher education, there is very little I know for certain and probably a lot more left to learn than I have time in which to learn it.

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9. Fear is the mind killer.

Fear is a very natural response that we all share, yet it is widely exploited by manipulative forces. It can set you back more than anything else, and those who are controlled by fear are the first ones to become stagnant and pliable. Irrational fears can easily be examined through facing them head on. Other fears are more deep seated, and can take a lifetime to eliminate. It is best to begin vigilantly examining fear as early in life as possible to avoid missing out on important formative experiences.

10. It is impossible for anyone to control what other people think, feel, or do.

Many learn at an early age that they can get what they want by manipulating others. There is certainly something to be said for the power of inspiration and influence. Yet even with the best intentions, the consequences cannot be entirely controlled. Talk until you are blue in the face, but people cannot change without learning new things. They are more likely to learn from their own experiences than anything else. If you want to make the world a better place your own example is the most influential tool you have. Life is simpler when you expect less from others and more from yourself.

Oh, and by the way:

  • Innocence is the one thing you can’t ever get back once you lose it.
  • Be very careful with other people’s hearts.
  • If someone does not listen to you when you say no, they are not worth your time.
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  • Bullies and teasers are only projecting their own insecurities onto their victims.
  • If you spend your youth wisely, you will be a more stable adult.
  • Your twenties will be the best years of your life.
  • Learn to take criticism and overcome failure.
  • Get really good at doing what you love.
  • Don’t believe the hype.
  • The world is not what you think it is, people are not who you think they are, and nothing is what it seems.
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