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20 Things I Wish I Had Learned in School

20 Things I Wish I Had Learned in School

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?

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.
  • 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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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