“Education is not the preparation for life; education is life itself.” –John Dewey
Sitting at my niece’s graduation a few weeks ago, I was very impressed with the two senior speakers who spoke about their journey of high school and their insight of the future as the class of 2022 was getting ready to venture into a new chapter of life after high school.
The wisdom and maturity in the two young 18-year-olds impressed me. However, there was also an innocence in their tone as well as a tiny bit of fear of embarking upon the unknown future that lies ahead. High school teaches us a lot, but there is so much they didn’t learn in high school and they will only learn by experiences that are soon to come.
Why don’t they teach us “real life” shit in High School? I can honestly tell you that because of my career path, I have never had to know where the stomach of a frog was; however, I could certainly have used some skills on dealing with grief prior to graduation.
We learn how to put a condom on a banana, and we learn about procreating. But why aren’t we taught about relationships and not just sexual intercourse? We are taught how to have safe sex but what about all the other parts that go along with sex? Like the intimacy, communication and connection that are important for a relationship to be successful?
Where were the classes on how to communicate in honest and healthy ways in relationships? Where were the classes on how to budget? Where were the classes on how to deal with shit in life that is going to hit you out of nowhere and you are going to have to figure out how to get through it?
In reality, some skills can be taught in a classroom setting, but going through it and experiencing it is really the best way to learn many of those “hard parts” of life (although some guidelines would still be appreciated by most).
I honestly cannot say what I’m trying to say better than the late Peter McWilliams said himself in the introduction to his book Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life in School—But Didn’t (The Life 101 Series).
I call this book Life 101 because it contains all the things I wish I had learned about life in school, but for the most part, did not.
After twelve (or more) years of schooling, we know how to figure the square root of an isosceles triangle (invaluable in daily life), but we might not know how to forgive ourselves and others.
We know what direction migrating birds fly in autumn, but we’re not sure which way we want to go.
We have dissected a frog, but perhaps have never explored the dynamics of a human relationship.
We know who wrote “To be or not to be, that is the question,” but we don’t know the answer.
We know what pi is, but we’re not sure who we are.
We may know how to diagram a sentence, but we may not know how to love ourselves.
That our educational system is not designed to teach us the “secrets of life” is no secret. In school, we learn how to do everything –except how to live.
I’m not suggesting that a class in high school titled Life 101 is going to be able to tell you how to deal with life, but it certainly would have been a great elective I would have liked to give a try. However, I’m not sure who would be the best person to teach Life 101, let’s list some options:
- A therapist with PhD in psychology who has counseled people for over 30 years and seen and heard more than you can imagine
- A divorced single mom who had to work three jobs and turned her passion for cleaning houses into a million dollar house cleaning business
- A former CEO who worked 90 hours a week and flipped his shit and ran off into the Smokey mountains to find himself and then rode his bicycle across North America
- Or maybe a homeless man who is a Vietnam Vet and has spent years living on the street because of mental illness and lack of government support
In reality, all of these instructors would be a great choice as they each have different perspectives on life, but no one can teach this class because LIFE is our instructor and going through life is our class.
We spend over a billion dollars annually on therapy. We wait until things are broken until we fix them. Not that a class can teach us everything (as I just said above, LIFE is our instructor) but maybe if we at least had some tips, perhaps we would be a little more prepared for the curve balls life throws.
Here is my short list on what I wish I would have been given more information on prior to high school graduation:
- Time management: How to balance school, work, social life, family time, and YOU I think if you are a busy high school student with sports and debate and a part time job, you are getting some exposure to time management. However, most of us still had our parents keeping us on track making sure we didn’t forget our gym bag or were still helping with the laundry. We needed to be told to get a day planner (ok showing my age) or to start using outlook calendar to include blocking out self-care time for YOU!
- Healthy Habits: You are heading off to college and you hear about Ramen. We start the “real world” off by eating shit? Sure, we learned about the food pyramid in health class in high school. When you are putting good food into your body, you are going to study better, sleep better, perform better. And exercise, you no longer have high school sports (unless you got a scholarship) and gym class is now a thing of the past. So, make sure you are still prioritizing time to exercise, that freshman 15 is no joke!
- Self-care: It’s not selfish to practice self-care. And it doesn’t only mean taking time to get a mani-pedi. Knowing it’s important for your mental health to take breaks, breathe, schedule time for the things you love is far from selfish.
- How to deal with grief: I went through a lot growing up, one of which was the divorce of my parents and moving away from my mom. Little kids deal with grief different, but many times people will discount it and say “they are young, they will be fine”. I also went through different things as a teenager that I would have gotten through better having known more about the 5 stages of grief and understand that you might bounce around, and that anger is an ok feeling.
- How to handle failure and rejection: I actually wish I would have learned this one when I was 5. I was bullied a lot as a kid in grade school, junior high and through high school. Not everyone is going to like you, just like you aren’t going to like everyone. You might get fired, you might be broken up with. Grieve of course, but then look at what you have learned as you move forward.
- Apologizing: How to really apologize and let someone know you mean it. You say you are sorry and they don’t seem to accept it. Because they don’t just want to hear you say “sorry”, but they want you to say you were wrong. And even if you apologize, being prepared that someone might not accept it, and that is okay.
- Relationships (more than sex): Nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce and I’m not suggesting that by taking a Relationship 101 class in high school there would be less divorce in this country. However, I find it interesting that we learn how to put a condom on a banana (when I think most of us could figure out how a condom works) but we aren’t taught anything about romantic relationships other than what we learn from our parents or movies.
I really wish I would have read the book on love languages earlier in life. There are five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Gary Chapman believes learning your own and your partner’s primary love language will help you create a stronger bond in your relationship.
I believe we are ever evolving and changing as people so what love language matches us at one point in our life can change, but it would have been nice to know they existed before I was 35.
We might not have Life 101 offered in school, but to any young adult reading this, there is more to learn than what is on a school schedule. Unfortunately, it’s not going to help your GPA to learn about it, however, it’s going help you out in the grand scheme of life. Maybe ask someone about those things listed above or other things you don’t want to talk about in therapy in 5-10 years from now. Life 101 is a “class” you are going to have to navigate on your own (we all still are) but hopefully you can arm yourself with some knowledge some of us wish we had earlier on.
Of course having our hearts broken, losing jobs, being disappointed, and struggling through challenges help mold us into the strong people we become on the other side—but if you can share some of the nuggets of wisdom you now have with someone getting ready to venture into life (or even someone who is has been in the real world a bit but is struggling), be a part of their Life 101 class. We all are each other’s teachers in this class of Life.
Remember, You Got This!
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