How To Navigate The Real World

“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.

It’s no secret that sex education is a vital part of our academic curriculum, but have we ever stopped to consider what we’re missing? Sure, we learn about the technicalities of sexual intercourse and how to put a condom on a banana, but what about the aspects that are crucial for building and maintaining healthy relationships? Why aren’t we taught about the importance of intimacy, communication, and connection?

Where are the lessons on honest and effective communication in relationships? Where are the courses on financial management? Where are the classes that prepare us for life’s unexpected curveballs and teach us how to navigate through them?

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.

It’s astonishing to think that we spend well over a billion dollars each year on therapy alone. While seeking help when we’re struggling is certainly important, it begs the question: why are we waiting until we’re broken to fix ourselves? Of course, life is our greatest teacher, but perhaps if we were equipped with some basic tools and strategies, we could be better prepared for the inevitable challenges that life will inevitably throw our way.

Here is my short list on what I wish I would have been given more information on prior to high school graduation:

Life 101

  • Time management: Balancing school, work, social life, family time, and personal well-being can be a daunting challenge for anyone, but for busy high school students who juggle a myriad of commitments, you can still rely on our parents to keep you on track and ensure that you don’t forget important things like your gym bag or laundry. However, in order to truly succeed and thrive in life, we need to take ownership of our time and develop strategies to manage it effectively. Whether it’s using a day planner or utilizing digital tools like the Outlook calendar, it’s essential to block out time for self-care and prioritize our own well-being in addition to our various commitments.


  • Healthy Habits: As you head off to college, you’ve probably heard about Ramen – the staple food of many college students. But is that really how you want to start our journey in the “real world”? Sure, we may have learned about the food pyramid in high school health class, but the truth is that what we put into our bodies has a direct impact on how we feel and function. Eating healthy, nutritious food can help us study better, sleep better, and perform better in all aspects of our lives. And let’s not forget about exercise – with high school sports and gym class behind us, it’s more important than ever to prioritize physical activity. The dreaded “freshman 15” is a real phenomenon.


  • Self-care: It’s time to debunk the myth that practicing self-care is selfish – because it’s not. In fact, prioritizing your mental and emotional well-being is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and those around you. Self-care doesn’t have to mean getting a mani-pedi or indulging in luxury items – it’s about taking time to rest, recharge, and engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.
  • How to deal with grief: Growing up can be tough, and when we experience significant life changes like the divorce of our parents and moving away from loved ones, it can be especially challenging. Unfortunately, many people discount the grief that children experience during these times, thinking that they will “be fine” because they’re young. But the truth is, children and teenagers experience grief differently than adults, and it’s important to acknowledge their feelings and provide them with the support they need to navigate these difficult times. For example, learning about the 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – can be incredibly helpful in understanding the different emotions we may experience when faced with loss or change.


  • How to handle failure and rejection: Learning how to handle failure and rejection is a crucial life skill that I wish I had learned at a younger age – perhaps even as young as 5. As someone who was bullied throughout grade school, junior high, and high school, I know firsthand how painful it can be to feel rejected or disliked by others. But the truth is, not everyone is going to like us – and that’s okay. Just as we won’t like everyone we meet, it’s important to recognize that rejection and failure are a natural part of life. Whether it’s getting fired or going through a breakup, it’s essential to allow ourselves time to grieve, but then focus on what we’ve learned as we move forward. By reframing failure and rejection as opportunities for growth and learning, we can develop a sense of resilience and inner strength that allows us to navigate life’s challenges with greater ease and confidence. So, while I wish I had learned this lesson earlier in life, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share it now with others who may be struggling with similar challenges.
  • Apologizing: Apologizing can be difficult, especially when the other person doesn’t seem to accept it. It’s important to understand that a heartfelt apology goes beyond simply saying “sorry.” In order to really apologize and let someone know you mean it, you need to take ownership of your actions and acknowledge the impact they had on the other person. This means admitting that you were wrong and taking responsibility for any hurt or harm you may have caused. It’s important to be sincere and genuine in your apology, showing that you truly understand and regret the pain you caused. However, even with the most heartfelt apology, it’s possible that the other person may not accept it – and that’s okay.


  • Relationships (more than sex): It’s a well-known fact that nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce, and while I don’t suggest that a Relationship 101 class in high school could solve this issue entirely, I do think it’s worth considering the value of teaching young people more about romantic relationships. While we may learn how to put a condom on a banana in sex education classes, we receive very little guidance when it comes to building healthy, fulfilling relationships. Many of us learn about relationships from our parents or through the media, but these sources aren’t always reliable or healthy. By providing young people with information and tools to navigate romantic relationships in a healthy way, we can help to promote more fulfilling and sustainable relationships. This could include teaching effective communication, conflict resolution, and boundary-setting, as well as discussing the importance of mutual respect and consent.

While Life 101 may not be an official class offered in school, there is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to be gained outside of the traditional curriculum. Although it may not boost your GPA, taking the time to learn about things like personal finance, relationships, and emotional well-being can have a profound impact on your overall quality of life.

While we all have to navigate the ups and downs of life on our own, we can also learn a great deal from each other’s experiences and perspectives. By sharing the lessons we’ve learned through our own struggles and challenges, we can help others navigate Life 101 with greater ease and confidence.

While heartbreak, disappointment, and failure can be painful, they also provide opportunities for growth and learning. By sharing our own nuggets of wisdom with others, we can help them to navigate life’s challenges with greater resilience and strength. After all, we’re all in this together – and we all have the potential to be teachers and learners in Life 101.

Remember, You Got This!

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