9 Valuable Lessons I Learned in the Real World (and Not in School)

Let me tell you a story:

When I was in the 3rd grade, we had to write a paragraph about something we loved, and then draw a picture in the box above it.

We were first asked to draw and write in pencil, and then once the teacher had checked our work, we were supposed to carefully go over each word in the paragraph with a black pen, creating the finished product.

When I started going over the words with my black pen, I outlined the first word of the paragraph, and then the second, and then I thought it would be fun to outline the last word of my story, and then some words in the middle — just sort of outlining the letters I was drawn to next, not following any sort of rigid path.

My teacher walked over and said, “Cole? How’s it coming?”

I held up my piece of paper to show her how far I’d gotten — I was very proud of my work.

She scrunched her eyebrows, crossed her arms and asked, “Why aren’t you going over the words in order?”

A bit confused by her question, I said, very honestly, “They’re all going to be colored in at the end. Why does it matter how I get there?”

She called home that night and told my parents I had a learning disability.

My experience with formal education was, shall we say, less than impressive.

I was a straight C student all the way up through high school. I was a horrible test-taker. I didn’t do very well on my ACT. I was constantly asked to leave class because the questions I would ask were so rudimentary that my teachers thought I was mocking them — when really (at least, most of the time…) I just had trouble following the lesson.

Not everyone learns the same way.

And I believe a significant portion of my adolescence was wasted by a school system that tried to wedge me into a tiny circle on a Scranton sheet.

I’m not dumb.

I’ve been playing Mozart and Beethoven on the piano since I was seven years old. I’ve won writing contests and debate competitions. I am about to publish my first book. I just learn better by getting my hands dirty — not sitting in a fake-marble desk chair listening to a monotone teacher in front of a whiteboard.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I definitely did not give school everything I had — I gave up on school at a very early age. Mostly because I felt like school gave up on me.

School never asked, “How do you learn?” Instead, school told me how I should learn — and when it didn’t work, school called me Dumb.

Well, here are 9 things school didn’t teach me that I learned on my own:

1. There Are No Rules.

The people who enforce the rules (creatively speaking here) are the people who don’t have the confidence or the belief that the world is an easel and everyone has a paintbrush.

2. Titles Are Crippling, Not “The Goal”.

All those kids that got straight As, went to the Ivy League school of their choice, got the fancy title at the fancy company… They can keep it.

Titles are crippling.

Titles encourage you to relax, and let your title speak for you — instead of your skill and knowledge earning you other people’s respect.

But when push comes to shove, it’s the people who have gotten their hands dirty in the trenches you want on your team. Not the ones with a fancy title in front of their names.

3. There Is No “1 Right Way” To Do Anything.

This is a massive disservice school teaches kids — that there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way.

False. There are a million ways.

And the name of the game isn’t to do it any one particular way. It’s to understand which one works the best for YOU, and will allow you to maximize your strengths.

4. HOW Is More Important Than WHAT.

HOW you do something is far more important than WHAT you do.

In every industry, there are those who do things with honor, integrity, discipline, passion, and heart, and there are those who do so with malicious intent, or a lack of sincerity, etc.

Think about the people who respect or look up to. You look up to them because of HOW they approach what they do, not WHAT they do.

5. Acceptance Is Overrated.

Remember all those class projects you had to do?

Remember all the times you were told to agree with your classmates for the sake of learning how to ‘work well with others’ ?

That cultivates a bad habit of suppressing your own unique voice and the great debates that spark truly meaningful ideas.

Being accepted is overrated — and the real world taught me that the hard way.

6. Learning How To Learn Is What’s Important.

Reiterating the point here, school would be so much more beneficial if it taught students HOW to learn — not WHAT to learn.

What good is memorizing chemistry equations if you don’t fundamentally understand the process of learning?

So many kids struggle as soon as they get out of school because they don’t have anyone telling them anymore, “Here, learn this next.”

They lack direction — because they were never taught the art of learning.

7. Your Passion Is Not A Waste Of Time.

School (and society at large) wants us to believe that there are acceptable hobbies and hobbies that are a waste of time. It’s the reason the first departments to go are always art or music related.

But what you love is NEVER a waste of time. You will always learn more from an interest pulled at from your heart than a pursuit dangled in front of your head.

8. “Success” Does Not Have One Definition.

School likes to measure things — usually in the form of a letter grade beside each subject of study.

It inherently defines “success” as “better” or “higher” or “more.” But that’s just not true. “Success” could mean honest expression, or it could mean presence, or it could mean facing a challenge, failing, and learning a valuable lesson.

Success comes in many different forms. It’s not always about getting the “A.”

9. It’s OK To Be Different.

And finally, the most important one of them all: Who you are is already good enough.

School has this funny way of making kids that are “different” feel extra-different, extra-weird, extra-not-normal. But you know what? Get out into the real world, and the most valuable thing you could possibly have is to be “different.”

Everybody wants to stand out. Everybody wants something that’s going to set them apart.

You have what everybody wants: Remember that.

This article originally appeared on Inc Magazine


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