The 12 Important Life Skills I Wish I’d Learned In School

Geoff Pilkington
Dec 7, 2016 · 12 min read

“Formal learning can teach you a great deal, but many of the essential skills in life are the ones you have to develop on your own.”

~ Lee Iacocca

I learned an immense amount in school. I think teacher’s have probably the best job in the world. The importance of an education is irrefutable. In fact, I wrote an article a couple months ago “Undercover Superheroes: The Hidden Powers of Teachers” about the wonderful value of teachers. That being said having been in the so-called “real-world” for a fair amount of time, there are certain life skills that I feel I didn’t learn enough about in school. Many items on the list below are touched upon, some covered in more depth than others in our schooling, but I think the key factor is where the emphasis is placed. What I’ve come to learn is there’s specific angles towards and pieces of these subjects that should be looked at and studied more closely in an effort to give students a real edge before being handed a diploma and heading down life’s path. Many of the same items I’m going to share have been mentioned in various articles all over the internet. But I wanted to share my top 12. The 12 life skills I strongly feel are most important some of which schools touch on but don’t emphasize nor go into enough detail about. Too much graphing parabolas, memorizing the quadratic formula, and learning to diagram sentences and not enough real world material to use and apply. With that being said, here are the top 12 life skills I wish I learned more about in school.

Here is my video version of this article:

  1. Managing Money (the right way)

Schools like to teach finance, accounting, etc but they fail to emphasize the importance of saving, how to keep your own budget, how to manage your own money, and how our tax system works. Required in depth courses on building my own personal budget, negotiating contracts, reading financial statements, creating a budget geared towards longterm saving, investing in companies and buying stocks would have been extremely beneficial. Above all else, we underestimate the importance of learning what the value of a dollar really means. While all of these are absolutely touched on in finance and business courses, the importance of maintaining a self-budget and managing you personal money should be required courses for all and heavily emphasized as required comprehension for life’s journey.

2. Mental Health

There is an immense amount of controversy today about mental health. From ADHD to schizophrenia to bipolar to depression and onward there is a long list of undiagnosed mental illnesses in our society. Not only that, but with controversy about big pharma, meds being under and over prescribed, lots of denial, and misdiagnosis many are forced to go through life without quality awareness of their mental state. A 2014 report by Newsweek stated that 42.5 million American Adults or 18.2% of the total adult population in the United States suffers from mental illness. That’s nearly 1 in every 5 Americans. By emphasizing this as a topic of required learning and discussion, students would go into the real world not just with much more understanding of each of the primary mental illnesses and medical or holistic approaches that could help them, but with a better understanding of themselves. If you know what the issue is within yourself, you can find a way to fight it. There is therefore great value in learning more about this. Let’s start placing more emphasis on educating our children on mental health so that our future generations can live happier and more fulfilling lives and achieve what they are capable of.

The Huffington Post published a report in 2014–15 “19 Statistics That Prove Mental Illness Is More Prominent Than You Think” that illustrated how obtrusive mental health really is in our lives. Here are some of their results:


The approximate number of Americans who experience a mental health disorder in a given year. That’s one in four adults.


The estimated economic cost of untreated mental illness in the U.S. This includes unemployment, unnecessary disability, substance abuse and more.


The percentage of individuals with mental illness who saw improvement in their symptoms and quality of life after participating in some form of treatment.


The approximate amount of people with a mental illness who feel that others are compassionate or understanding toward those suffering from one of the disorders.


The number of people worldwide who are affected by depression.


The number of adults who suffer from anxiety disorders in the U.S.


The number of college students who reported feeling depressed to the point where it negatively impacted their ability to function. Approximately 7.5 percent of college students also reported earlier this year that they seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months.


The percentage of adults who didn’t receive mental health treatment in 2012.


The percentage of people who die by suicide who also had a mental health disorder.

3. Dating and Romantic Relationships

“Romance has gone the way of cursive handwriting.”

~ Rachel Greenwald, Author and Dating Coach

Nothing is more saddening than people who continue to get straight A’s in school, pile on the electives, build great resumes, yet have forgotten or never realized the meaning of love. I wrote a column on this topic last month “Love’s Mysterious Aura: 3 Important Theories.” Many people lose out on love simply because they don’t realize that indeed there is much to learn about falling into, maintaining, and flourishing in dating and romantic relationships. There is a lack of knowledge today on attachment theories, what romance means to people, the rules of dating (are there rules?), and the meaning of love. If this was focused on more in schools I strongly feel we’d be more prepared for “the one” when he or she comes along.

4. Home & Car (Buying, Selling, Repair, Management, Maintenance)

There is not nearly enough emphasis on importance of buying and selling a car and home. This is a very extensive process that frankly most people come out of school not having a clue about. Buying or leasing a car is an ordeal to say the least. First off you have to decide which is best for you in your given situation. Then it’s a process. Car Salesmen are ruthless as far as sticker price, negotiation tactics, and strategic ways of talking to people to screw them over. Not to mention once you have the car there’s certain tips and tricks you need to know to properly maintain it, find good car insurance, and manage it’s day to day. The same goes with buying and selling a home. There’s the timing of it, negotiating a good price, homeowners insurance, getting pre-approved for a mortgage, your down payment and loan price, dealing with real estate agents and developers, and finally once you have it maintaining it especially during harsh weather. Any homeowner will tell you keeping a home up to speed is a massive undertaking. I put my Dad’s Christmas lights on the house last week. That’s a grain of sand on the beach of maintaining a home. There’s endless amounts of information to be learned that just isn’t taught much in schools. One must learn the strategies for buying and selling and also how to maintain. Many exit school having no idea about either one.

5. Marriage, Family, and Raising kids

Marriage, family, and kids are hard work. There are many many wonderful things about family, but it has a lot of ups and downs. Maintaining a marriage over the course of several decades (or more) can be very hard work. Only an intense understanding of love, connection, and the depths of it’s meaning can bond two people for a relationship’s longterm course. Raising a family is no easier. Ask anyone raising a newborn, toddler, or teen and most will tell you there was so much to learn that they didn’t know prior. There’s much to be learned in the real world about marriage, family, and children we didn’t know anything about upon leaving school.

6. Credit Cards

Coming out of college many people don’t know what credit cards are all about. How interest is calculated, what card to get, what a good interest rate is, how your credit score is affected, how minimums are calculated, and where credit card points and rewards come from are some of the many things to be learned. People must learn to build good credit for themselves. It’s an important tool in life’s toolbox to have if they intend to buy a car and home. Good credit has other advantages too. You can get discounted or free phones, approval for rent, and even lowered insurance premiums among many other shopping and travel perks.

7. Professional Etiquette / Manners

There’s so many people in the work place who are frankly clueless about how to write good emails. They also are horrible at handling themselves in a formal or professional setting and are bad communicators. Communication is critical in so many corners of life. Courses in our schools implementing professional work etiquette would be extremely beneficial. It can be as simple as writing a thank you card after a job interview to using proper notation in a professional correspondence.

My grandmother Gloria “Go-Go” Pilkington was a stickler for hats indoors. If you came in with a hat on she’d stare you down and by all means you better take that hat off. If you wore a hat to the dinner table? Forget it. I can only imagine her in today’s iphone age. If she saw an iphone at the table I think it would be the end of all things. Point is, Go-Go was right. We’ve lost our connection to manners and common etiquette. I think above all else they teach us to respect each others and ourselves. If we show our appreciation for each other in formal and informal settings it brings positive qualities out of us all. Positive reinforcement and support is an essential human need. Professional etiquette and Manners are the subtext of this. Particularly in the last few decades we have lost some of our connection to common etiquette. Schools should start making more of an effort to emphasize manners so that our future generations revitalize them. Go-Go was right.

8. Cooking

Let’s just say this one hasn’t done me any favors. I’m not much of a food buff. In fact, all I know how to cook is scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, popcorn, and coffee (does that even count?). And protein shakes. Good grief. This has done me no favors in the dating scene either. The fact is, cooking is a very important skill for home life, family, and romantic relationships / dating. Many have said that “Food is love.” Coming out of college not knowing how to cook is a shame. Cooking is an important part of our history. When I tell a woman I’m really great at making a grilled cheese and coffee there’s a bit of a blank stare. On that note, time to go take a cooking class…

9. Time Management

This is one of my favorites. We drastically underestimate the importance of time management. In my opinion time management is critical. However, by no means would I imply that every moment of our lives should be spent working. The time spent doing leisure activities, hobbies, self-development, and especially family time are crucial for being a healthy, happy person. There’s also certain hours of the day though that should be turned to focus on our life goals. How we spend those moments is critical. Time keeps on going. Unfortunately most people ineffectively manage it. There are strategies to help one improve and apps and programs one can download to improve this skill. Managing time effectively keeps us self-disciplined and focused on our goals at hand. Most people come out of college knowing little to nothing about how to manage and balance their time.

Here is the great Tony Robbins with some time management tips:

10. Coping with Failure

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

~ Michael Jordan

There’s a misconception that failure means you’ve lost the game in life. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People graduate school thinking they can conquer the world. They have their first set of failures and they hit a wall. When people realize that failure is actually part of success, they have breakthroughs. My high school theater teacher Wayne Salomon use to tell our class “Fail. Fail better.” At the time I didn’t know what it meant. But it grew on me. There’s an interview with Will Smith I saw recently where he talks about how “fear kills creativity.” I agree whole heartedly. You have to be fearless and not afraid to take risks. Remember that Jerry Maguire quote at the Kinkos at 3 am? “That’s how you become great man. Hang your balls out there.” There’s tremendous truth to this. And not enough strategies, skills, and programs are implemented in our schools to teach our youth about failure being a given, how to react when it comes, and how to build on our failures. Listen up.

Will Smith says in this video: “You have to fail early, you have to fail often, and you have to fail forward” Start it around the 2:30 mark and watch.

11. Survival Skills

I was in Boy Scouts when I was in grade school. My Dad made me stick with it. In hindsight I now realize why. There are essential survival skills they never teach in school or when you are in dire straits. First Aid, CPR, swimming, how to light a fire, read a compass, make smoke signals, read topography, and changing a car tire all to name a few. While scouting taught me a lot I feel I could have learned even more had schools implemented these skills. At any moment you never know when you or someone around you will suddenly be in trouble and to be self-sufficient in a life and death situation is a platform of knowledge unfortunately most people lack.

12. How to Apply for jobs

Many people don’t have any idea about how to find jobs. They don’t know where to job hunt, how to write a good resume, what temp agencies are, what employers look for, the structure of companies, how to give themselves an edge, and how to find who does the hiring. Once the process starts they don’t know how to interview. There’s certain strategies and tips people can use throughout the interview process. I personally find LinkedIn to be a wonderful resource for job hunting. Believe it or not, it is still underused by many. The before, during, and after of the job application process should be incorporated more into our school’s curriculums. Finding quality jobs is a life skill that is required to reach our goals and achieve our maximum potential.

By Geoff Pilkington: You can connect with me on Instagram at geoffreypilkington, or listen to a recent podcast I was on discussing my theories on ADHD:

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to…

Sign up for Mission Daily from

Mission Daily Newsletter

Create a free Medium account to get Mission Daily in your inbox.

Geoff Pilkington

Written by

CEO of Launch Industries, Blogger, Podcast Host, Actor, Filmmaker, Futurist, Tech Enthusiast, Social Media Expert, and Content Creator. Personality Type: ENTP

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

Geoff Pilkington

Written by

CEO of Launch Industries, Blogger, Podcast Host, Actor, Filmmaker, Futurist, Tech Enthusiast, Social Media Expert, and Content Creator. Personality Type: ENTP

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store