Why I Don’t Think I Wasted My Time Going To School

It’s about seeing the life skills I acquired from years of study

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Photo: Dom Fou/Unsplash

I didn’t enjoy school. I wrote an entire article about how I hated it even though I was good at it and concluded that doing well at something doesn’t mean you enjoy it.

From depression, anxiety, self-harm and an eating disorder, I was a mess. Being unpopular, having few friends, acne, braces, and glasses were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to those teen years. Not to mention the worst part — the anxiety-inducing exams.

However, like many Asian kids, I trudged along, finishing high school with scholarships to University and furthering my studies at Grad School. In total, I’ve spent about 20 years in school, which accounts for over half my life.

“You don’t need a college degree to make millions (or billions) of dollars.”

I love hearing stories about successful entrepreneurs who made it big even though they were college drop-outs. You know, like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and of course, (in?)famous Zuckerberg. However, by the time entrepreneurship became mainstream, I was already climbing the corporate ladder and looking forward to those two-week vacations, promotions, raises and bonuses; it had been years since I stepped foot in a school.

Tim Ferris’ “4-Hour Workweek,” which popularized escaping the 9–5, came out over a decade ago. As each year passes, I’ve seen more and more folks leaving their jobs to pursue their dreams. It’s like those LinkedIn emails that tell you to congratulate so and so for starting a new position, and then you check who hired them, and the company’s name is “So and So Incorporated”.

Some have started businesses. Some became freelancers. Some have converted their hobbies into careers, and others are riding the stock market wave, buying low and selling high.

A waste of time or time well wasted?

I started thinking about whether those years of schooling gave me more than just letters after my name. If I had started blogging when I was a freshman instead of spending hours trying to memorize the Krebs cycle, perhaps I would have made greater strides as a writer today.

Did I waste my time going to school when I should have been doing what I’m doing now? Would I have surpassed my goals already, on my way to reaching bigger and better things? Do I regret spending half my 20s at school?

Does an earlier start really guarantee a winning race?

No, because it depends on your experience, how much you train, and how you apply yourself when you join.

Besides, there’s no going back; it’s impossible to determine whether a past decision was the wrong decision because there is no right or wrong decisions in life. I will never be able to experience the exact path that I did not take, even if I decide to choose it after the fact. Time has passed; people have changed. Environments have evolved; social landscapes have transformed. What’s done is done.

And most importantly, I’ve changed.

Those years of schooling became integral to who I am. They’ve taught me skills that are incredibly useful in my day to day life, not just how to recite the quadratic formula.

Developed a critical lens to filter out the right information

When I read the news (which is rare) or when someone shares one of those “Scientists have newly discovered…” with me, I always take it with a grain of salt. I can’t count the number of essays I had to write during school that required me to provide references and cite studies from scientific journals as evidence to support my statements.

From what peer-reviewed means, the science behind data collection methods, to why correlation doesn’t mean causation, I’ve endured years of learning and conducting research. And through all this experience, I have developed the critical lens to spot fake news a mile away, like shooting a wolf in sheep’s clothing without a sniper scope.

Knowing what to focus on is a core tenet to studying and learning not just at school but in this world with the endless amount of information that exists on the Internet. Being able to filter out the noise, deciphering fact from fiction to see what’s actually true is a lifelong skill.

It’s also made me a better and more informed writer who values integrity and authenticity and doesn’t believe in clickbait or false claims with zero evidence just to get views. I appreciate the rigor it requires to be published in a reputable journal as I’ve personally gone through that myself; I set the standard high to appropriately and responsibly share knowledge with my readers.

Passed Time Management Skills 101 with flying colours

As an overachieving student, I was continually juggling assignments, projects, studying for finals along with extracurricular activities and a part-time job. This meant I had to understand how much time it took for me to complete certain tasks so that things wouldn’t be overdue or late. I learned how to plan for events and activities, creating schedules and developing methods to stay on track.

I was one busy bee. It was a different kind of busy compared to my life now as a working mom of 2. However, from managing a household to making dinner to scheduling the kids’ activities, to finishing this article in a timely manner, those skills of managing my time efficiently and effectively are still with me, strong as ever.

Learned how to be mindful and present with others

One of the things I learned about myself during my school years is that I cannot listen and write simultaneously. Going against what most of the other students were doing, I rarely took notes in class.

There were times when I would frantically jot down what the teacher was saying, but then I would lose my train of thought, leaving an incomprehensible mess of unfinished sentences. I realized I learn by watching and listening.

Understanding that insight about myself, I would put the pen down during class, watch the instructor and listen intently to what was being discussed. It taught me how to pay attention, keeping distractions at bay and staying focused on what was going on at the moment.

With constant streams of “breaking news” and filling our days with lists of to-do lists, practicing mindfulness is a skill useful for all life stages. Being present with others and actively listening to what they say is essential in building and cultivating meaningful relationships.

This was also very helpful when I entered the workforce. When you’re constantly taking notes, it can be perceived as doing the minutes instead of being an active participant in the meeting. This can limit your chances of actually contributing to the meeting and having your voice heard, and, of course, being top of mind when promotions and raises are being considered.

Instilled the work ethic and discipline to practise something over and over again

Sadly, I don’t have a photographic memory, and I’m the type who has trouble remembering anything I read. I wish my brain could retain information like downloading an app on my phone. However, I’m human, and I can’t just passively absorb knowledge by scanning the words in a book or pressing a button.

During my school years, I realized that I learn by doing and applying the information into an activity where I can practice it again and again. Then through repetition, I’m able to understand the information and learn it without having to memorize it.

Whenever I studied, I would do all the practice tests and re-do all the homework assignments. Our brains are plastic — it has the ability to change — that’s why the more you do something, the easier it becomes. Developing the work ethic and discipline to practice something repeatedly is vital for skill development, not just for tests and exams.

It’s like learning to cook for the first time and burning scrambled eggs. Then after a few tries, you’re able to make a sumptuous, mouth-watering poached egg with a perfectly soft yolk.

Mastered the art of teaching and empathizing with others

During school, my friends and I would often help each other out with homework and assignments. As one of the smart kids, I’d often be the helper instead of the helpee. I didn’t mind as I took the opportunity to practice my teaching skills, seeing whether I actually understood the material.

If you can teach someone something, you haven’t just memorized a few facts; you’ve learned a concept and applied it in a dynamic situation. Teaching is a skill that combines art and science with a bucket load of patience. As a parent, it’s not just useful; it’s a lifeline.

Also, helping my friends was incredibly rewarding, and it taught me that everyone learns differently. I had to empathize with them as they each had their own way of studying and understanding the material. There isn’t the best way to approach it, only the right way for the individual. Seeing it from someone else’s perspective is like practicing empathy. Putting yourself in their context and approaching the situation as the other person is a skill all of us could benefit from more practice outside the school.

Strengthened my public speaking skills

In addition to defending my thesis to a distinguished expert committee, my school years were riddled with presentations. However, I didn’t only present when someone told me to.

Studies have shown that people who visualized themselves performing a task do better when they do it in real life. As part of my studying regimen, I would pretend to be the instructor, standing in my sweats in the living room, greasy hair bun, and giving a lecture without reading the notes. I’d glance at the slide on my screen and start talking to an imaginary classroom.

Having sharp public speaking and presentation skills under my toolbelt hasn’t only been useful in the corporate work environment; they have been incredibly handy when appearing as a guest on podcasts, radio shows, television and filming myself for my own videos.

At the end of the day, it’s not about the grades

It’s been 10 years since I finished grad school, and I haven’t needed to study for an exam since passing my PMP (Project Management Profession) 5 years ago. However, as a parent with young children, I’m hoping the education system has changed by the time my kids start taking tests and getting grades.

Studying isn’t really about passing exams with flying colors or getting degrees and accolades. Although having grades helped me see how well I was performing, I gained so much more. I have a better understanding of how I learn, what topics entice me to grow, a strong ability to think critically instead of passively absorbing whatever gets thrown at me and an unquenchable desire to keep learning.

Going to school meant having the latitude to do a lot of trial and error; being a student means feeling empowered to learn, explore, get stuck, and unstuck. I’m grateful to have parents and teachers who gave me the autonomy to try. I knew that if something didn’t work for me, I could try something different and figure out what will even if it meant not doing what everyone else was doing.

As many have seen the famous quote,

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Unknown (not Albert Einstein)

With or without grades, inside or outside the four walls of a classroom, learning is a lifelong journey, and I’d like to consider myself an eternal student; we’re all getting A’s if we’re still trying new things well into our golden years.

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Sum (心, ♡) on Sleeve | Author. Speaker. Wife. Mom of 2 | Embrace Culture. Love Yourself. Improve Relationships | sumonsleeve.com/books

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