The 3 Lessons I Wish I’d Been Taught In School

In People Skills, Relationships
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People younger than me often ask some form of, what would you tell your younger self? Well, everything I put out is my answer to that question. There are thousands of things I’d tell myself that take up entire books.

My younger self learned a lot; I went to “magnet” schools for middle (Julia R. Masterman) and high school (GW Carver HS If Engineering & Science), in Philadelphia, and have a 4-year degree in business from Penn State University. Yet, as my nearly 1,000 podcast episodes suggest, there’s a lot that I wasn’t privy to until much later in life, all of which would have benefited me had I known it sooner.

Here are the top 3 lessons I wish I had been taught in school.


School Is But A Small Percentage Of Your Education.  

None of my teachers ever announced that school was teaching us everything we needed to know, but it just felt as if they believed it so. Think about it: You’re in a place for eight hours a day from age 5 until age 18~22. That’s a lot of experience in learning. And I never had a teacher tell a class to keep reading or learning after school was done — at least not in a forceful way.

The problems with “school education:”

  • We learn a lot of stuff that we don’t use. Chemistry, Calculus and Music classes come to mind. I even took a 1-credit Walking class in college.
  • In school, proving that you “know” something is more memorization and regurgitation than actual applicable knowledge.
  • Many of my teachers and professors didn’t know shit outside of the topic they were teaching — and often, their knowledge of even that subject was limited to the textbooks they were teaching from.

I wish I’d been told by my professors to read more books that were not class-assigned (this has been my #1 source of education in life, including my school years). To attend lectures and guest speaker events and ask questions of the speakers. It would have been great to be encouraged by my professors to openly challenge their teachings and opinions in class instead of mindlessly taking notes on everything they said (I know there are some professors who do this; most of min did not).

What A Teacher Should Have Told Me: Education is not the burden of the schools you attend. It is your personal responsibility.


Learn To Sell.

Everyone’s heard of selling and would generally agree about its virtues. Some entity has sold us our smartphones, our clothing, the food we eat, and the beds we sleep in. We don’t have a choice in the companies we pay out utility bills to, because someone at that company sold their service to the city or town, and now they have a monopoly (at least until a great salesperson from another company comes along).

Business is the exchange of resources between entities. And, since every one of these resources must be assigned an agreed-upon value in order to facilitate such exchanges, we should all learn to sell: Determine/negotiate the value of, and create exchanges of resources.

To this day I meet people who abhor selling and don’t want to have anything to do with such a messy, unpredictable job. But since everything we do — getting a job, making friends, securing a second date, negotiating prices — is a sale, it would be great to have learned selling in my formal school years. How about sales as a college major?

Regardless of our career choice, every college grad will have to make some sales, and make them quick: Selling our parents on accepting us moving back home and living rent-free; selling some company on hiring us as a no-experience rookie; selling someone on funding our business ideas, etc. Making sales is a guaranteed need in life for anyone, and thus should be required learning from the very start of formal schooling.

[Problem is, there aren’t enough good salespeople to go around and teach such a class at every school. Someone create and sell them some ideas.]


Learn People Skills.

Furthering your education and making those business exchanges will both require some human interaction.

The value of the smartphone you’re reading this article on comes with a cost as well: You’ve substituted said human interaction with tapping away on this device, and are slowly unlearning how to deal with actual people.  

Are you able to initiate and carry a conversation with a complete stranger? Can you get someone interested in you by showing interest in them? Can you speak in front of a group of people (10 or 1,000)? Can you lead and direct a group of people? Can you politely and effectively communicate your point to a person who may not agree with you? Can you diffuse a disagreement between two independent parties and facilitate some cooperation?

All of these and more make up People Skills. The need for people skills in schools is more urgent now than it has ever been.