The 5 things schools never taught us but we should learn anyway

BK
9 min readJul 18, 2019

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The average human in a first world country takes about 20 years to be integrated into society via education nowadays. It’s crazy how fast animals take to grow up and be functional units of the pack / herd, but yet we spend 25% of our entire lifetime behind books and within the doors of the educational institutions that attempt to help us specialise and develop into well-functioning adults.

Well, here’s the problem. Schools are largely designed for us to be functional units of society, not necessarily capable individuals with the will to power (insert Nietzsche quote). Much of life is not defined by what schools can teach us, and there are a few universal life lessons that we ought to learn but schools never bothered teaching us. Some of these lessons are hard to teach, others are hard to learn, but these skills and lessons when well understood and mastered can be far more helpful than a piece of paper stuck on the wall.

Source: Goalcast

In fact, many companies with visionary leadership have begun to realise formal education isn’t necessary for being a capable individual, removing the standard prerequisite of a university degree for hiring. Here are 3 big names for you:

  1. Google
  2. IBM
  3. Apple (and nope, excluding iPhone buyer)

Unsurprisingly, the ones leading the recruitment charge are tech companies. There are many highly intelligent and creative people who are just not well suited for the demands of rigorous formal education, but flourish in the real world. Why is this the case?

Based on my observations and interactions with aforementioned people, my take on this matter is very simple: there are a few life lessons that they have learned and some basic skillsets that they have acquired that make them an invaluable asset no matter where they go. They are the similarities that successful people have in common, and we can learn them too. So these are the 5 things schools never taught us but we should learn anyway:

1. How to fail

Failing, especially in an Asian society, is embarrassing. It is never a bright moment to declare, “I have failed!” For high achievers, failing is unacceptable and missing from their lexicon. I have had classmates who aced their major exams like A Levels (equivalent of SATs) and cried because they got a B out of all the other As. *cue eye roll* Seriously though, in high pressure environments where most people around you are touted to become future leaders in business, politics, law and medicine, it’s hard to think of a more upsetting outcome than getting a B and going to a Liberal Arts college. Having been through that kind of environment, I’m quite familiar with the toxicity and pressure that is on us not to fail.

Schools never taught us to fail, nor how we should fail, but it is vitally important for us to learn failure as part of the process. Nobody starts off at the top of their class, everyone has to work to get where they are. Failure and getting things wrong should be embraced as part of the learning process.

Failure, and the ability to embrace it, should be a skillset and a mindset that we should adopt. We will face setbacks in life and plenty of people will be trying to get in our way. It is what it is, and until we develop the nerve to take punches in the face and keep fighting, we will never get to where we want to go.

The biggest entrepreneurs today faced the biggest hurdles, and all of them faced failure at one point or another. Their ability to adapt from their failures and having the grit to stay on course despite rejection after rejection is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Like Jack Ma (founder and CEO of Alibaba), we should have the stomach to be rejected even if it’s from a job at KFC. Rejection and failure can either make us cowards unable to face up to the realities of life or champions who can summon the courage in us to fight the battles that ultimately shape our destiny.

2. Taking Risks

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” — Muhammad Ali

Risk is part of life. We walk across the road, we risk being run over. That is a fact. It is how we deal with risk that determines how we behave. When we embark in something risky, we expect a higher probability of a negative outcome. This is why we go to school, because it minimises the risk of us becoming unemployable homeless wrecks or joining a gang and causing more problems. Ironically, the education system that minimises the risk of us being useless members of society actually also reduces our propensity to take risk.

We have grown up in an environment that rewards repeatable actions and punishes deviations from the norm. Studying is easy, everyone can study (with varying results). Students are rewarded for being well-behaved; essentially reduced to robots who do whatever the teacher or parent tells them or is the “model” thing to do. What about the rebels? The creatives? The round pegs in the square holes? The one who questions the teacher and challenges her authority? Oops, detention for you. Those who risk standing out are the ones who risk persecution. Some are “whipped into shape”. Others go the other way and become deviant members of society, dropping out or doing drugs.

Doing things differently entail a risk that you will be ostracised. Thinking differently may cause others to question your beliefs or even make fun of you in the short term. But in the long run, the risk / reward payoffs will be what makes these risks worthwhile. Risks, when measured and calculated, can provide one with greater opportunities than taking the tried and tested route. Successful entrepreneurs manage their risk and have been skilled enough (at handling failure) to take on opportunities and pastures that have been untouched. Fighters like Muhammad Ali take on insane risks to fight with the greatest heavyweight boxers of his time, monsters with bone crushing punches like George Foreman, and yet he takes on these life-threatening risks at ease, even taunting said monsters with lines like, “Is this all you’ve got?” and “What’s my name?” If Ali can look them dead in the eye and mock them, well, what excuse do we have not to take a few risks in life?

3. How to deal with judgement

People will judge you. That is also another fact of life. Complete strangers, friends and even family. Dealing with other people’s judgement can be incredibly exhausting, if you’re not used to other people looking at you and formulating conclusive perceptions of you just on the way you look, walk and talk. Haters will emerge from the woodwork like termites feeding off wood the moment we achieve something significant, that is something that we will have to deal with, especially those of us who aspire to be anything more than average. It is up to us whether we want to use them as the fuel to our fire, to ignite the wood and burn them alive.

When I was in the army, I once confided in my Commanding Officer who was somewhat of a mentor. I was asking him about how to make decisions even when they are unpopular. He asked me a simple question, “Do the people who criticise you make up 40% of the group?”

I didn’t have to think about that one before replying, “I think it’s closer to 50%.”

“Then you’re doing the right things. As long as you have about half the group criticising you or belittling you, it’s because they realise something about themselves that they lack and are projecting insecurities onto you. Most people just don’t have the capacity to think big.”

That was a hard hitter. No wonder he’s a Lieutenant Colonel.

If you’re doing things differently and making a change in the world, you will get haters. If you’re a leader and making waves, you will get haters. Even if you do things well in your own field and don’t bother anyone, you will still get haters. Either way, haters are people who love the status quo and can never go beyond themselves. Their lives revolve around the same things, always in limbo, never aspirational. They live in a cesspool of their own ineptitude and ignorance and will never be able to break out of their empty shell, so they try to pull you down.

4. Being grateful

Gratefulness isn’t something we were born with. In fact, I might argue that most of us are pretty ungrateful people, including myself. We ignore what our family and friends have done for us and continue to chase after material things and people who don’t really matter anyway. One of the reasons why gratitude is important is because it keeps our ego in check. None of us are “self made”, everyone needs help along the way, be it mentors, supporters or partners. When we ignore their presence and fail to acknowledge them in spite of our goals and dreams, we forget who we are and why we’re working so hard in the first place. The people around us build us up to be who we are, thus it’s not only important to curate your inner circle, it’s doubly important to give back to them when you can.

An illustrated portrait that I paint digitally for my clients

My clients have given me their time and money to help them invest and grow their wealth, and I’m always thankful for them. I don’t ever expect anything in return when I help them to solve their problems outside of work or to do a vector portrait for them, because I know they could be with someone more experienced and capable. For the people who have invested in me, I give back 150% in gratitude.

5. How to be patient

In an age of immediate gratification, we can get everything at the tip of our fingertips. Convenience comes at a cost though. When we can get our dopamine kicks from our laptop and the internet, there is absolutely no patience when it comes to success, professionally and personally. Warren Buffett said it best when he bemused, “Nobody wants to get rich slow.” Unfortunately, the “get rich quick” schemes we are lured into only trap us into being suckers for someone else.

Patience is key in life, and a method to achieving a good degree of patience is perspective. Understanding that the average human will have a lifespan of 70 years, and mastery takes anywhere from 5–10 years. Nobody “gets it” quick. Everybody goes through an apprenticeship, the only difference is whether we have enough self awareness and perspective to know 2 things:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Is this what I really want?

It takes a lifetime to uncover those questions, with most people actually not knowing either due to a glaring lack of self awareness or being busy chasing irrelevant things. They want what other people have, and get jealous when they see what other people have. It’s sad because those who are focused on other people will never focus on themselves, mostly because they don’t want to face who’s looking back in the mirror. Having self awareness makes us realise that we still have a long way to go, and the journey of achievement is better than attainment itself. Patience will weed out those who are short term thinkers versus those who have a vision for themselves.

Conclusion

Schools are good at pigeonholing us into sectors of society to be productive citizens who can contribute back to the economy, but they don’t teach us these valuable life lessons. Most of us have to go through these lessons ourselves. Some of us develop these traits, others fall on the wayside. As we become an ever more connected society, with the omnipresence of social media and our attachment to it, we have to continue to develop these traits in order to be achieve anything significant in life. As with everything else, it starts with a simple intention to do better.

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BK

Product Design in Fintech | Web3 | Crypto and currently at Secured Finance