1. Don’t go to college! Instead do as many internships as possible.
There is an argument that internships are actually even better than going to college, especially if you are doing something really non-specific like English literature, or Ancient history. What is the point? Unless you want to go into academia, doing these degrees will only show, that you had to pay someone to make you read books.
Instead doing as many internships from at a young age as possible, will more likely show you what you want to do, and what the real world of work is like, more than any degree could. Take the example from Roman Krznaric’s book How to find Fulfilling Work of a 30 year old who didn’t know what to do with her life, so for a year she tried out lots of different careers. Only to find out that she loved advertising, it just clicked.
Thinking that you might like doing something, doesn’t actually mean you’ll like doing it, because the idea we have of a job is not the reality. So you might end up studying a subject for a degree and then realise you hate the job after you start doing it. You could have been saved from this if you’d actually done a few weeks work experience or shadowing in your chosen field instead.
2. Public speaking
Many people have a phobia of public speaking. At college and school, most of us had to do a few presentations, but we didn’t get to do many of them, and at least at my college there was no option to do a public speaking course.
Yet public speaking is a skill that you will need in your career and in your life too, and it can be improved by practice. If you can’t speak in public you cannot ever have positions of leadership in your company. You even need speaking skills just to tell a story down the pub to your friends, or give a speech at a friend’s wedding.
I know from experience that when in a group of people I sometimes avoid telling a story, because I don’t want to be the centre of attention, because I’m not confident speaking in front of a larger group. This is all going to change now as I’m joining Toastmasters, which is a great way to get experience in public speaking.
3. Managing your finances 101
So many students end up being in debt after finishing university, especially in the US, but also increasingly in the UK and elsewhere. One argument is that it’s better not going to university in the first place, because it’s expensive and useless.
We should have been taught this at college – the arguments for how to save money and become financially independent, interest rates, how to invest, budgeting and expert opinions about ways to manage your financial affairs. What’s better, work in a job or have your own business?
4. Personal development
A class on the effects of positive thinking, time management, flow, confidence building and meditation and all the things I’m discovering years later after leaving college, should have been included in my basic education.
Some would argue that this is not an academic discipline, but it’s definitely a life enhancing discipline and if school and college are not there to prepare us for life then what are they for?
Let’s face it how many facts do you remember from biology, chemistry, world history etc? Facts are useful, but not at the expense of learning other, more essential life skills.
6. Starting your own business
I was in a bike store the other day and there was a little kid and a man there.
“I’ve got such and such free hours in a year”, the boy announced proudly. It was a LOT of hours.
The man told him “So think of how you are going to use that time to make money.”
I thought this is amazing, this child is so lucky. Hopefully by the time he’s sixteen he’ll have his own business and not live off his parents handouts.
I wish I had been encouraged to do the same thing. Adults seem to think that children should enjoy their childhood and just play, because they’ll have to work when they’re older so they might enjoy it while they can. But the reality is that they’ll be unprepared for real life when they grow up and then it will be harder for them to start up their own business while working full time in a 9 – 5 job and paying off their college debt. Kids should make their own money as soon as possible (staying within legal limits of course!).
5. How to apply for a job, have a good CV and interviewing skills
Did you have this class at some point during your studies? I certainly didn’t and I’m educated to a Master’s degree level. This class should be mandatory. By the time you’re sixteen years old you should have a good enough CV to get some sort of job and know how to write good application and interview well. I didn’t even have a good CV by the time I left university, that’s the first time I started thinking of putting a proper one together.
I had to learn the hard way, by trial and error of what makes a good CV and a good a covering letter and how to interview well, and looking around me it seems to be the case for a lot of people out there.
6. Don’t stop looking until you find the work you love
Finding work you love is like a relationship. Some relationships are great in theory, but you just don’t feel they are right for you when you’re in them. Some don’t look so great on paper, but somehow they just click – and it’s the same with jobs.
As Steve Jobs, a college drop-out himself, said in his now famous Stanford University commencement speech:
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
So these are just few things I wish I’d been taught at school or college. What about you, what do you wish you knew earlier?