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11 Essential Skills That School Didn’t Teach Us

One of the greatest privileges we receive in the developed world is the universal free education that’s intended to prepare and equip us for life in the real world. As much as I’m grateful for this, I have some reservations about the things we are taught, and how relevant many of these subjects are to preparing us for adult life. There are several traits that are essential to achieving a successful, happy and fulfilling life that are sorely lacking in what we are taught in school.

Our education doesn’t just happen in school and there are lessons to be learned throughout life. I strongly believe there are some essential skills that everyone needs to learn at some point in their life, particularly those seeking success and wealth as entrepreneurs.

“The more you learn, the more you earn”
-Warren Buffett

I’ve identified ten (and a half) essential life-skills that we don’t get to learn at school and which are vital if we’re to achieve the success we crave. Be assured, it’s not your fault you didn’t learn these, but simply a fact that they’re not part of the core curriculum at schools today.

Here they are:

1. How to Manage Your Money

How you manage your money is one of the most important things in everyone’s life regardless of whether they’re focused on building wealth or not. To be financially literate, to understand how to make money, how to budget and manage it once you’ve earned it, how to invest it, save it and make provisions for tax are all fundamentally important skills. In spite of this, so many people leave school in a state of financial illiteracy which then has knock on effects in adult life.

It then becomes their own responsibility to learn for themselves, often through experience and making mistakes and having to deal with the consequences. A good example is by getting into debt through poor financial management. This could be avoided if we were taught how to manage money in school.

2. How to Sell & Market Yourself

I passionately believe that the ability to sell and market yourself are core skills regardless of how you seek to make your living and whether you work as an employee, an entrepreneur or as a business owner. The skills of sales and marketing are not taught in school and as a result, most people lack the ability or desire to do it. Sales and marketing also invoke prejudices and misconceptions that many people share based on negative experiences of being sold to.

I hated sales and marketing, right up to the age of 27 as I couldn’t deal with the inevitable rejection and the judgment that came from others. Instead I wanted to focus on creating my art rather than having to sell it. Until that point, I’d failed to recognise that selling isn’t distasteful, or in conflict with my morals. Selling and Marketing are art in themselves and a means of creating value for those you seek to serve. They’re also about creating and publicising your brand as a means of connecting with and serving your customers, and then leveraging these connections to generate money.

“You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”
-Zig Ziglar

3. How to Manage Your Emotions

Everyone experiences the emotions of fear, greed, jealousy, anger and envy from time to time and it’s down to each individual to manage these and to limit the impacts upon their lives. Such negative emotions, as well as over-enthusiasm and excitement (which can prompt us to act naively) have the potential to disrupt our focus and then impact upon how well we manage our business and serve our customers.

It’s essential to gain mastery over our emotions, and while it’s not possible to stop these feelings from coming up, we can be better prepared to manage and control them when they do.

If you can manage your emotions, you can master your life.

4. How to Communicate and Influence People

To achieve success on any scale it’s essential to build your network of contacts and your team. Your network is your net-worth, after all. Essential to doing this, is the ability to communicate with people, to empathise with them, to relate to them and to be able to serve and influence them.

A happy and successful life both personally, and in business relies upon these skills and yet many only learn both their importance and how to do them effectively after leaving school.

“The most important single ingredient in the formula for success is knowing how to get along with people.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

5. How to Be Successful

At school we learn what it means to excel at specific subjects and how to succeed in gaining qualifications. A gap exists though in teaching us the rules and laws of success; dealing with rejection, maintaining enthusiasm, showing passion, overcoming obstacles and challenges to name just a few.

If we were taught these traits, then we might leave school better equipped to achieve success through applying these skills and the knowledge we’ve gained. As it is, we’re forced to learn and develop resilience, self-motivation and other related traits for ourselves, as we experience adversity.

6. How to Start and Scale A Business

As a nation, we must acknowledge that it’s largely the private sector that generates the money that funds the public sector through taxes and economic growth that it encourages. As such, we should be encouraging people to start and scale their own businesses by teaching the skills of entrepreneurship.

By embedding such skills from an early age, schools would be ensuring that more people set out to build successful businesses which would be good for the economy and the individual alike.

7. How to Solve Real-World Problems

A great deal of what is taught in schools is centred on academic knowledge, facts, theories and principles. What is lacking is how this can be applied in the real world to solve real-life problems. The solution to this may be to alter the focus of teaching towards practical application of the knowledge, or more likely to impart knowledge and skills in things that are more practically applicable to modern life.

8. How to Manage and Master Your Time

Managing and mastering our time is a further essential skill that isn’t taught in schools. Once we get out in the real world as young adults, many experience the feeling that they don’t seem to achieve anything significant in spite of having the same 24 hours in their day as everyone else. We have to deal with the challenges of procrastination, overwhelm, distraction and the difficulties of prioritising one thing over the next. Each of these need to be dealt with if we’re to live productive lives, growing our business and developing ourselves.

Instead of being prepared during our education, life demands that we encounter the difficulties of time management and have to find our own ways of dealing with them if we’re to make progress.

“Time management is a misnomer, the challenge is to manage ourselves.”
-Stephen R. Covey

9. How to Deal With Rejection and Failure

Rejection and failure are inherently part of the reality of taking the knowledge we’ve gained in school and applying this in a commercial context. No matter the job you pursue or the business model you adopt, you will be rejected repeatedly and will fail many times over. What will define your levels of success will be how well you handle these, and whether you learn from them and treat them as prompts for growth, or whether you let yourself be beaten by them and meekly give-in.

I encountered the following quote from Winston Churchill when I was over 30 years old which perfectly describes reality:

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”

We should be prepared to celebrate successes when they come, but we must also be prepared to fail repeatedly and often and must not let our enthusiasm or resolve be broken by this.

10. How to Be Happy

Most people only learn how to be truly happy, later in life. Few people seem to realise that genuine happiness is something that you need to strive for, strategise for and develop rather than simply waiting for it to come about as an outcome.

Happiness is something that you need to actually do and be, taking action to achieve it rather than waiting for it to emerge in your life.

11. How to Invest in ourselves

The final point is that we’re not taught to improve ourselves and invest in our own personal development throughout life. Part of this is to learn and develop in each of the above 10 areas. Instead, most people stumble through life, learning through their mistakes.

We have the option, and indeed the responsibility to invest in ourselves and equip ourselves for success, happiness and fulfilment, bringing each of these into our lives.

You are your own most valuable asset, you pay yourself the best return and you should invest in yourself wisely. In the absence of being taught these essential skills and traits in school, it is your responsibility to yourself to invest in gaining the necessary education and practical learning to fill in the gaps and allow yourself to thrive in life and get the best return and value out of what you do.


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