I can’t speak for schools outside the United States, but for those readers who went to school in America, I think you’ll agree that the American education system is in sore need of an upgrade. The world is changing at such a rapid pace and it’s my strong opinion that there should be more classes dedicated to helping students prepare and cope with the real world once they graduate.
If you look at this generation of students, you’ll find that most are “shell shocked” once they graduate because they had little or no preparation for what was to come.
High school mostly teaches you to memorize information and to regurgitate it back to your teacher, only to completely erase the information from your mind the moment you walk out after taking the test.
When you go on to college, you do a bit of the same things, but you also learn to think analytically, critically, and to broaden your mind so to speak, but even people who graduate from college will learn lessons from the real world the hard way as well. The sad part is all of this could’ve been prevented with some proper education beforehand.
Below are five things that I firmly believe should be taught in every school in America so that students don’t get railroaded when they enter the real world. If you’re still in school and reading this, consider it your lucky day as mastering these five skills will give you a great head start and help separate you from the rest of the pack as well.
#1. Personal Finance
Every week or so, there always seems to be a new article in CNN, USA Today, or Yahoo about young adults struggling with debt, whether it be from credit cards or loans in general. High interest rates, hidden fees, not consolidating debt – these terms and concepts are mostly unknown to young adults and because of that ignorance, they tend to make big errors in judgment. A prime example is thinking that they just have to pay the minimum on their balance and not realizing that by doing so, they pay 2-3 times as much in the long run.
Alongside that, most young adults don’t have a clue on how to invest their money. They don’t know what a Roth IRA account is, or a 401k, or the magic of compound interest, the tax benefits associated with investing in these types of vehicles, etc. There’s a lot of specialized knowledge out there that young adults are not aware of on when it comes to how they can invest their money and as a result, they frivolously spend it away.
Credit score is another big thing. A lot of young adults don’t bother to check up on it to make sure there are no errors with it. Your credit score is your report card in the real world and it comes into play when you’re buying a car, renting your first apartment, and even when you’re getting a job (most employers are now checking credit scores to determine how responsible the candidate is). Protect that at all costs. Learn what drives your credit score down. Learn what drives your credit score up. Check up on it every now and then to ensure nothing is wrong with it.
Even something as basic as creating a simple budget is beyond the grasp of some young adults and it simply amazes me that a lot of people don’t do this and some don’t even know how (you’d be surprised). Figure out your income after taxes, pay yourself FIRST (this is a big one – most people pay the bills and frivolously spend the leftovers until next payday), see what you can cut out if things are tight, look to see where you can bring in more income if you need to do so, etc.
Another important subset regarding personal finance are those “intangible” things, such as learning to differentiate between need and want, delaying the gratification, and having an inner sense of value. These concepts can’t be taught in the classroom but only taught through oneself via self discipline.
We live in a materialistic society where unfortunately, many young people grow up with the “have” then “be” mentality.
If I have _______, then I’ll be ____________.
Blame it on the media, advertising, or the impressionable minds of young people, but you’ll frequently see that a lot of people get stuck in this mentality and as a result, needlessly pile themselves in a mountain of debt.
One thing that I want to point out to students is that you’ll find as you get older, that a lot of people “fake” financial success. Not all, but a pretty big chunk. The neighbor or co-worker you see with the fancy car and nice clothes are most likely knee deep in debt while you’ll find the people with the average car and clothes have little or no debt and a nice big cushion of savings to that as well.
And the ironic and sad part is that most people don’t really care about other people because they’re so busy with themselves, so all that effort to impress others is really all in vain. The inherent danger in trying to accumulate expensive things to feel good about yourself is that you’re telling yourself that you need something outside of yourself to validate you, when everything you need to validate yourself is already within you. Stop looking for anything outside of you because there will always be something new and better to purchase. It’s like a dog chasing its tail. You’ll never catch it. Learn to simplify your life and to be content and grateful for the things you have. Don’t get caught up in the materialistic chase because once you do, it’s hard to get out.
#2. Communicating Effectively
By this, I’m not necessarily talking about giving speeches and presentations, although that certainly falls in this category. I’m mainly talking about being able to clearly take what’s in your head and to put it into words so the other person clearly understands what you’re saying the first time.
I know that sounds simple, but I’m sure you’ve met people in the workplace who don’t take the time to prepare when they speak with you and as a result, waste your time talking in circles when all you want to say to them is: “Can you take some time to think through what you want to say and come back to me later with that?”
Communicating effectively is one of the most underrated, yet most powerful skills you can develop.
The biggest part in communicating effectively is preparing what you want to say beforehand. Keep it simple. What’s my point? Why? Prepare a good example.
Your best friend in communicating effectively are these two words: “For example”. Whenever you see a confused look on people’s faces, your best response is leading with those two words: For example. When you do that AND follow up with a relevant example, it allows the other person to “frame” what you’re talking about to get a better idea of what it is.
Communicating effectively is one of THE MOST underrated and MOST valuable skills a person can have. And let me tell you on a personal level, there’s nothing more refreshing than dealing with people who take the time to prepare what they have to say and back it up with clear examples. It’s a very rare skill nowadays.
#3. Social Skills
Closely related to communicating effectively are social skills in general. After you graduate, you’re not going to be dealing with your high school or frat buddies anymore.
You’ll be dealing with many people from different backgrounds, countries, and more importantly different age groups, so it would be wise to learn how to socialize outside your own group.
Cut the slang. Learn to respect customs from other countries. Learn how to listen – few people do. Learn when to speak and when NOT to.
Build rapport. Learn the art of networking – that’s key. Networking is a big skill that’s not taught enough in schools. Learn to compliment. Mingle. Make small talk.
Learn to approach people – that’s another big skill. Most people don’t have the guts to take the first initiative and introduce themselves. Be the big man. Take the first step. Learn to make the other person feel good and important. Dale Carnegie is your best friend in this area (Google his name if you don’t know what I’m talking about)
Obviously I’m not advocating people becoming a salesman after school, but learning the art of selling is what I’m advocating. If you think about it, we all sell everyday. We sell ideas to our boss. We sell to our friends when we pitch ideas on what to do this weekend. We sell ourselves in job interviews. You could say that sales is a great combination of social skills and communicating effectively, but with some other components you should pick up that will be useful.
Listen. Really listen. Actively listen. Learn how to be convincing. Be persuasive. Think of objections and counter them ahead of time. Stress benefits instead of features. Listen to the other person. (yes I know it’s a repeat, but it’s for emphasis) Develop empathy. Think in terms of how you can help serve the other person.
Selling is one of the few skills that can be utilized in any job or career. It’s one of the most important cross marketable skills you will ever develop.
#5: Time Management
Speaking of other skills that can be utilized in any job and career is time management. The majority of students never really learn to value their time and manage it while in school. Procrastination is all too rampant (studying right before class, doing homework and essays the day it’s due, partying the night before the exam). This lack of time management often carries over into adulthood, which becomes a major liability.
Learn to make a to do list. Learn to prioritize. Learn to break things down into 30 minute blocks of time. Learn about actionable items. David Allen’s GTD system is your best friend here along with Dan Kennedy’s No B.S Time Management. Again if you’re unfamiliar with these people, Google is your best friend, but I’m sure the majority of readers will know what I’m talking about.
It’s not enough to make students run a mile and play sports. Education is needed now more than ever. Education on the dangers of consuming too much fast food. Education on what diets in high sugar and fat can do to the body. Education on proper nutrition. Education on the importance of exercising regularly as well. I think if schools start teaching these kinds of things, we could nip so many problems in the bud because most teenagers will not research this material on their own. The few that do have a head start in life but if we can’t teach them, schools should at the very least raise some sort of awareness and have an introductory class that talks about them – Real World 101.
If you have any friends or family who are still in school, please forward them this article. Think of it as a cheat sheet for the real world. You’ll be doing them a great service and they will most definitely thank you after they graduate. I guarantee it.