A few weeks ago I wrote about a school project entitled “Lessons Life Teaches” that I helped my neighbor’s son, Jesse, with. After we were done discussing the project, Jesse and I chatted for an hour about growing up and his imminent transition out of high school and into adulthood. He asked me one question after the next about college, career options, entrepreneurship, starting and running a popular blog, etc. He was thirsting for knowledge, and I was truly inspired by his enthusiasm to learn about all the possibilities that await him in the next phase of his life.
It was his final question that really made me think though. He asked, “What am I not learning in the classroom?” I answered the question as best I could, and tried to give some decent advice with the time I had, but for some reason this question stuck with me. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it I realize there are actually several important lessons that can’t be fully taught or learned in a classroom environment. Here are the first eight that came to mind when I sat down to write this morning:
1. Unimagined, real world life experiences.
The most prolific experience is not in achieving something, but in seeking it. It is the journey towards an endless horizon that matters – goals that move forward with you as you chase them. It’s all about the pursuit and what you learn along the way – the ‘moving.’
The most important reason for moving from one place to another is to see what’s in between. In between is where passions are realized, love is found, strength is gained, and memories are made. You can’t get any of that without firsthand living.
2. True love and vulnerability.
You are subconsciously hardwired to connect with others – friendship, love, intimacy, etc. – and your willingness to be vulnerable is the gateway to the affection you crave from them. But it takes serious courage to push the limits of your vulnerability, to dig deeper and deeper into the core of who you are as a unique individual and not only love and accept the imperfect parts of yourself but also expose them to someone else, trusting that this person will hold them considerately.
Ultimately, to love is to be vulnerable, and to be willingly vulnerable is to show your greatest strength and your truest self. Finding and nurturing the right relationships that make this kind of love possible is a beautiful, lifelong process. Read 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.
3. Actually staying positive when times get tough.
You are allowed to have bad days. Even the happiest people in the world have bad days. The reason they are able to maintain their happiness is that they know bad times are short-lived. The weight of mistakes, the pain of rejection, the frustration of failure, and the aches of injuries fuel the happy instead of dragging them down. They know these events are making them wiser and stronger. Happiness isn’t a temporary state of mind. Happiness is an enduring faith that what goes around comes around. It’s a lifestyle that requires acknowledging that you are willing to do the work to make tomorrow a better day.
In any situation, it’s not your specific circumstances that shape you, it’s how you react to your circumstances. You can’t direct the wind, but you can always adjust your sails. When it rains look for rainbows, when it’s dark out, look for stars. Making a habit of this takes time and practice, but the positive effects will change the trajectory of your life.
4. Coping with betrayal.
As William Blake so eloquently said, “It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.”
Betrayal is a double-edged sword. Not only do you feel betrayed by someone you trusted, you feel like you betrayed yourself for trusting this person in the first place. You blame them and then you blame yourself. Learning to cope and let go enough to think clearly is something that can’t be fully understood in a conceptual setting; it must be realized and enforced as it happens.
If you feel betrayed, it’s important to release any feelings of hate at once. By doing so the bitterness has no time to take root. Only then can you begin the process of evaluating the real situation – perhaps a frightening possibility such as: “My beloved doesn’t love me,” or perhaps a more innocuous realization: “This was an honest mistake that deserves to be forgiven.”
5. The reality of death and the beauty of life.
There is only one thing in this world more disheartening than dying before you think it’s time, and that’s having a loved one who is dying before you think it’s time. Depression is a primary side effect of dying, especially when the fatally ill is someone dear to your heart, or you yourself. It’s a kind of aching pain and confusion that can’t be adequately portrayed in words. Dealing with it is something all together different than an abstract discussion about it.
You honestly never fully grasp how much someone means to you until the reality of their existence becomes an uncertain, immanent matter of life and death. You never truly appreciate what you have in every little moment until you are faced with the possibility of not having another. Read The Last Lecture.
6. Adjusting to life’s ever-changing obstacles.
What is true today may not be tomorrow. Life is a series of natural and continuous changes – everything is a moving target. What’s truly important is to embrace these changes as they happen. To let the reality be the reality. To let life’s happenings flow naturally forward, and to swim proficiently with the current.
Your body, after all, is over 60% water. You must learn to flow like the water that’s already a major part of who you are. Water never resists. Water’s strength is in its patience, persistence and adaptability. It can’t stop everything that’s thrown at it, but it always goes around obstacles and through them. Very few things in the end can reliably stand against it. In time, even a small, slow, steady drip can wear away the face of a massive bolder.
So keep this in mind always as you deal with life’s ever-changing obstacles. Practice your patience and persistence and remember what you’re made of. Like water, if you can’t go through an obstacle, flow around it.
7. Self-forgiveness after a big mistake.
There’s a significant difference between knowing that you should forgive yourself and actually doing it. Conceptually, it’s easy to say, “I forgive you.” Sincerely believing it after you make a mistake, on the other hand, is a totally different practice – it takes discipline, strength and lots of self-love. But that’s exactly what you must learn to do.
When you initially forgive yourself, it’s hard. It’s like pouring alcohol on an infected wound. There’s a sharp initial pain and your scar becomes inflamed, but then it begins to heal so you can start living a healthy life again. It’s all about getting used to dealing with pain upfront – getting it over with before it festers.
Because the truth is, unless you let go, unless you pardon yourself, you can’t move forward. You must love yourself enough to accept your humanness. You have to sincerely forgive yourself, everyday, whenever you remember a shortcoming, or realize you’ve made another mistake. You have to tell yourself, “It’s OK. You’re doing OK.” Take it as a lesson learned and forge toward the future without looking back.
8. Maintaining a healthy balance.
Life is an endless balancing act. There will always be more than one option and more than one obligation competing for your time. Your power ultimately lies in your small daily choices, one after another, that you use to balance these demands, which gradually create eternal ripples of a life well lived.
You must find the happy medium that works best for you in your unique situation – the right balance between activity and rest, work and family, passion and money, short-term and long-term goals, getting things done and leaving them undone, etc. Without balance everything falls out of whack. For instance, when you let your work life, or social life, or family life consume you, and 100% of your energy is focused in that one area 100% of the time, every other area of your life suffers.
If you’re going to get things done right, be successful with your endeavors, and find lasting happiness, you need to balance the various dimensions of your life in a way that makes sense to you and your priorities. Over time, and with enough experience, you will be able to evaluate any situation and find a happy, healthy equilibrium. Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
What would you add to the list? What must be lived to be learned? What’s another important lesson that can’t be fully taught or learned in a classroom? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Photo by: Andreia Bohner