Student of Life

I’m about to say something that everyone knows, but nobody admits: High school and college leave you completely unprepared for the real world.

The entire school system–from Kindergarten to Undergrad–sucks. You don’t develop mastery in any skill, you’re left without basic skills that make successful human beings, and then you’re thrown into the world without direction or hope.

What the fuck? How’s a 21st century citizen supposed to survive this transition? Let’s start by identifying the real skills that make you successful.

My working list of “Real-Life Skills”

I can think of a few incredibly valuable life skills that don’t get taught. Here’s my working list:

  • Interpersonal and communication skills
  • Psychology
  • Marketing
  • Probability and Statistics
  • Algorithms
  • Personal Finance
  • Strategy or Game Theory
  • Health

You need a reason these are all so important? Since you insist…

Interpersonal skills — being able to influence others is valuable. Even if you don’t feel the need to influence other people, being able to have good relationships couldn’t hurt.

Interpersonal and communication skills include everything from emotional intelligence and leadership to writing, networking and public speaking. Even romance and pre-marriage counseling could go under this umbrella. Interpersonal skills are THAT important.

Psychology is important for internal improvement (knowing how your own brain works and directing it appropriately). Understanding psychology includes understanding how you learn, which is probably where you should start.

Think about Interpersonal Communication Skills and Psychology having a baby with a megaphone. That’s marketing. You need to know how to promote yourself in a positive way. Everything you do builds your personal brand (your reputation). It helps to know how to control that brand.

Probability and statistics — other than making you good at poker — you can make better decisions if you start putting numbers to your choices. You’ll also be able to identify when you made a good choice with a bad outcome. Because that means you still made the right choice.

Algorithms…wow. So much to say about algorithms. Knowing how to code will create job security in the future. Knowing how to code is also knowing how to create habits. If this…then that…

Personal finance isn’t something that you learn in school, it’s a set of habits you pick up from your parents and peers. Maybe you want to learn how to play the personal finance game better than your parents and peers did. It would help to study and apply personal finance ASAP.

Strategy and game theory helps you understand second-order consequences, competition, and growth mindsets. I’d place research, critical thinking and mental models in this category, as well.

Health is obvious. But 2/3 of American adults are overweight or obese today (in May 2022), so maybe it isn’t obvious. Health is how you live longer, enjoy the life you have, and nurture the energy and focus to tackle everything else on the list.

For best results, learn in cycles.

Something I’ve noticed about the best learning platforms, and even how high school was structured, is that you progressively build complexity. Psychologist Lev Vygotsky introduced the idea which became known as the Zone of Proximal Development.

Here’s how it works: you learn the basic version of a skill with support from a more knowledgeable person or resource. Once you understand the basics, you remove the supports for the things the learner has internalized. From there, a teacher can provide new supports in an expanded area of that knowledge that you don’t understand yet.

And the best way I’ve found to do this is with spaced repetition that increases in complexity. Look at the Solo Artist Curriculum that I’m working through with Chris Beaven. Each course in later terms builds on the knowledge acquired in earlier terms.

Reinventing the Tattoo was created with the same idea in mind. High school and college are laid out in a similar fashion, but with less structure and emphasis on what I feel is valuable.

If you only read ONE book or take ONE course in each of these areas outside of your specialty, you’ll be better off than most of your peers. But to stay inside of my Zone of Proximal Development, I rotate through each topic, simply trying to find the next piece of information that can build on the last book or course that I digested on the topic.

The question NOW becomes: how much do you want to learn?

Have fun and it will stick.

Other than the spaced repetition cycles, find ways to make your learning journey interesting.

If you want to understand a subject, make your learning fun whenever you can.

Play poker to learn probability and statistics. Play chess to learn game theory and strategy. Set out to build your own applications, websites, or video games while you learn to code. Tell stories to learn communication.

If you want to get fit, have kids and wrestle with them every night. If you don’t want to have kids…well…play a sport.

I have the luxury of being fascinated by learning for the sake of learning. It’s both a strength AND a weakness. If you’re afflicted by the same luxurious curse as I am, you’ll need structure.

Every new shiny piece of information is a temptation, so find out if it fits, or where it fits, then put it in the queue and have fun on the next phase of growth.

Get started — here are some suggestions…

If you’re interested in building your own curriculum — great! I’ve created a list of books and resources to start your journey down each of the paths that I recommended earlier — with the idea of impact in mind.

Each starting point here should set you on a path that has a massive ROI from the very beginning. Sometimes I’ll mention more than one resrouce. Do both.

Interpersonal and communication skills: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. WHO not HOW by Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy

Psychology: The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler. The Gap and the Gain by Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan. These two books have had the most profound impact on my psychological development so far.

Marketing: This Is Marketing by Seth Godin.

Probability and Statistics: Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. Then play some Poker.

Algorithms: Codecademy or Sololearn

Personal Finance: Dave Ramsey has some solid advice. Check out Total Money Makeover or enroll for his Financial Peace University for video. If you aren’t religious, ignore the biblical references. The advice is still solid.

Strategy or Game Theory: I love chess, so I’m just going to recommend finding a good chess app and beginning to play regularly. You’ll learn more by playing and analyzing your own games than you will by reading.

Then start reading The Great Mental Models by Shane Parrish and the Farnam Street Team.

Health and Wellness: Everyone has a different opinion on this one, including me. If you need to sleep better (you do), check out Why We Sleep, recommended by Chris. His wife, Pattie, recommended Go Wild — an all-around holistic approach to health and wellness.

I’d recommend getting a nutrition coach and personal trainer — for something tailored to YOU.

Whatever path you choose, I wish you the best of luck and fortitude!

Where will you go from here?

Somewhere amazing, I hope. I mentioned earlier that I like to rotate through these subjects, so I build on previous knowledge and stay within my Zone of Development.

You could do the same. And don’t forget to pursue your own deep interests, too. Chris and I are working through the Solo Artist curriculum as I’m working through my own “life” curriculum.

I feel like two educational ventures in tandem are about all I can handle.

It also seems balanced to me. I pursue deep knowledge in a skill that I want to master, and broad knowledge in the skills that can help me live a better, more successful, more fulfilling life.

What about you? What skills would you change, remove, or add? Leave your argument in the comments and I’ll revise my curriculum if you convince me!

1 thought on “Student of Life”

  1. Wow, there is so much amazing information packed into this post that it’s almost overwhelming. You could have broken each of the real life skills into it’s own post. I completely agree, school does not prepare anyone for real life and I love how you’ve outlined the broader categories that basically everything. I’ve only read 2 of the books on your getting started list and both of those have had a profound impact on my life I’m sure the others can as well.

    For the algorithms I think Atomic Habits by James Clear or Tiny Habits by BJ Fog could be better suggestions for preparing people for life.

    Great post! I can’t wait to expand upon this with my own work through your suggestions!


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