Think back to graduation day. You felt on top of the world. You survived all the cramming, testing, terrible group projects, and pop quizzes they could throw at you. You were officially prepared to take on the world. Then graduation day ended and you realized that college and the working world aren't exactly the same thing. In fact, there's a ton of really basic stuff that you feel like you should've learned, but was never even mentioned in any class.
The College Bashing Trend
I'll start this conversation by fully admitting that posts/books/videos on this theme are a bit of a trend. Here are just a few I found in a quick search:
- What I Didn't Learn in Business School: How Strategy Works in the Real World
- 10 Things You Didn’t Learn in College (but You Should Have)
- 6 Lessons about Life That I Didn’t Learn in College
- 10 More Essential Skills You Didn’t Learn in College
- Adult Things You Didn't Learn In College
Having read and watched these, I wanted to throw my own experience into the mix. I'll be the first to say that I learned a ton in college. I really value my education and wouldn't trade it for anything. But there are some very specific things that, looking back, I feel were a bit lacking. So here are the ten things I personally believe that I should've learned in business school, but didn't.
1. How Taxes Work
In my finance classes, we briefly covered taxes, but holy crap, I was not prepared for how insanely complicated they would be. When you have a normal full-time job, everything is fine. Fill out your 1040EZ and you're ready to go. But then you decide to work on your own and become a sole proprietor, and things get crazy fast. Now you're deducting business expenses, paying new fees that you've never even heard of, and trying your best not to break any laws you don't know about. Finally, you get organized and start your very own LLC. I literally have a huge book of paperwork that was involved in this process. It's enormous, and I have no clue what any of it is for. Not one page.
The most important thing I learned? Get an affordable accountant. The piece of mind that I have about not going to prison for screwing up is worth every cent I pay my accountant. I know I'll get plenty of comments about how "easy" it all is and how I'm throwing away my money paying someone else to do it, but when tax season comes and all I have to do is show up and sign a few documents, I couldn't be more thrilled.
2. How Startup Funding Works
Bootstrap vs. fundraising, angel investors, VCs, series A vs. series B, seed funding; huh? What's a Y Combinator and why do I need one?
In business school, we may have skimmed some of these topics, but as soon as I started working with Silicon Valley startups, I realized that they had their own finance language and I didn't understand a word of it.
And speaking of different languages...
3. A Foreign Language
I received a degree in marketing and global business management. I spent countless hours learning about business customs and norms in foreign countries. This knowledge proved to be invaluable as I would go on to lead diverse teams of people from almost every continent. However, I'm still amazed that there were zero foreign language requirements in a global business program. I received my degree without taking a single foreign language class. When you work with people from all around the world who are each fluent in at least 2-5 different languages, you realize how much we tend to suck at this in the United States.
If you're thinking about next semester and which electives you should take, for crying out loud, pass up the class on Renaissance painters and learn some Spanish.
4. How To Handle Failure
I feel like business schools should pick a random class for every student, wait until the end of the semester, and fail them after they're finished with their huge term project, even if they did great on it. This is what real life is like.
I'm kidding of course, but the lesson I'm driving at is an important one. Sometimes you do all you can to make something work, and it just doesn't. It sucks, and few are remotely prepared for it the first time it happens.
5. Passive Income is Awesome
Some of the shop owners on this very site will earn thousands of dollars tonight while they sleep. They created digital products that can be downloaded an infinite number of times without ever running into supply constraints. Rather than working for 40 hours and getting paid for 40 hours, these geniuses work for 40 hours, then make money from that work for years to come.
I don't remember hearing about these people in school (granted, it was quite a few years ago now). There should be entire classes on passive income strategies and techniques. Heck, you should be able to major in it. The Internet has turned what used to be an idea that existed mainly in mail-order scams into a reality for countless hardworking people all over the world.
6. No One Cares About Your Grades at a Job Interview
This one really bugs me, but it has proved true. I aced college. I showed up early to every class, literally never missed a single lecture in four years (ok, five), and got an A in every course I ever enrolled in. Summa cum laude FTW! At graduation, I had these fancy ropes around my neck (honor cords) that most other people didn't. I was clearly superior. Graduation was the one and only time that ever mattered.
It turns out, those guys and girls sitting next to me who didn't study all weekend, who totally phoned in their finals and mid-terms, yeah, they graduated too. And got great jobs. I'm not saying you shouldn't try hard in college, just remember that a B isn't the end of the world.
7. Modern Marketing Techniques
I majored in marketing at a terrible time. The world was changing, and as always, universities were way behind the curve. I remember evaluating newspaper ads in class, then checking my Facebook in the library as soon as class was over. There was obviously a huge disconnect between how marketing was being taught, and how it was happening in the real world.
I never learned how to create a Google AdWords campaign, or how great free content can earn clicks and drive user acquisition. Sure, the core principles understanding basic human needs (thanks Maslow) are exactly the same, but the practical skill application is very different in a world gone digital.
8. Work/Life Balance
In business school, we talked about business. How to identify your target market, how to appeal to customers who don't need or want your product, how to open up shop in a land that's entirely foreign to you, but we never talked about how an endless pursuit of success can kill you. Or how sometimes you have to tell your client that you can't perform last minute revisions on the project this weekend because you promised your family that you'd be around for once.
I learned how to balance work and life the hard way, as a newlywed freelancer, working a million hours a week. I burned out, hard. I loved my work and hated it all at the same time. I missed my wife and was tired of telling her that I was going to pull another twelve hour Saturday. Eventually, I figured out my priorities, and eight awesome years of marriage later, I now gladly shut my laptop at 5pm and enjoy most evenings the way the good Lord intended: with my wife and Netflix.
9. Outsource The Things You Suck at Doing
In college, you learn so many different skills, even within a given major. Sometimes the goal seems to be to make you a jack-of-all-trades. I carried that mindset into my professional life. I'm decent at writing, coding, design, photography, you name it. I'm not sure I'm amazing at any of these things, but I can get by.
The really hard lesson was that there are things that I really suck at, and rather than spending my time trying to master them, I'm often better off outsourcing them. This is why I pay that accountant I mentioned above. Is tax law really beyond my mental capacity? No, but I'm not interested in it in the least and would rather spend my days figuring out how to write better CSS or take better photos. And that's ok! It turns out I don't have to know everything.
10. Everything In The Book "Rework"
Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, wasn't merely a book full of things I didn't learn in business school, it felt like a direct assault on everything I was taught. And I loved it.
Jason Fried has now become famous for pushing crazy ideas like how growth isn't as important for your business as you think, how meetings are often a productivity-sucking waste of time, and how it doesn't really make sense to force your workers to come to an office and sit in the same room every day. Depending on the type of person you are, you'll either love Rework or hate it. Either way, you should definitely read it.
How About You?
Now that you've read my rant, it's your turn. Leave a comment below and let us know which valuable life skills you wish you'd learned in school.
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