When I left school and entered the “real world,” I had no idea what I was doing.
I mean, no one really did. Maybe no one ever has. Still, I can’t help but feel that despite the best intentions of our educators, my peers and I felt lost in a lot of avoidable ways. Our concept of career focused on a dwindling supply of Occupations, as opposed to centering on Skills. Skills which, frankly, a lot of us lacked.
The world has changed since the last time a lot of our educators had to get started. And since we spend the majority of our time before age 18 being prepared for “life” by adults, I think we owe them – the teachers, curriculum creators, parents, and role models – some feedback on what we face in the big bad world.
So I turned to communities of friends, entrepreneurs, and job-seekers on Facebook (through personal and Bunz networks) and asked for their feedback on what they think educators should know about the “real world these days.
These are their experiences.
- We have no idea how to do our taxes. We live in a world where 15% of people are self-employed, where side hustles are the norm, and where deductions are all over the place. Doing taxes is simple enough if you have one revenue stream, one home, and no major deductions. But add in being a self-employed person, a student, someone who depends on tips. So many of us are playing a losing game with taxes, and that’s wrong. This is such a basic part of our civil responsibility and financial lives, and it isn’t even mentioned until our first return is due.
- Also, our personal finance knowledge leaves something to be desired. Often, we teach kids a big fat nothing about money management, then hand them a credit card and student loan at 18 and say “be smart!” In a world of bank fees and buying on credit, an unprepared young adult can make some bad decisions. And in an economy like this, those bad decisions can cripple a person for years and years (and years and years) to come.
- We can’t cook (and it’s sucking the life out of us). The year after I left middle school, they scrapped Family Studies class in favour of more English and Math. The result? A lot of people simply never learned how to cook. If schools won’t step up, this should be a priority for parents, after-school programs, and really anyone who helps prepare young people for adulthood. Our physical, mental, and financial health depends on it.
- For many of us, the answer to”What do you want to be when you grow up” is “It doesn’t exist yet.” Slotting students into traditional occupations (doctor, teacher lawyer, tradesperson, repeat) ignores the very real changes in our technology, society, and marketplace. Shifting the focus to marketable skills instead a small selection of Jobs will prepare students for the unpredictable future. Career & Salary negotiation coach, Kathryn Meisner, worded it really well when she wrote “I think it could help everyone involved if we acknowledged that careers are not really linear anymore, post-secondary education may not always be relevant (gasp!) and shifted to facilitating career exploration.”
- What we can do/make often matters more than what we know. Sure, knowing how to use certain programs and perform basic tasks is desired by employers, but most are hiring you to do something, not just know something. A couple tangible examples of our talents and abilities would go a long way in winning over potential interviewers. Many of us graduate with nothing to show for our practical skills (or worse, no practical skills period) and that’s a problem.
- Experience matters. Volunteer opportunities, co-op, and any other resume-ready experiences are pretty much necessary to get your “foot in the door.” Getting something interesting on a young person’s resume (mine was volunteering at a local TV station in high school) can save some serious scrambling later on.
- We need to be good at more than one thing. For those of us who went to University, the idea that we need to hyper-focus on one subject is often burned into our brains. The rest of the world, however, is much more suited to a multi-disciplinary education with a lot of soft skills sprinkled in. So sure, young people should find what they like and become GREAT at that. But unless it is highly in demand, tunnel vision can kill off many social and professional opportunities. Stay curious and well-rounded.
- Stories, mentors and role models make a difference in our lives. Growing up, we are exposed to the stories of our teachers and family members every day – which is great, if we want one of their careers. But if we want to do something different, it can seem impossible if we have no one to look up to for direction. Having uncles and aunts in Communications and Marketing influenced my decision to study those things. Meeting a blogger at age 20 is the reason I am a blog. Real people, real stories, and solid advice show us what is possible and how to get there. Being exposed to mentors from many different backgrounds would make a big difference for many otherwise aimless young people.
- Collaboration is everything. All day, every day, I have to work with someone else. My partner. My parents. My co-workers. Some account manager in Chicago. All of us need each other to reach our goals, and it isn’t always easy. Learning patience, communication, and accountability will help in every aspect of your life.
- …but so is knowing your boundaries. In this collaboration-centric world, knowing what you are able to handle from others and what you are able to give of yourself is hugely important. There are toxic workplaces and relationships. You do have the right to move on from a bad situation. Socializing kids to have respect for authority or to work in difficult groups isn’t terrible – my teacher needed to corral us somehow, and learning how to handle hard situations is worthwhile. But long term, finding workplaces and relationships where you feel comfortable and respected should be a priority.
- We don’t know our rights. When the boundary thing gets really ugly, this is important. Many of us don’t know our rights as tenants and we don’t know our rights as employees. Even if we do, we don’t know how to go about defending those rights. Since we are thrown into a world where we have to find an apartment and a job, a working knowledge of this basic legislation would be invaluable to many.
- Social media is a part of our life – for better or for worse. I was warned a great deal about the dangers of social media growing up, warnings that were very important. But I quickly learned that while posting the wrong things could stunt my career, posting the right things would jumpstart it in a big way. Networking and self-expression online is neither fantastic nor horrible. It’s just different, and we should be taught about both the opportunities and the challenges it presents.
- We really, really, really need to be able to write emails. Applying for an job? How about a grant? Trying to network? So much of that happens online now, and being able to express yourself through a keyboard is a big deal. My parents used to roll their eyes at all the time I spent on MSN messenger (remember msn!?) but chatting with my friends online taught me how to communicate in writing. This has been invaluable in making and maintaining good impressions and just plain getting things done.
- We know mental health matters, but we don’t always know how to cope or find help. We learn most of our coping skills at home. That’s great if our role models at home have experienced similar challenges and know how to cope themselves. Otherwise, it can cause more harm than good. This issue isn’t unique to our generation, but the fact is we know too much now to ignore it any longer. By addressing these issues early and working to provide resources, young people can identify mental health issues and know address them. That will save lives, build empathy, and create a healthier society.
- We need to be able to negotiate. In high school, I questioned a grade for the first time. It was scary, but soon I started asking for explanations for grades regularly. I realized that opening a dialog and taking interest in how I was being graded always ended well for me – it gave me information on how my teacher marked, taught me how I could earn more, and made sure I wasn’t losing out unfairly. I am incredibly grateful to the teachers who engaged in those conversations with me, because out here in the real world, negotiating your worth is kind of a big deal. Encouraging students to engage with authority over things that matter can lead help them negotiate for fairer compensation in the future.
A note to any teachers reading this: Wow. I am amazed that you do this job, especially with all the crazy people like me trying to tell you how to do it. It can’t be easy getting us ready for this crazy world. For all the things the education system gets wrong, you get a lot right.
Thank you to the teachers who break through the BS to teach us the important stuff that may or may not be in the curriculum.
Thank you for the people working tirelessly to create a better system and keep up with this ever-changing world.
Most of all, thank you to everyone – inside and outside of education – who continues to talk about this stuff. The ones who question what is going on. The ones who keep an eye on the changing world and care about how young people are being prepared for it. The ones who share their triumphs and challenges in hopes of a better experience for the next generation. Thank you, especially, to those who responded to my awkwardly-worded questions on Facebook. I love that together, we get a far clearer picture of what’s happening (and how to make it better).
I am scared of this real world thing. I am ill-prepared for it, in many ways. But I am also ready in many ways, too. And for that, I am grateful, grateful, grateful. We all should be.