I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing. – Neil Gaiman
I was fifteen years old when I read that quote for the first time. At the time I was spending my days learning about basic measuring units in Chemistry, the Bystander Effect and it’s deadly consequences, and why Lena is a social pariah in Faulkner’s Light in August. I wasn’t learning anything I believed to be worth knowing. But hey, I was in high school.
In college, Gaiman’s words crossed my path, ahem, screen, yet again. I was nineteen and learning about the struggles of being a professional woman and how to land a kickass internship and how a brand can make a lasting impression using only 140 characters. I was also learning how to console a girl whose previously unblemished heart had been smashed in one night. I was learning how to maintain a relationship with my parents and I was learning how to make my way in the world. I was learning things worth knowing.
A year ago, I was handed a slip of paper that confirmed my dedication to 17 years of schooling. For over 80% of my life, I was child of the American Education System, and I am better for it. I am able to multiply (digits of ten, and when in doubt I have my calculator in that handy app on my phone). I am able to discuss iambic pentameter (but only had to once, when a friend and I were debating an impressive limerick in a skeevy bathroom bar). I am able to write a cover letter (and then moan about it for the next week and a half as I discuss my inadequacies as a true adult). So now what?
Now I am 22 years old and googling “How to quit your job.”
The irony isn’t lost. My whole life I was taught how to find a job. So why was I not taught how to leave?
“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school…”
They don’t teach you how to leave a job that doesn’t feel right to you. They don’t teach you that your dreams may change days or months or years into your chase after them. They don’t teach you how to find the courage to uproot and follow your new ones.
In school, they don’t teach you how to be friendly in a city that isn’t or how to maintain your compassion in a workplace that is callous. They don’t teach you how to live with a significant other and they don’t teach you how putting everything you have into a career can have an adverse effect on your sanity.
Through your thirteen or seventeen or twenty plus years of education, they don’t teach you how to say goodbye to a childhood home and they don’t teach you how to properly forgive anyone who has done you wrong. They don’t teach you how to pray or how much an ice cream cake helps when you’re having a bad day or what to say to a friend who’s life just changed directions in the blink of an eye.
Schooling certainly teaches you a lot worth knowing. But it can’t compare to really living, which sure as shit teaches you the rest. So I guess what I’m saying, my dearest twenties, is thank you for beginning to teach me the rest.