The simple skills we fail to learn in high school

My day had not started well. I forgot that I needed to drop my son at school and I was running late to work. I still needed to make a few tweaks to a presentation I was giving later that morning and I desperately needed my morning coffee.

Despite the time, I stopped at a coffee shop along my commute. I hoped to be in-and-out in minutes.

I walked into the shop and, of course, there was a line. I thought about turning around and getting back into my car, but I decided to wait my turn. For someone who went without drinking coffee for much of my life, I’ve become hooked very quickly. Despite my concern for the late hour, I kept a close eye on my watch and one minute turned into two, two turned into three, etc., etc, etc.


Finally I made it to the second spot in line. My heart sank though when the guy in front of me ordered not just his own coffee, but seemed to be ordering for his entire office. I’m embarrassed to say that I groaned out load. Yes, I need to work on being a more patient person.

In any event, I smiled when the young cashier started to ring-up the man’s order and I promised myself to never stop at this particular shop again.

However, I realized right away though that I had jumped the gun. The cashier’s electronic cash register was malfunctioning and he had to perform basic subtraction to figure out how much he owed the guy. Nothing major, simple “see Spot run” arithmetic, but it seemed to be confounding him.

Finally, I snapped to the two of them: “You owe him $2.67.” The cashier and customer both looked at me with a mixture of awe — like I had solved an ancient math equation — and horror like I was the rudest person on the face of the Earth.

My comment was rude and I really did feel bad, but it got me thinking the rest of the day on the basic skills that many people fail to learn in high school. (I live with a teacher, these are the things you talk about on daily basis mixed in with how horrible the Governor and Legislature is for cutting education funding.)

Some of my suggestions are big, some are small. Everyone learns to read and write and perform sixth grade math, but these skills are important too to creating a healthy, cultured society.

Here’s my list of skills everyone should learn for themselves before they graduate:

–Creating a budget, saving for a rainy day, and balancing a check book.

–Knowing the difference between a w-2, adjusted gross income, and the 1040 versus the 1040ez and, most important, how to file your own taxes.

–Knowing how to write an informative and persuasive resume and ask for a raise.

–Living below your means.

–Delving through flashy, so-called important statistics to get the real meaning behind a problem or issue.

–Listening. Understanding how to really listen to another person.

–Treating others with respect.

–Having a thumbnail understanding of the world’s religions. Most people have some understanding about Christianity, but few have ever taken the time to learn about the rest of the world’s religions and how they touch and interact with each other.

–Using basic time management skills.

–How to have a healthy, two-way conversation with another person.

–How to tip. I went out for lunch several months ago with a friend of mine, who will go nameless, but she knows who she is, and we spent more time figuring out how to break up the check and leave the appropriate tip, than we actually spent talking. (Yes, we were both communications majors.)

–Using good manners. Manners used to be common sense. Everyone knew them, everyone shared them. Unfortunately manners are not quite so common anymore. The original Ms. Manners would be rolling over in her grave.

–Using basic self defense because we don’t live in such a nice place anymore.

–Understanding that “no means no.” This one is probably more for the guys, but it’s a message that seems simple enough, but doesn’t seem to be getting through or understood on college campuses across the country.

–Understanding how to eat nutritiously (and not the pre-packaged, low-fat junk Madison Avenue says is supposedly healthy.)


–How to play an instrument. If I have one regret from my own high school experience, it’s that I never learned to play an instrument, piano, trumpet, anything. I know it would have helped immensely when I went to learn another language years later.

–How to worry less, relax more and destress in a healthy, productive way after a stress-filled day. (Yea, I’m still working on this one.)

I could be wrong, but if everyone had these basic skills, I think the world would better for it. And I might even get to work on time the next time I get a late start.

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