My niece started first grade yesterday and it got me thinking about the 14 years I spent on my own formal education. Besides the obvious fundamental learnings, what were the biggest lessons? In my career and life today, what learnings from my school years do I return to again and again to help guide me? It’s sure as hell not Calculus. Below – some of the best things I learned while in school. A couple of which were not from a teacher at all.

From my High School French Teacher: Commit.

  • You really can’t just muddle your way through proper pronunciation and while most of us 16 year olds felt shy or silly giving those verbs gusto – it actually sounded far better when you did. If you’re going to do something – commit and go all in. You won’t look silly, you’ll look brave.

From my college Art Professor: Don’t be precious with your work.

  • This man would take a fully finished project – that he had said good things about! – and literally crumple it up in front of you. Effectively ruining something you’d just spent hours on. The lesson – if you’re a creative, you should have an endless well of ideas. The finished work became almost irrelevant, the skills of how to create work is what we were learning. To this day, if 5 of my ideas at work are rejected, I don’t spend any time lamenting it. I pivot and come up with 5 more. I’m confident in the creative muscles that he helped shape.

From my Dad in High School.. when the girls were not always kind: People are always going to find a reason to dislike you. Let them dislike you for being great.

  • There are a lot of things that came relatively easy to me in school and – for now obvious reasons – that meant that sometimes girls would find other ways to make things difficult for me. I think he instinctively could see this and didn’t want me to end up shrinking myself in order to make my social life easier. It’s not always an easy path (and maintaining humility goes without saying here) – but since then I’ve never once tried to downplay my talents in order to appease the insecurity in others. If you didn’t hate me for being good at something, I suspect you’d find a different reason.

From my college Fashion Design Professor: Present first.

  • Fashion design critiques could be absolutely brutal in college. Raise your hand and volunteer to present first. You’ll be nervous as hell but those doing the critique are often softer because they have nothing to judge you against and it shows a particular confidence in your own work that often influences them to feel the same way. To this day, I’m not shy about putting my ideas out to a group first. You might still get criticism – and that’s fine – but at least no one can say you didn’t have something to offer.

From my High School History Teacher: Our experiences outside of the classroom, help shape what we learn inside the classroom.

  • This particular teacher used to be a long haul truck driver before pivoting to small town history teacher. So many of his stories connected a life experience of his outside the classroom back to something we were learning. It made me realize that as far as traditional education will take you – that real world, on the ground learning is what really brings it all to life. Later, when I studied abroad, I would think of him. Another lesson? It’s never too late to start again.

From my Dad on the day he dropped me off at college: Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness instead of permission.

  • He said it offhandedly when he circumvented a parking attendee in order to get a better spot to unload my things. It wasn’t meant to be some big life lesson – but it’s honestly the only thing I remember about that day. And something I’ve repeated to myself many times since. Sometimes, you need to just go for it – if you wait for someone to grant you permission, you could be waiting a long time.