"Experience  is a hard teacher, the tests come before the lessons" - Vernon Law

A Practical Education

A practical education begins at birth and ends when our curiosity or ability to learn fades away. For the lucky few, it ends at death. There are no degrees awarded. There is no graduation ceremony. The testes never end. The effect is cumulative personal autonomy, which enables a vibrant and fulfilling life experience.

Aristotle wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Being able to look at and evaluate different values without necessarily adopting them is perhaps the central skill required in changing one’s own life in a meaningful way."

G. K. Chesterton said; “Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” Of course Mr. Chesterton was not talking about people with practical educations. He was talking about those who weren't really interested in learning. He was talking about those who crammed a day or two before an exam and forgot everything the day after. He was talking about those who managed by hook or by crook to graduate with a degree and little else of any practical value to show for the time they spent in school. He was talking about the class of smoke & mirrors.

Learning and applying what you learn to develop useful skills is what makes education practical. An article that was published in Fast Company on September 11, 2017 describes how some exclusive schools, founded and supported by successful tech executives, approach education with emphasis on developing curiosity and true understanding. This is done by encouraging school children to conceive and develop their own projects. Then explain and demonstrate how what they created can be applied in the real world. This type of learning helps to develop both  soft and practical skills. The children who have the privilege of going to this kind of school have a head start on life. Of course most of us have attended "normal" schools, some better than others. But the realization that learning and applying knowledge as a life long pursuit isn't exclusive to rich kids. Everyone who has learned to love learning is already rich. Alone, the ability to read can fuel a curious mind with the stuff that animates lifelong learning. The right stuff to read is entirely up to you. But it should include material that will help you to overcome your personal deficiencies. If you don't have any personal deficiencies, you can skip over the next 3 paragraphs. If you're not sure where to start, then you might enjoy reading them.

One way to identify personal deficiencies is by examining what irritates you about others. Carl Jung said: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” It’s not within the scope of this project to analyze the psychology of why we get irritated by a particular behavior of someone else. But it’s an important point. Because allowing what someone else says or does to cause you to overreact and loose your composure, is the opposite of personal autonomy and a common cause of unnecessary stress.

You can find a lot of self-improvement programs and reading material out there. For example here is a blog by Mark and Angel Chernoff
with some practical suggestions about how to learn not to take things personally. You can also find some decent books that touch on the subject of self-awareness in the recommended reading section below. But reasonably healthy people do not have to torment themselves with incessant self-analysis. Awareness and insight in situations where you would normally feel irritated can help you to understand and ignore harmful emotions, and that’s what counts.

It goes like this: As soon as you start to feel irritation caused by someone else’s behavior, stop everything! Stop thinking about the one who did it! Stop thinking about how selfish she is or how conceited he is or how arrogant they are! Think about why this comment or action stings! After all, the irritation is your emotion; so own it! And then disown it as quickly as possible! Think about how not allowing toxic emotions to hijack your composure will mitigate the disadvantages that come with being irritated! All this thinking takes milliseconds. It's not even necessary to actually to find answers to the questions. Simply being aware that these reactions are hurting you is enough.  It is an important step in learning how to manage your behavior; a significant characteristic of a practical education. Mastering any newly acquired skill requires a lot of effort in the beginning. But as we discussed earlier, awareness and persistence will hone it until it becomes instinctive.

With your self-destructive defense mechanisms under control, you will not only be happier and healthier, you will be able to direct your attention toward more constructive aspects of your practical education. These could include the knowledge and expertise you will need to satisfy your life goals. There is no end to the reading material, seminars and workshops on any topic you may want to look into. The greatest problem is finding the information that’s right for you. All the information necessary to explain the practical value of most fields of interest would probably fit on 50 pages. I would venture to guess there is enough material written on each subject to fill a bookmobile. So how do you find the right stuff to read? We all have particular preferences as to the way we absorb information. One suggestion would be to try e-books. Some e-book providers permit customers to download a free sample before committing to buy the book. If you find an author whose style speaks to you, the book will be more enjoyable to read and you will absorb the information more efficiently.

On the job, the best education undeniably comes from making mistakes and learning from them. However without a little guidance, learning by doing can get out of hand. I assume that since you are reading this, you have been endowed with a healthy dose of chutzpah. Clearly you want to contribute, you want to make a difference and you want to reap the benefits of your hard work. But before you start going where no employee has gone before or suggesting how to make things better, invest some time in sizing up the environment you are working in! Find out if deviations from "the way we've always done it" are appreciated or even tolerated! Determine if there is any real interest in suggestions to improve things! Once you have a good handle on the prevailing company culture, your contributions will be more meaningful to everyone involved. Experienced colleagues can be a good source of direction in this regard. Observe these people! Ask questions! Engage them in conversation! If they are authentic, they will probably be happy to share their experience with you. And if they're smart, they will let you know they are still learning themselves. Colleagues, who claim to have all the answers, don’t. But that does not mean you can’t learn from them too. Learning what not to do is as practical as any other aspect of your education. 

Traditional Education

Landing a good job at a good company normally requires an academic degree in a field related to the business being conducted there. The days of getting a degree in art history or journalism at the best party university available and then landing a management position at a high tech manufacturing company are probably gone forever. Globalization has changed the scope of education. These days, in addition to children of the elite and the best and brightest home-grown talent, good universities attract serious, hard-working young men and women from those parts of the world where the job market is booming. They are seeking educations that are tailored to specific needs of the global economy The Third Education Revolution published in The Atlantic on March 22, 2018 describes how some schools and cooperations are collaborating on to establish models which support life-long learning in order to meet the the needs of todays economy. Assuming that you do not fit into any of the scenarios mentioned above, please note that some sort of documentation asserting that you managed to graduate is normally required to open the right doors. If you haven’t already done so, get a degree! It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. It doesn’t have to be a Ph.D. or an M.B.A. It doesn’t have to be in one of those trendy fields that enjoy a certain prestige until they get saturated and devalued.  A Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in a field of interest that comes easy to you will do just fine. Choosing a field that comes easy to you doesn't mean that you are uninspired or lazy. It means that you will enjoy your work and be good at it.

A degree doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. These days you can do most of the work independently on line and hold down a job at the same time. In addition to awarding degrees, most colleges and universities offer useful information, valuable knowledge and the foundation for building professional networks. But you don’t have to strive for the best possible education. You can’t get that in a school anyway. Just learn as much as you can and get that degree! Degrees are the keys to the kingdom.


Once you have landed a job, what you learned in school will have little to do with genuine job satisfaction. The kind of jobs that offer worthwhile intellectual and commercial incentives are aggressively contested and tenaciously protected, especially by those who are not qualified to hold them. This leads to environments that conventional educations cannot adequately prepare you for. The math, the science and the communication skills that you learned in school will help you to discharge your responsibilities. The challenges and showdowns,  that you encountered in the school yards and hall ways may help you to deal with bullies. But formal education does not supply the awareness and skills you need to survive and thrive in the world of smoke & mirrors.

There are those who seem to possess the right stuff congenitally. Or it could be that their parents had the insight and wherewithal to reinforce their practical education from childhood, like the kids mentioned in the Fast Company article. God bless them! The rest of us, have to figure it out and work at it. But there are fewer things in life that are more rewarding than satisfying curiosity and acquiring practical skills.
Obviously non-career oriented areas of interest like travel, learning to speak another language, play a musical instrument, paint, sail, dance or do yoga all belong to a practical education, which makes life more interesting and enjoyable.

Here are a few points to take with you:

1. Read! (listen Observe)

Never think you're the smartest person in the room! But if you are, find another room!

3. Understand that life long learning is becoming a necessity and no longer a luxury!

 Suggested reading:

The Social Animal
by David Brooks; 

The World is Flat
by Thomas Friedman;

by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi;

An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth
by Chris Hadfield

  "through the smoke, a practical education" Bill O'Connell 2013