We’ve all seen the statistics –
A high school drop out earns less money and is more likely to be unemployed.
A high school dropout is more likely to commit crimes and spend time in prison.
A high school dropout has lower physical and mental health.
So we place a great emphasis as a society on encouraging our children to persevere and make it through 12th grade. We tell them it’s worth it. We offer encouragement and celebration when they’re on track and motivation and consequences when they’re not.
Because the lessons learned in school are important. And the consequences of not learning them can be dire.
And then once the diploma is in hand (either high school or higher education), we back off. As though the learning is done.
When in reality, it’s really just beginning.
Welcome to enrollment in the school of life.
It starts young and you don’t graduate until your bell rings, hopefully a long, long, long time from now.
Whether you learn the lessons or not.
And life’s lessons are way more important than the quadratic formula or who led the final battle of the Civil War. The consequences of not learning life’s lessons are even more profound.
How do you stop from being a dropout in the school of life?
Take some cues from the characteristics of those that successfully graduate from high school:
1 – They Show Up
Successful students know that they have to be present to learn. They make an effort to be there most days and they understand that a body in the seat while the mind is elsewhere is a waste of time. When they are sick, they allow themselves time to rest but they also understand that time away requires extra effort upon return.
Students of life understand that they need to be fully present and engaged. They don’t hide behind their phones or under the covers for days on end. They don’t call in sick every time there is a difficult task. They take time outs when needed, but don’t leave life on “pause” for any length of time.
2 – They Believe They Will Progress
Students are constantly presented with material that they cannot yet do. And the successful ones have faith that with enough time, effort and assistance, they will make progress and master the lesson. Before a student can walk across the stage, they have to believe that they can walk across the stage.
Life is the hardest teacher – the tests often come first, showing us what we don’t yet know. And it can be easy to become defeated. To give up. To drop out. It’s okay if you don’t learn it the first time through. There’s a reason summer school exists. You don’t have to be able to do it all at once. Just believe that by tackling increasingly bigger challenges, you’ll get to walk across that stage.
3-They Are Not Afraid to Go to the Counselor’s Office
High school graduates are not afraid to ask for help. They’ll go to the guidance counselor for assistance with home issues. They seek out the graduation coach for hep preparing for the SAT. They show up at morning help sessions, ask the media center clerk how to locate information and talk to their coach about how to improve their high jump.
As adults, we don’t have all of that assistance under one roof, but it’s still there for the taking (okay, usually paying!). Students of the school of life acknowledge that sometimes they need support from outside. And they don’t hesitate to ask for a hall pass to the counselor.
4 – They Accept That Effort and Outcome Are Related
In class, strong students are not afraid to get their hands dirty. They are active participants in lecture and small group work. If they didn’t study for a test, they don’t ask surprised when they receive a failing. And they never try to blame the teacher for that F. Graduates accept responsibility for their own learning, starting with the effort they expend.
Life is not a spectator sport. You don’t learn about life only by watching others navigate through its obstacles. Life’s scholars don’t expect others to do the work for them or to sweep in and save them. Those who make As in life put in the effort and take the responsibility for their own happiness and well being.
5-They See Mistakes As Part of Learning
Graduates are never without an eraser. They know that mistakes are inevitable and are nothing to be ashamed of. Instead of cursing their errors, they embrace them, understanding that the best learning often comes through mistakes. Furthermore, they are willing to start over. And over. Until they get it right.
Mistakes are a sign that you’re learning. Starting over means that you’re applying the lessons. Students of life don’t waste time wallowing in guilt or “shoulds.” Instead, they analyze the mistake, make adjustments and try again. And again.
6-They Don’t Allow a Bad Class or a Bad Teacher to Stop Them
Every student who has graduated high school has endured a bad class or a bad teacher. They have faced people who single them out, they have dealt with unfair situations and they felt beaten down. The dropouts let that bad moment spread, a ripple effect that influences areas that previously were okay. The graduates understand that bad classes happen. And schedules change.
Life isn’t arranged in classes, but hard terms most definitely exist. Often they’re not fair. Sometimes they are so bad that they threaten to spread into every corner of our existence. Life’s successful students work to find comfort in the belief that hard times don’t last. That fairness isn’t promised on the syllabus. And that a bad week, or month or year does not make a bad life.
7-They Seek Out Mentors
Ask any high school graduate and they can name at least one adult in their lives that they look up to. They seek out and observe mentors, people further along the same path that they envision themselves on. They ask. They listen. They learn.
Successful lifers also have mentors, people they emulate and admire. They release the ego that says, “You’ve already learned everything” and they are open to discovering something new.
8-They Understand That Sometimes You Have to Jump Through Hoops
Those who stay the course through school are able to see the bigger picture. They understand how the little steps add up to a bigger outcome. They may grumble about the often-infuriating details that can interfere with progress, but they accept that sometimes they just have to play the game and jump through the hoops.
In life, successful students also accept that there are some things that they have to do even when they really, really don’t want to. They are able to step back and see how those details, even when pointless, fit into the bigger picture. And they’ll put their head down and make it happen.
9-They Develop a Tolerance for Frustration
Learning gets messy. It gets arduous. It gets downright frustrating sometimes. High school graduates may have moments where they ball up the paper and throw it across the room in exasperation. But after their tantrum, they keep going.
Lifelong learners develop a tolerance for frustration. They feel it and then they let it pass. They learn how to mitigate its effects and how to ignore its squeal. Successful students have grit. True grit.
10-They Make and Keep Friends
Very few of those high school students who walk across the stage have nobody cheering them on. Successful students understand the importance of friendships and they prioritize creating and nurturing those relationships. They also recognize that no one friend will fit every need and they work to diversify their friend portfolio.
It may be harder to make and keep friends outside of high school, but it’s no less important. Life is so much better and richer with others by your side. They offer support, reality checks and a laugh when you need it most. Bonus points for slumber parties:)