March 2019

Searching for the Value of “X”: Five life lessons I didn’t learn in school

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Algebra. It baffled me. I could never figure out what “x” was, nor could I understand why it mattered. I excelled in every other subject, because I could memorize what I needed to know for the test and ace it every time. But the truth is, I remember very little of what I “learned” in school: about five words in Spanish, a few facts from American history, and the titles of a handful of famous literary works. Most of the information my teachers labored so hard to teach me went the way of a defunct hard drive with no Cloud backup—lost forever.Apparently, I am not alone in my lack of retention. In his latest book, Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World, Harvard research professor David Perkins wrote: “The hard fact is that our minds hold on only to knowledge we have occasion to use in some corner of our lives. Overwhelmingly, knowledge unused is forgotten. It’s gone.” (I didn’t go to Harvard, but I could have saved him some research time on that conclusion.)

But this is not to say that education isn’t important. It is. What I think we learn in school is how to learn. We also discover what piques our interest, which helps us retain the knowledge that will serve us best in the future. And if we’re lucky, we also learn a bit about ourselves and others: how to get along, how to listen, how to tolerate differences and welcome diversity—physical, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual.

But education doesn’t end when we throw our graduation caps in the air and frame our diplomas. In fact, this is when the real learning begins—when we step out into the world and start living—when we have to figure out the value of “x” without a formula.

1. There is more than one right answer. Standardized tests are necessary, I suppose, to evaluate a student’s progress or a teacher’s competency in some measurable way. When we take a test in school, there is generally only one correct answer. But in real life, we discover that things are not always so black and white, wrong or right. There can be multiple ways to solve similar problems. We often run into trouble by thinking that our way is the best way or the only way, whereas being open to new lines of thinking or alternative ideologies can ultimately yield a better or more reasonable solution. Common sense often trumps book learning, and a bit of emotional intelligence can take you further than your SAT score. Apply liberally, keep an open mind, and wait for the aha moment.

12. Failure is not the end of the world. Nobody wants to see a big fat F on their report card. But more often than not, our failures are the rocket fuel to success. Ask just about anybody who has become successful if they ever failed along the way, and you will hear stories of disheartening and sometimes embarrassing missteps and blunders. The most successful among us are those who take failure in stride and steel themselves with determination. Asked about his many failed attempts to create the light-bulb, Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Michael Jordan, indisputably one of the greatest basketball players of all time, said, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Never underestimate the power of perseverance. If you want to succeed at anything, accept your failures as opportunities to learn and grow. You made a mistake? You messed up? Good for you! Now go out and do it better next time.

3. Blessings are often shrouded in pain. Ever notice how what once seemed like a catastrophe turned out to be a good thing down the road? Maybe it was unrequited love, a job you didn’t get, a friendship that didn’t work out, a dream unrealized—something you wanted to happen that didn’t quite go as expected. The most valuable nuggets of character-shaping wisdom often come dressed as heartache, loss, betrayal, rejection, or a closed door. Next time the sun isn’t smiling on you, weep if you must, but then look behind the cloud. Fling open your arms and prepare to receive the blessing, because sooner or later, it will reveal itself.

4. Forgiveness will set you free. Forgiveness can be tricky, especially when the offending party doesn’t acknowledge wrong doing or offer an apology. It helps to remember that forgiving someone does not condone the behavior or guarantee reconciliation. It simply frees up the head space that has been filled with anger and bitterness and allows a sweet peace to seep in in its place. I believe there is far more goodness in the world than evil, and many if not most perceived slights are unintended. This doesn’t mean you have to tolerate bad behavior; a situation may require you to set boundaries—create space. The forgiveness is for your benefit. Be liberal with your olive branches, and while you’re at it, have a little mercy on yourself. Your soul will thank you.

5. Kindness is the answer. You don’t need to know algebra, history, geography, literature, biology, or physics to have an enormous impact on the world around you. You need only be conscious and aware of your thoughts, words and actions, because everything you say and do has a ripple effect on other people. Whether you think you are important or not, you matter to someone, and if you pay close attention, you will soon realize that every person who crosses your path represents an opportunity to matter more. Kindness costs nothing, yet it is our greatest asset. How much of it can you give away? Multiply that amount by 100—or by 1,000—because that’s at least how much joy will come back to you in some form. And if even one person feels less alone because you walked the planet, then you have fulfilled a vital purpose here on earth.

X equals kindness. It’s the new math and the ultimate answer to the equation of life. Pass it on.

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article

Social Bookmarks