Book report #19 (2022)

What They Forgot to Teach You at School, by The School of Life. Pub 2021

One of the coffee shops I visit for my various one-on-one meetings has a little book nook featuring many of these The School of Life books (it’s where I found On Confidence last year). This was an interesting one to read alongside of other development books, especially Love+Work (for which I’m leading a learning circle starting in a few weeks). What They Forgot doesn’t include anything earth-shattering, perhaps because its target audience is someone considerably younger than me – someone who is recently out of university or college and struggling with the “real world”. For me, there was a poignancy of many of the lessons, with me thinking, “yes, that’s exactly right” as I recall times or experiences where I learned those lessons myself. I wonder if there’s much point in writing down such lessons, as a person in their early 30s is not likely seeking such guidance, but I guess that is the point of this book – they should be, and when they do, some of what they need to hear is here.

The two biggest lessons I can see that might be heard by the target group are:

  • You are not alone. Everyone is a mess, and everyone experiences the doubts, failures, setbacks, and uncertainties that you are. Stay calm, be open to learning and growing, and learn how to express yourself clearly. Be kind to yourself and others. This is all borrowed from Nietzsche – what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. You will survive.
  • Beware of the arrival fallacy. “If I can just get to this place/goal/result, I will achieve happiness.” This type of thinking can lead to continual dissatisfaction, as the moment of achievement is brief. A related fallacy is the notion of balance; while it may be possible to achieve balance in life (the perfect combo of work, family, friends, fame, etc.), that achievement is fleeting as it depends on all of those things being static, which they are not. Life moves forward, things change. Have goals, for sure, but recognize that they are the path or the journey, not the destination.

I flagged almost 20 pages in this short book, so there were many bits that spoke to me. As above, most were nodding agreements that yes, that’s what life is like, and no, no one taught me that. I recognize much from stoicism in this book, and perhaps that’s what I found appealing about it – that recognition and the associated agreement with that philosophy.

A challenge with this book is that it doesn’t feel very readable, certainly not in one big go. I read it over several months, a few chapters at a time, not because it wasn’t useful or true, nor because it was dense with meaning that required contemplation (although for a younger person that might be more the case). I think it was because one can only take such truth-telling in small doses. The book also seems to struggle a bit with tone of voice, moving between negative and positive, clear truth-telling and some (almost sarcastic) wryness. Some chapters are descriptions of things you should do, others of things you shouldn’t. This may be a symptom of having a collaborative authorship – there is no single voice, even though all voices share the messages. Perhaps its a bit like an opera, where some character’s solos are quite distinct but then there are larger melodies and harmonies that reflect the whole story.

Fate: I’ll be hanging on to my flagged and marked-up copy, but perhaps buying another for future graduates (perhaps as a duo with On Confidence).

4 – a book published in 2021
10 – a book of essays
30 – a book on philosophy

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