Four Things I Wish I Learned in High School

Four Things I Wish I Learned in High School

School is back in session! Are you lamenting the end of summer vacation (or maybe celebrating it)? I’ve been out of school for a few years now, and it still feels strange not heading back to class after Labour Day. Looking back on high school, I definitely learned a lot, both inside the classroom and out. But there are a number of life lessons I wish we’d all learned in high school. If you’re a student, know a student, are a teacher, or know a teacher, let me know if you agree! 

Personal Finance

Most of what I learned in high school about personal finance, I learned from Gail Vaz-Oxlade on “Till Debt Do Us Part”. Yup, that’s the TV show about couples suffocating under mountains of debt. It’s got cheesy “challenges” to fix their problems, of course, but I was more interested in hearing about how they got into the mess in the first place. Thanks to my weird taste in television (and an admittedly fortunate socioeconomic situation), I made reasonable financial decisions and generally avoided debt-mountains.

But it isn’t fair to assume that everyone in my generation will learn to make a budget and set financial goals on their own. Many parents either don’t feel qualified or don’t feel comfortable talking money with their kids. But if high schoolers don’t learn about personal finance at home or at school (or from reality TV shows), where will they?

Personal finance courses in high school isn’t a new idea. But with tuition on the rise, we’re buried under debt-mountains right out of the gate. If high schools want to prepare students for life outside the classroom, in post-secondary education or the workplace, this is probably the most important place to start.

What a Job in “Business” Really Means

You might know by now that I took an indirect path into the world of business. In fact, until my final year of university, I hadn’t taken a single business course. In my mandatory high school careers course, we all took the Career Cruising survey to learn what jobs might suit us best. They were usually “named” professions: doctor, lawyer, teacher, plumber, electrician, scientist, interpreter, musician, accountant… Unless you were already destined for a BComm, you might lump the business field in with all the rest of them.

Once I joined the business world, I discovered how many sub-fields exist within the realm of business. Marketing, Finance, Supply Chain, Communications, Real Estate, Legal, Customer Service, Quality Assurance, R&D, you name it. My new-hire coworkers had already selected which of these streams best suited them, while I was completely clueless. They’d learned about the wide world of business in their Commerce courses — after they’d already decided on business as a career path.

But a lot of these fields are great fits for people that might not see themselves as your typical “businessperson”. (This is especially true for analytical and quantitative personalities that don’t fit the extrovert mould.) So unless you find out about these roles in a roundabout way, like I did, you might still see “business” as just another path to ignore on your Career Cruising results. High school is the perfect time to enlighten the non-BComms about the many opportunities in the business world!

How to Learn Math (Not Just Memorize!)

I’ve discussed this at length in a previous post, but I feel very strongly about it and want to reiterate. You may not need to know the quadratic formula or trig identities in your daily life once you graduate. But math, at its core, is based on logical, structured thinking that I believe we all need to have learned in high school in order to reach our full potentials.

Even as a physics graduate, I’ll admit that I don’t remember most of the math I learned in school. I have a terrible memory, and cramming for exams was never my strong suit. Instead, I had to learn how to do math. I learned how to collect and organize all available data, determine what factors were still unknown, and create a road map to the final solution. That skill is useful everywhere.

Unfortunately, this focus isn’t as widespread as it should be in high school classrooms (or grade school, for that matter). Check out my previous post on high school math for more on this topic.

How to Create a Healthy, Active Lifestyle

Gym class was the bane of my ninth-grade existence. I wasn’t confident, strong, or coordinated. Forcing me to exercise, via sports or otherwise, was a recipe for disaster. Plus, the guys had it easy: they could have a quick shower after gym class and be good to go. For fourteen-year-old me, the prospect of redoing my hair and makeup after a locker room shower was an insurmountable task. I came to dread gym, especially if it was a morning class.

We moved through the curriculum, learning the basics of a number of sports. Gym class began to feel like a sports team funnel. If someone enjoyed and excelled at a particular sport, they would join that team and play for the rest of their high school career. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen for me. I had absolutely no incentive to sign up for gym as an elective course after Grade Nine. And I definitely didn’t join any sports teams. Sure, teachers and coaches tried to explain that sports were fun. But without any natural skill, it was a hard sell.

Fitness didn’t become a part of my life until this past year.

That’s right – I spent almost ten years avoiding exercise like the plague. Like so many other things in my life, I believed that if I wasn’t good at something, I shouldn’t even do it. I needed an existential wake-up call to get started. I realized that creating an active lifestyle would only get harder from here on out. So I found some online resources through Tone It Up, mustered all of my self-motivation, and went for it. Now I wonder, why didn’t I adopt this mindset of exercise for my own health and happiness earlier? For starters, it wasn’t something I learned in high school.

In order for gym class to achieve its ultimate purpose, it needs to shift focus. It needs to be about finding a sustainable way for each student, with their unique skills and personality, to engage in a healthy, active lifestyle. Perhaps this means multiple streams or a more flexible curriculum. I don’t have all the answers, obviously. But I’m realizing now just how important this shift can be for the health and well-being of high school students and graduates.


What lessons do you wish you had learned in high school? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

What I Wish I Learned in High School