What They Forgot To Teach You At School

'We may simply never have heard adults around us speaking an emotionally mature dialect. So we may – despite our age – need to go back to school and spend 5 to 10,000 hours learning, with great patience and faith, the beautiful and complex grammar of the language of emotional adulthood.'

Do you know how many times people have said to me school days are the best days of your life? Too many times that I can’t remember. 

And you know what I say to that? No, they were not the best days of my life. 

Let me be honest with you. They were the worst days of my life. 

Life started for me the day I finished school. 

Today’s book of choice is What They Forgot to Teach You at School from The School of Life, and it’s perfect for how I’m feeling as I reminisce on my days at school, squirming on my wooden chair that most definitely was not ergonomic, contributing to the back pain that I’m sure I’m still riddled with today, more than a decade after graduating. 

I guess they forgot to teach you how to take care of your body at school. 

I’m excited to dive into this book today, because I feel like most of the things that I learned, I learned after school. And the things I learned after school, were the things that mattered

Sure I sat through countless hours of English, Religious Studies (forced Catholicism), Computers (I taught myself to code after school), and Drama (associated with shame). There was also French, but hey, I moved to Paris after school, so, excuse-moi, but I learned it all there. 

This lovely little book is just bursting with knowledge. It’s a collection of the essential emotional lessons that we need in order to thrive in life. The chapters, which I’ll dive into a little, include, You Don’t Need Permission, Listen to the Adult Within, Love Yourself, Be Free, and There is No Destination, to name a few. 

Leaving school did not prepare me in any way for life. It didn’t prepare me for my first job, where I would be yelled at by my boss. It didn’t prepare me to open a bank account and do my taxes. It didn’t prepare me to manage my emotions, deal with shame, cope with anxiety and depression. These should be entire subjects. Gosh, there should be an entire school just for that stuff. The school of emotional wellbeing. The School of Life.

What would it mean to break the mould? What would it mean to finally leave school? These are the questions asked at the beginning of What They Forgot to Teach You at School. 

For me, it meant adventuring into a career in the fashion industry, something I was never going to learn or even hear about in an all-boys catholic school. It also meant exploring my sexuality, moving out of my parent's house, and taking my first solo trip across international waters.

In the You Don’t Need Permission chapter, I resonated a lot with the constant needing validation of others before doing things. It drives me insane to this day that I still spend so much time working myself up into an anxious wreck to ask something as simple as leaving work early for a doctor’s appointment or even feeling like I need to ask permission to cancel a lunch date with a friend. 

This is what we’ve been taught to do all our lives, as the book states, ‘we have to put our hand up before we say anything in class and have to get a permission slip to go to the doctor. At university, we need to get our thesis topic approved; at work, we need to check with the HR team that it’s OK to take the afternoon off for an appointment.’

I feel as though I’m constantly looking for approval from those around me. My parents, my partner, even my own therapist. I pay my therapist a large sum for 50 minutes of his time, and yet here I am seeking his approval. I even ask his permission to leave early if I’m not feeling up to it emotionally. 

I resonated so much with this chapter that I felt like I could have written it in my sleep. Well, everything, besides the skills, or I’d be a master in doing my own shit and not asking permission for anything. 

I know for a fact that I use two unhelpful thinking styles when it comes to asking for permission, predicting and catastrophizing. One, I’m always predicting that whoever I’m asking for permission is going to say no to my request, so I work myself into a complete frenzy before I even ask, and two, I catastrophize, so whatever I’m asking is probably actually miniscule, but I’ve blown it into this HUGE thing. 

The chapter ends with ‘We’re answerable only to our best understanding of ourselves, to our self-knowledge and to our noblest intentions.’

Another chapter that I very much enjoyed and that stuck with me like glue was Love Yourself. I’m currently taking a self compassion course, and man, that stuff is really difficult. I’m like Pandora’s box when it comes to this. As the book states, ‘We are, most of us, supremely gifted at the art of self-hatred. If we treated a stranger the way we treat ourselves, we might be arrested for cruelty.’

I can tell you right now that I’d be serving life without parole.

I’ve always been hard on myself. I’m a perfectionist, diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, and if something isn’t exactly how I want it to be, it’s always been automatic for me to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as my eating disorder symptoms, which is quite possibly the worst form of self-hatred.

As a perfectionist, I hate failure. In the thoughts section of this chapter, number one is: To fail is the norm, and it describes how we should stop feeling surprised that we do not lead unblemished lives. We should not feel panicked that we often fail around work, love, friendship, family, and friendships. The main message: failure is the ineluctable norm. 

I’m becoming more comfortable with the word failure. I understand that we must make mistakes in order to grow. I myself have made many mistakes, and I’ve grown from them. But it doesn’t make that feeling any easier. 

I highlighted another thought from this chapter that I often forget about: Everyone is a mess. It’s true. Although it might look like everyone has all their ducks in a row. That’s just plain old rubbish. As the book says, ‘We don’t see much of the inner turmoil, shame or regret of other people; they hide it, and we fail to be able to imagine it with enough vigour.’

Love Yourself concludes with ‘Hating ourselves is the easy bit. Learning to give ourselves a break is the true, rare and properly adult achievement.’

The final two chapters that I highlighted and wanted to draw attention to, because I think they sit well together, are Be Free and There Is No Destination

In the Be Free chapter, it’s all about eventually being free enough to do the things we want to do in life. 

In the range of everyday moves that point to a more liberated way of living in this chapter, I really liked number 5, which is: Stay in bed a bit longer. It’s about how we fear being deemed lazy and unworthy if we don’t prove ourselves through being heroes at work, constantly showing how self-disciplined and efficient we are. 

This section suggests trying out something new such as going home early or taking a morning off, or perhaps accepting a bit of indulgence, or adopting a bit of a not-caring-what-they-will-say attitude.

For me, it’s often a case of, getting everything done in order before I consider myself to be free. And at the moment, I feel as though I’m only trying to prove myself, to myself. So in terms of number 5, I think a good place to start would be literally staying in bed a little longer

In terms of a destination, and reaching a place where we will finally be at peace. I have this image in my mind where I will be fully recovered from anorexia, living a life where I am living a fully nourished life, in every aspect, when it comes not only to nutrition, but also to my relationship, career, and interpersonal connections. 

That isn’t reality, unfortunately. The book states ‘We should give up on the arrival fallacy, the conviction that there might be such a thing as a destination, in the sense of a stable position beyond which we will no longer suffer, crave and dread.’

There Is No Destination concludes with ‘Our goal should not be to banish anxiety but to learn to manage, live well around and - when we can - heartily laugh at our anxious cravings.’

I’m really glad I was able to get a copy of this book since it aligns really well with what I’m working on in my self compassion group. Reading What They Forgot to Teach You at School has been a good reminder, drawing my attention again to those unhelpful thought patterns, that need for self-love, and the get the heck back down to earth reality check that there is no perfect destination. 

What They Forgot to Teach You at School is available at The School of Life, Indigo, Kobo, or on Kindle. Check GoodReads for additional retailers. It’s available in physical format, e-book, and on audiobook. 

I listened to the audiobook (provided by Spotlight Audio - thank you!) and read the e-book (purchased on my Kindle). Thank you to NetGalley, The School of Life and Publisher Spotlight Audio for access to the audiobook in exchange for this honest review.