A formal education might help us learn the basics, but without street smarts, it’s hard to make it in the business world. Foundations in math, reading, and writing are helpful, sure, but a traditional school path doesn’t do much for critical thinking and business management abilities. Here are five business lessons that real-life experience teaches you.
1. How to Network
It’s all about who you know, and that doesn’t mean whether the popular clique in high school accepts you into their group. While our education crams us into enclosed spaces with same-age peers and creates an environment rife with competition and bullying, the adult world depends on a different social scheme.
While the school environment conditions students to stick within their social groups, the business world depends on networking. In fact, Tom Farley, the President of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) credits his networking skills with earning him nearly every job he’s ever worked at, including his current role.
Farley wrote for Fortune about his initial meeting with the current Chairman of the NYSE, Jeff Sprecher, and highlighted that in the beginning, there was no “obvious benefit” from the relationship. In 2015 he wrote, “networking is about collecting relationships with interesting or influential people irrespective of the immediate benefit of these relationships.”
Let this be proof that building meaningful relationships can help your career more than a polished resume. Learning to focus on relationships first and rewards second is crucial for functioning in the business world.
2. Budgeting Basics
There’s a reason that Dave Ramsey’s financial advice is so appealing to today’s business owners and families. It’s because we’re genuinely clueless about how to budget money and pay down debt. Plus, many of us aren’t sure how we fell into the debt hole in the first place.
Ramsey now makes millions off others’ financial distress, selling books and courses to help people get their debt and their spending under control. But at the root of people’s money problems is the fact that education didn’t help us learn to manage money, even if it helped us make it.
Ramsey’s story starts with his income around $250 thousand a year, and yet he fell into the debt trap and lost everything. It happens to the best of us- and more of us as time goes on, as the average American household now owes around $131 thousand, according to Nerd Wallet.
You probably didn’t take any finance courses as part of your education, unless you studied accounting in college, so learning by doing is a necessity. In the real world, you quickly learn how far a dollar stretches, as short as that distance may be.
3. Build on Failure
Did you know that Coke nearly lost everything when they rolled out “New Coke” a few years back? Or that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has joked about losing billions of dollars in his business failures? Even the biggest companies learn by doing, and often, learn by failing.
With its most recent acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon is poised to make a massive profit as it encroaches on the grocery business industry. But in the past, Bezos lost out after the Fire phone tanked, yet recovered enough to dominate the online shopping arena, the New York Times reported.
But even those of us with smaller dreams and smaller budgets than Bezos can embrace failure as part of the learning process. While we might acknowledge that failure is just part of life, recognizing that there’s always a lesson to learn can help lessen the blow when we mess up.
It’s hard to recognize failure as a help rather than an obstacle, especially when a failure in a school subject prevents forward progress. But once you’re in the real world, learning to adapt and overcome becomes a way of life instead of a desperate struggle.
4. Degree Not Required
Any entrepreneur can tell you, having a bachelor’s degree or higher isn’t a necessity in the business world. However, all throughout our formative educational years, we’re told that college is the end game. It takes real-world experience to learn that a degree isn’t always necessary or applicable.
Consider the fact that plenty of successful businesspeople never finished college or even attended, and even Dave Ramsey learned much of what he teaches today through studying others’ success.
Among the big names who never finished college, according to Time, are:
· Ellen Degeneres, who only spent one semester at the University of New Orleans
· Anna Wintour, Vogue editor in chief who never went to a university and went straight for on-the-job fashion experience
· Russell Simmons, rapper and co-founder of Def Jam, attended City College of New York but didn’t finish, yet went on to become an author as well
· Steve Jobs, who needs no introduction but dropped out of college in Oregon before founding Apple
· Michael Dell, who started out as a pre-med student and later started Dell Technologies
· Rachael Ray, who never even attended culinary classes before becoming a Food Network chef and daytime TV host
While maintaining the drive for success is a crucial part of achieving your career goals, it turns out that a degree isn’t always the first step. In fact, for many successful names, it wasn’t part of the plan at all.
5. Enjoy the Journey
You may not have sat in your middle school classroom thinking that this was your life’s purpose, but you probably enjoyed some classes and had close friends to do fun things with after school. But once high school arrived, state testing and college applications crept up on you.
Deadlines and talk of the future dominated everything. If you suggested to any authority figure that perhaps college was not the highlight of your life, you’d meet strong resistance.
But out in the real world? Your experiences are as meaningful as your business goals. Whether you aim to meet a sales goal by the end of next quarter or want to buy a home by next year, you’ve hopefully learned to enjoy what you’re doing now, not just what you’re looking forward to doing next.