Excerpted from Everything We Should Have Taught You in High School, But Never Did by Dr. Richard Gary Shear. Copyright © 2023 Richard Shear. Reprinted with permission from Richard Shear. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Schools Did Not Teach Us What We Needed to Know

Wouldn’t it be great if in high school we were taught the tips for a better life? High school taught us how to determine the area of a room, but not how to deal with the people we find in that room. High school taught us the cataclysmic events of history, but rarely touched on the life struggles we were currently experiencing and later would experience. Life can be and is better when we learn life’s most important lessons.

In high school, we were taught math, social studies, science, English, world languages, physical education, and more. What wasn’t taught were the important tips that will help make your life a success. We desire a life with incredible goodness, wonderful moments, bliss, meaningfulness, great relationships, and joy. We want to avoid bad choices and poor decisions. Even though we want help in navigating life; high schools were not designed to provide it.
For many years as a principal, I led the graduates of four separate high schools through their educational life to their graduation ceremony. Aware of the important matters left untaught, I converted the graduation address to Everything We Should Have Taught You in High School, But Never Did. The Graduation Gift of Life’s Most Important Lessons.

This book comprises the understandings I shared with my graduates designed to make their lives better, easier, more successful, more peaceful, and more joyful. I hope and believe it will help you as well.

There Are Two Secrets to Success: The Ability to Get Up When Knocked Down and The Ability to Connect With Others Through Effective Communication

If there is one question many high school students think about on graduation day, it is, what do I need to do to be successful? The best way to answer that question is to look at successful people and see what they have in common. While there are many variables which lead to success, successful people share two main characteristics: they persevere and possess well-developed communication skills. Perseverance is the ability to keep going forward even when knocked down. Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Edison had a string of defeats in life. What they had in common was the ability to move forward in the face of defeat and to communicate effectively with others. Often, the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people get up, dust themselves off, and try again. 

The door to success may not open easily, so be flexible and willing to create a new plan. Get a hammer, nails, some wood, and build yourself a new door. Work the problem and don’t give up. The ability to communicate and be resilient will enhance your chances for success. If you work on those two skills, success is a much more likely outcome.

Remember, the resilient are brilliant.

Forgiveness Is Not a Gift You Give to Others, It Is a Gift You Give to Yourself

Famed comedian Groucho Marx was asked when he was in his 80s, what is the key to a long life? Groucho replied “have a lot of friends.” The follow-up question was, how do you go about having a lot of friends? Groucho replied “have a short memory.” Comedians have a unique insight into how people think. Their art form is built on understanding human expectations and tinkering with them. Groucho understood people will disappoint you. Loved ones will disappoint, relatives will disappoint, best friends, acquaintances all disappoint.

One of the keys to a long life and happiness is to learn to forgive the people who have let you down. People make mistakes, they do dumb things, they believe dumb things – forgive them. People can be selfish, inconsiderate, rude, weak – forgive them. There is a secret reward to forgiveness; it is not a gift you are granting to another; it is a gift you are giving to yourself. A lack of forgiveness is always accompanied by harsh judgment, anger, and bad feelings. These bad feelings rot away the container from the inside out. The container that is rotting away is you. Just as sulfuric acid corrodes the inside of a metal container, not forgiving, will corrode you. Here is the first major lesson we should have taught you in high school: forgive others who have hurt you because it is good for you. Forgiving them doesn’t mean you forgot what they did to you. Forgiving them doesn’t mean you have accepted what they did as less painful. It means that you are no longer granting them space in your head to hurt you. It means you have too many good things to think about to focus on bad thoughts.

Forgiving others is actually a gift you give yourself.

To Have a Successful Life, You Have to Be Kind to You

We make decisions based on the information we have at the time. Yet, we are quite talented at making ourselves miserable for making a choice we now regret. We can extend bad feelings to a day, a week, a year, and even a lifetime. During the course of our lives, there are many choices we regret. There is no one walking the earth who would not do something differently if given the chance to go back in time. As important as it is to forgive others to have a happy life, it is more important to forgive ourselves. Whatever the cause and the thought process that brought you to regret; practice forgiving you. The time we spend on earth will pass quickly; do not waste it being angry at yourself for not being perfect.

The condition of perfection is fictitious; it does not exist in reality. You have a choice about past regrets. You can forgive yourself or live with regret. However, there are few things that are more important to a successful life than learning from mistakes and moving past them. One is, do not dwell on the things you should have done better. Instead, learn from past mistakes to avoid repeating them. Once you recognize mistakes are part of life, you will be better equipped to learn from them. You will learn that living with regret for mistakes is just a foolish and hurtful waste of time. Always remember, we make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time. Embrace self-forgiveness.

Self-forgiveness is liberating!


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