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Lack of life skills: Experiences are just as, if not more important than education

July, 2022

The other day, I was driving back with my mother from our relatives’ place. Now peak hour traffic can drive anyone nuts but as someone who is almost always at the brink of losing her patience, I was not at my pleasant best. However, never did I once bang my fists down on the horn hard. And yet, it stopped working. Yes, no horn, packed roads and helplessness. 

There we were, the two of us, late at night, on a wild goose chase for mechanics, for driving home, meandering our way through every bit of wiggle room on the road, and it was no treat. After many a closed shop and futile, desperate attempts, we finally found a place that was open and close to home even. Two seemingly modest young boys appeared, like they had just woken up from a slumber. The little hut that was their shop was also their home, so it was not difficult for the sound to penetrate through. They began tending to our car. Within a matter of minutes and some magic-like mechanics, our 20-something-year-old friends (probably younger) fixed the horn right back up. And it was no easy job, let me tell you. Not like a reboot of your laptop or mobile phone- quick fixes that we all swear by. There was math and method to it. So now I’m wondering, “who taught them this? How are they so hands-on? Surely they’ve not been to college!” At this point, something that my mother exclaimed sent my mind into a wave of reflection. She said, “Uneducated as these boys are, they still know more than us educated folk.” 

Education: By God’s grace, I have acquired a substantial amount of it, and yet here I am today, running from pillar to post, in my greed of attaining more knowledge and the supposedly powerful feeling that comes with it. But did I know how to fix that car? Have I ever been able to successfully change a tire? Nobody told me how to write my first cheque, I taught myself that, of course with a little help from bank branch managers. Moreover, I only learnt how to file my income tax returns, courtesy my second job with a company rooted in the personal finance domain. 

Plenty of psychological, sociological and psycho-social theories on the topic of intelligence have been doing the rounds since times immemorial. While some of these advocate the genetic factors as driving forces for one’s intelligence quotient, there are others that are far more skewed towards environmental agents. Then there are those which look at these two in tandem, taking into account the nature-nurture interplay. Personally, I advocate the very last of this lot. What you inherit cannot and must not be discounted, what you learn in a formal educational setting is precious, but there is something to be said about experiential learning too. And experience is indeed the best teacher when it comes to one particular subject: Life skills. 

This view may be personal but there are multiple situations that testify to it. Sample this: You are looking for a job, there is almost always a ‘work experience’ requirement, right? Can you imagine getting 10 college degrees instead of 10 years of relevant or diverse work experience? Some of the most important life skills, including those for survival are learnt and imbibed experientially. Something as basic and fundamental as table etiquette, culture, societal norms are all passed down from generation to generation or exchanged in a social setup. 

My point with all this is- our definitions of ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ should be as dynamic and receptive to change as all other aspects and variables in our world. You can be very well- informed, knowledgeable and aware, and still not know a car the way those boys knew mine that somewhat turbulent night. My two cents of advice from my many experiences, pun unintended, make the world your classroom. Learn a task or two, no matter how menial or trivial on the face of it, every once in a while. Such a repertoire may not find a spot on your CV, I imagine, but it will make you a reliable individual, not just for the society at large to rely on, but for you yourself. You would have made yourself whole. Try your hand at a new dish, change the tire of your car, sew up that hole in your jacket that’s been staring at you for weeks, take the time out to teach yourself what investing is and then DIY, or simply observe. Look around you and you’ll notice that there is no dearth of lifelong knowledge flowing around. Knowledge is power, but it’s not as difficult to acquire as one may think! 

With that, I will take your leave to go check the stove, I may have burnt the curry. But that’s alright, I’ll learn…

  • Shambhavi Mehrotra

Shambhavi Mehrotra is a consultant at TSB. She is an Economics major and a content, cinema and marketing enthusiast.