As I was finishing graduate school, my late father would joke that BS stood for “Bulls—” MS for “More S—,” and PhD was “Piled High and Deep.”
How, he wondered, would an advanced degree prepare me, his oldest son, for the family textile business?
Brought up in utter poverty, Charles Druck knew what it meant to go to bed hungry, take a lowly job at Yankee Stadium to see his hero, Babe Ruth, play a few innings of baseball and get into a filthy, dirty bathtub after his older brothers had taken their Saturday night baths.
He also knew what it meant to rise up from poverty, become a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, fight in World War II, start a business, marry the girl of his dreams, become one of the most respected and successful executives in his industry, and help send his son, Kenny, to graduate school.
My father got his degree from the School of Life, where the lessons he learned about people, business, honest, integrity, courage, resilience, decision-making, trust and communication came from hard-earned experience on the streets of New York.
Whether or not we get to college, graduate school, or into the Armed Forces and acquire knowledge and skills, we’re all destined to become students in the School of Life. Because life is going to be life, there surely will be obnoxious neighbors, ex-husbands, bad bosses and unwelcome obstacles and challenges to our sanity, safety, and serenity.
Whether or not we learn the lessons, gain the knowledge and skills, acquire the wisdom, and develop the ability to move through life, or repeat our mis-steps and mistakes, is up to us.
My friend’s son, for example, recently found himself enrolled in “Setting Healthy Boundaries with Difficult People” class. Bombarded by a slew of unrelenting demands from his new next-door neighbor in a 7 am text message, he explained his situation to me: “Hey, I don’t want to make an enemy, but I’m not going to let someone ruin my life.”
The class on how to handle an especially difficult, demanding and unrelenting neighbor, parent, child, teacher, boss partner, ex-husband, ex-wife and/or politician is not something we take in school. Instead, we learn on the streets of life, where people can operate without any degree of awareness, respect, sensitivity, compassion, honor or appropriateness.
Count on it.
Whether we get an “A” or “F” in learning how to deal with life, it goes on our transcript. And I’ve learned from experience that some classes will need repeating.
Everyday life serves up full curriculum of graduate-level course on love, communication, conflict resolution, decision-making, fairness/social justice, integrity, courage, faith, compassion and open-mindedness/good-heartedness, humility, and loss.
We do not sign up for these classes, nor do we attain a degree. But we do get to enjoy the benefits of lifelong learning, increased personal effectiveness, adeptness in overcoming challenges and in making changes. We develop the ability to capitalize on opportunities, think critically, and make good decisions.
My father may never have gone to college, but I would award him an honorary “LWL” degree – for a Life Well-Lived.
Once in a while, it’s good to stop and look at all the courses we’ve taken and passed with flying colors, acknowledge ourselves for all we have learned and afford ourselves an honorary degree from the School of Life.