Bad Girl, Good Business

Route 66 Installment #38: Get Schooled

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I was terrified on the first day of kindergarten.

Learning new things with new people can be anxiety-provoking at all ages.

I remember thinking:

  • “Who are all these strange kids?”
  • “Why is this woman I’ve never seen before suddenly ‘the boss of me?'”
  • “That art supply closet is super-creepy and smells funny.”
  • “Why do I have to ask to go to the bathroom?”

Well, maybe those weren’t my exact thoughts at the age of 5. But I sobbed so hard and for so long that my mother had to stay in the classroom that day.

I adjusted well, but one day my teacher put an industrial staple through her finger and handed a book to me to read to the class until she got back from the nurse. (I was the only kid who knew how to read.) Although I suppose I could say that was my first brush with leadership, I was horrified by the blood and the responsibility.

I learned how to face scary situations, remain calm under pressure, and entertain others to keep them from freaking out (even though I was freaking out myself).

The rest of my school years were slightly less dramatic, but now that we’re in back-to-school season, I can’t help but think about all those academic and social experiences in various educational institutions that shaped me into the person I am today — for better or worse.

Who Was I As a Student?

In short, I was the shy chubby girl who behaved well enough in public to be a teacher’s fave. (In high school, I got away with all kinds of stuff because the authorities never saw me as capable of wild behavior.)

I often took control of group projects and was pretty creative and artistic. I didn’t like classroom education and figured out how to graduate both high school and college with credits earned in the real world.

I worked at a state mental hospital, a rural elementary school, on Capitol Hill, and at Macy’s Herald Square. Fieldwork, travel, and work experiences are all great ways to learn.

I was never “most popular,” and I liked a certain amount of anonymity. I hated speaking up in class and in front of large groups.

Who were YOU? Looking at how you learn best and how you’ve remained consistent and how you’ve evolved can be a great back-to-school season exercise.

When Do We Stop Learning?

The right answer should be NEVER, but many people shut down their brains and attitudes as they age. The speed and variety of technology have totally thrown some people for a loop. But others are simply stuck and/or intellectually lazy.

The great news is that 73 percent of people say they are committed to lifelong learning. 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about the skills we learn in school and their adult equivalents — STEM, history, math, and even lunch and PE (which we used to simply refer to as gym class. (Adding the E for Education was probably designed to make it seem less fluffy and to build the self-esteem and professionalism of the people who taught it.)

Learning does not have to involve weeks of coursework. A few simple things I’ve committed to in September are:

  1. Reading books and chronicling my progress on GoodReads. I’ve rediscovered libraries and used my Audible credits every month.
  2. Fine-tuning my video skills. I’m taking baby steps and using this app to shoot a little every day.
  3. Traveling, networking, volunteering, and socializing with like-minded people. We don’t often think about these activities as being learning experiences, but if you see new things, meet different people, and actually listen to what they have to say, you’ll learn things. When I say “like-minded,” I just mean that they like the same activities I do. I’m always willing to engage in conversations with people who don’t agree with me.

Especially as we age, remaining curious and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones become even more important.

So, pack up that lunchbox and get ready to go to the head of the class this September (and beyond).

And, of course, subscribe to this series (and some of my other “stuff”) for all kinds of facts and insights.

P.S. I learned last week that using embarrassing pix of me in my youth seems to drive clicks and engagement, so I’ll go with that for a while. The feature photo is of me at my manual typewriter, clearly doing some unpleasant homework assignment — a preview of my life to come as a content writer. I no longer have that typewriter, but I do have the giant braided yarn ball that’s on my shelf. Learning handcrafts has long been a passion.




  1. Joan Sepler

    Enjoyed your article. Would like to read more.

  2. I do love the photo. In my life, I use my writing skills every day. Oh, I can do domestic chores and have a eye for decorating and gardening, but the joy of my day is writing. Once the house is organized, I can disappear and live on my computer. Thanks for this post.

  3. I was terribly shy, but always picked first when it came to any written assignment where I could work in a smaller group. Like you, I was a ‘teacher’s pet’ sort of student who never got into trouble (except when I forged a parental permission note in grade three, but that is another story!). I am dedicated to continuous learning!
    Loved this article, Nancy!


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