If you are really lucky when you finish your formal schooling, you will have enough skills to get that first job where you will likely figure out that the most important thing you picked up in school is how to learn.
I can still remember taking over the balancing of my mother's checkbook. It happened sometime in my elementary school days. She was a single mom and worked long hours. I was good at math and it was one less thing she had to do as she worked to keep us afloat. I got to feel like I was helping and it was the first practical application of my schooling and mother was all about applying what you learned.
There are lots of things you learn in a journey through life. Certainly I came out of high school knowing how to study information. College and the events taking place while I was there taught me how to look at information, evaluate it, form my own opinions and put it down on paper in a way that might explain it to others.
I took a somewhat different path after college and moved to an old farm in Nova Scotia. There I ended up learning lots of other things such as wiring a house, doing copper plumbing, painting, roofing, making cabinets and even cooking. They were more survival skills than skills that would help me in my unusual set of careers.
Sometimes learning only amounts to figuring out that you really do not know as much as you thought you did. I bought a few head of mixed breed beef cattle early in my days in Nova Scotia. One of the first things that happened is that a neighbor's dairy cattle got into a pasture with them. I look back and laugh that I had a hard time telling the difference between my mostly red and brown beef cattle and the neighbor's mostly black and white dairy cattle. They all looked like cows.
Ten years later just from an all black cow's profile I could tell someone the origin of most the seventy cows that were on our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick. I could look at a calf and pretty well tell you the bull that was his father.
When we sold all of our cattle, a gift of Apple II+ computer from my mother in the summer of 1982 presented another learning opportunity and ended up changing my family's life. Mastering VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet, DB Master, one of the first databases, and early word processing software propelled me into the world of technology.
Writing and working with numbers became easier because of the amazing power even of an early computer. Doing a printed newsletter for the Angus Association which had hired me as Maritime fieldman went from a week's worth of work to just a few hours. Understanding the savings in time that came from computers made me a natural for the early days of computer sales and eventually led to a career of nearly twenty years at Apple.
You learn a lot in twenty years. I learned to lead, motivate, and delegate. I also had to manage large budgets, to hire and fire people, to work with huge corporate egos and I figured out how to publish to the web. Along the way I learned even more about technology especially networking and also got to be on the leading edge of photography becoming digital and going to the web.
It has been eleven years since my exit from Apple. I am back in technology absorbing as much as possible, sometimes writing about it, but mostly using it to help others understand how to help create the infrastructure that will drive job creation in this century.
About a year ago in my second term as a board member for our homeowners association, I felt like I had been thrust into another situation where I had to take some skills learned along the way and apply them to a new and challenging problem. Our association was spending about $60,000 a year and no one really knew where the money was going and how it was being accounted for on the books. A lot of spreadsheets and checkbook balancing later, I can guarantee that I know where our money is going and who is paying their dues on time.
Almost sixty years ago I was balancing a checkbook with a pencil and paper. Today I have new tools to do it but the math is the same, the numbers are just bigger and the statements are online on the web. Now we work with digital images of checks. No one had a glimmer of the web back in the days of my mother's beauty shop. Today I make the appointment for my haircut with an app on my phone. While technology has become all pervasive, I also have learned to read the water in our river and inlet almost like a book and I do it just with my eyes.
The world and its endless possibilities will never stop changing. To stop learning is to put the brakes on life. The only solution is adapting to change through continual learning. We especially need to learn as much as possible from those folks who have been here longer than us. The only thing more amazing than the amount of knowledge most people accumulate during a lifetime is how much of it goes to the grave with them and how little of it is ever passed on to the next generation.