Learning how to live from The School of Life

by Annelise Mitchell January 26, 2016

Learning how to live from The School of Life

Life is a school.

Have you heard this proverb? I did (a lot) as a child, and it was not until many (many) years later that I really understood it.

We are constantly learning, and as my mum likes to say, we will get to our death bed, and will proclaim, “But wait! I still have so much to learn.”

“I’m not ready to die,” my mum continues, like it is a universal truth passed from one generation to the next.

It is her words that spur me on to be a student of life.

A life-long learner of sorts, someone who is perpetually in love with learning, always inquisitive and leaving no stone unturned.

I don’t believe I’m alone.

If you haven’t come across it yet, there is the most amazing Youtube channel called The School of Life, a channel that includes videos on every facet of living, from how to have better relationships, to why we suffer, to what the greatest thinkers say about the challenges of living.

I know you’re thinking, there are a lot of amazing things out there, how can this be amazing too. It is.

Think of anything that you are having trouble with. Right this very moment, and … The School of Life has it covered.

If it’s not there, it will be. It is like I wake up each morning (almost) and there is a new video covering exactly what I am either thinking about or am going through at that exact moment. I think, how can the creators of this channel know what I’m going through.

What I find, and I think you will too, is that the creators are onto something that we both know. We are all fundamentally human and for this reason, we share all the characteristics and experiences of every human being out there. Too many to mention. Being fearful is only one.

To illustrate the breadth and depth of The School of Life (TSOL), and to show you that they really do have everything covered, here are just a tiny sample of their videos, and 6 of my favourites.

  1. Why We’re All So Anxious

On a day that I was feeling particularly anxious, and wondering whether it was due to one too many coffees, an impending decision I had to make (and was avoiding) or whether it was because I was lacking sleep, TSOL reminded me of how very human it is to be anxious. And, most upsetting but oddly comforting to know was that anxiety, in all its power and terror, is part of the human condition and is not going to go away, rather it is something that we all need to live with.

The School of Life reveals how when we become anxious, we think it is because of what we are thinking about, or about issues we are currently facing, but in reality as human beings we are anxious to our core, as a result of just being human. As human beings, we are intensely vulnerable, not only physically, with delicate organs that can fail us at any time! But also because of our lack of information (unbelievable but true) and huge imaginations – combined create a restlessness that can torment us. As TSOL eloquently puts it: “Anxiety is a permanent feature of life – something irrevocable, existential, dogged and responsible for ruining our dominant share of our brief time on Earth.”

The solution? To accept that anxiety will always be there and needs to be there. It spurs us on, just like my mother’s proverbs that warn about what may happen if we waste our life.

Key wisdom: “We should learn to laugh about our anxieties: laughter being the exuberant expression of relief, when a hitherto private agony is given a well-crafted social formulation of a joke.”

  1. Procrastination

If you are anything like me, and I am betting you are, you are plagued by the ancient art of procrastination.

In the Age of the Internet, procrastination has become even easier, as there is perpetual distraction. Forget Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, there is also endless Youtube videos (and videos much more entertaining that dog and cat videos!), and websites filled with extraordinary, and very colourful, interesting and promising stuff that promises all sorts of awesome-type stuff, and more stuff, and more stuff…

This is why TSOL’s video on procrastination is so relatable for each and every one of us. Although we always feel there is not enough time to do all the things we need to do, when we do indeed find the time (the house is empty, the pets are fed, and the mobile phone is in the bedroom on silent), we become easily distracted and overwhelmed. We see others doing so many things, achieving things, wonderful things, that we feel the tremendous urge to do nothing, after all, we fear that what we have to offer will be nothing like what others have to offer. Amazing, awe-inspiring and terribly original. We feel we are none of those things, so why even try?

What we fail to realise, each and every one of us, is that we each have unique ways of seeing the world, and that, when we allow these unique abilities to develop, as we did when we were children, we allow ourselves to mess up, make mistakes, and just do what we enjoy, without the pressures of the adult world. Through this process, we will create the things we dream about, but only when we allow ourselves the freedom to not be perfect.

Key wisdom: It is best to understand ourselves, and not “scare ourselves into perfection.”

  1. How to be an Entrepreneur

More than a how to, TSOL reveals how entrepreneurs have insight into the causes of human unhappiness. If we are to be an entrepreneur, we need to become an “expert” on what makes life difficult. Think of the many successful businesses out there started up by entrepreneurs (i.e. Google and Virgin) and you will see people who created companies that solved people’s problems, whether it is making information finding simple or airflight cheaper and more accessible.

Key wisdom: “Every unhappiness is really a new business waiting to be born.”

  1. What’s Education For?

An issue that is always on my mind, the purpose of education and how the current education system does not prepare children (or adults) for adult life. It plain simply doesn’t. It may increase literacy and numeracy rates, but what it does very, very poorly, is teach children how to deal with life’s challenges. Due to its industrial-like structure, the qualities that children and adults will need to thrive in the future, qualities like ingenuity, self-knowledge and purpose is not currently developed within existing education systems, both private and public (and I have taught in both).

Education, as TSOL points out, should be about preparing children and adults for working meaningfully and sustaining our relationships. Learners should study how to deal with money in a global economy and how to understand themselves, in all their rich complexity. As TSOL highlights, “humans are extremely prone to misunderstanding themselves.” I particularly like the idea of each child (and adult) having access to individual tutors who could help guide them through the process of learning about themselves.

Key wisdom: “The aim of education should be to prepare us for the challenges of adult life.”

  1. What are Universities For?

Highlighting one of my deepest beliefs, TSOL reveals how universities should be much more than institutions that prepare people for jobs (although this is highly important), they should teach us how to live. Through learning to research the whole history of human thought, the student can learn who they are, where their society is headed and how they can live more fulfilling lives. Rather than only study separate disciplines, such as history or medicine, the learner would study fields that examined the central issues of their lives. Imagine a Department of Relationships, or a Centre of Anxiety… the possibilities for learning are endless and life transforming.

Key wisdom: Universities should be places that can “truly help us to live and to die well.”

  1. The Wisdom of Cows

Last, but not least, the wisdom of cows. Yes, the Indians are onto something in their worship of cows.

I have always known this, ever since I first gazed in the eyes of a great, big brown-eyed jersey cow as a little girl. I could sense that cows are inherently wise and know something us humans don’t. (Cats are like this too but for now, I will focus on cows).

Like TSOL eloquently portrays, the way cows are can teach us a lot about how to live. They are majestic creatures that reveal the beauty of nature, but also how to accept a lot of life’s challenges, enjoy the simple pleasures, take life as it comes, and most of all, to not become bitter, despite how tempting it may be. I would think cows have every reason to see life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” as Thomas Hobbes put it in the 16th century, but, as nature has designed them, cows just know how to be. This is indeed the essence of wisdom, just learning to be, nothing else, just be.

Key wisdom: “Cows are very focused on now.”

If you relate with any one of these videos, or not, check out The School of Life’s YouTube channel, and find out for yourself.

Perhaps, like my mum’s declaration about our desire to learn, even when we are on our deathbeds, is what makes The School of Life so appealing. It is not afraid to discuss topics that we all think about and wish we could talk to someone about, or at least learn about.

Please share with me which videos you liked or what topics you wish The School of Life covered.

Annelise Mitchell
Annelise Mitchell


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