15 Essential Skills They Don’t Teach You In College

essential skills

This is what I wish: that my daughters don’t go to school.

I offered my oldest the very prestigious “Altucher Fellowship”. Never awarded before. Only awarded to her.

Basically it says: do exactly what I tell you to do for a year and don’t go to college.

I’m not sure she’s going to take it.

Here’s my ideal program:

  • Spend some time each day learning the skills in the graphic.
  • Watch one movie a day with me and discuss.
  • Publish a book of essays by the end of the year.
  • You can take time off to travel.

And, by the way, this will be cheaper than you going to college.

Her answer, begrudgingly: I’ll think about it.

Here are the skills:

A. Networking

A corollary of leadership

B. How to sell

Presentation, vision, motivation, sales.

C. Negotiation

Which means win-win, Not war.

D. The Google Rule

Always send people to the best resource. Even if it’s a competitor. The benefit to you comes back tenfold.

E. The 1% Rule

Every week, try to get better 1% physically, mentally, and emotionally.

F. Idea Sex (but with protection!)

Get good with setting up with ideas. Then combine them. Master the intersection.

G. Reinvention

Which will happen repeatedly throughout life.

H. Leadership (which is really a course about how to deal with both Vision and Anger at the same time)

Give more to others than you expect back for yourself.

I. Mastery; How to master any field

You can’t learn this in school with each ‘field’ being regimented into equal 50 minute periods. Mastery begins when formal education ends. Find the topic that sets your heart on fire. Then combust.

J. Finding Signal in the Noise

News, advice books, fees upon fees in almost every area of your life. Find the signal outside of the noise everyone else marches to .

K. Themes > Goals

Goals will break your heart. Have a theme. You can build your days around your themes. In the short blink that thins out your life, when you reach the point where goals matter no more, the themes of your life will shine bright.

L. Creativity

Take down a pad. Write down a list of ideas, everyday.

M. Failure (a skill not taught until many years after the degree. But it is taught, believe me, you will learn it or die).

Learn how to fail so that failure turns into a beginning.

N. Give and you will Receive

Give constantly to the people in your network. The value of your network increases linearly if you get to know more people, but exponentially if the people you know get to know and help eachother.

O. Simple tools

To increase productivity

[ Related: 10 Jobs That Pay $100k Or More (WITHOUT A College Degree)… ]

If I were creating a college – these would be the only classes.

Or maybe I’m just like a failed athlete who wishes for his kids what he didn’t have for himself, whether they want it or not.

I’ll never really know the answer.

But I do know this:

  • These skills are not taught in school.
  • These skills are absolutely necessary for any kind of real-life success. ALL of these skills.
  • Skills > Degrees in the modern economy.
  • These skills will put you way ahead of any competition. You will be your own category.
  • You can learn these skills (sometimes) on the job, or in online settings. Or by reading.

Or by finding a:

PLUS: mentors to model yourself after (real or virtual)
EQUALS: who can challenge you and bring out your potential
MINUS: people you can teach, to solidify your learning.

Remember winning?

Remember getting an “A”? And it felt good? It felt like, “I won!”

And then it became too easy to get the As. Schools lulled us into some form of complacency, where an “A” was the new normal and anything below was considered unhealthy.

What happened to the idea that a 40% success rate made someone the best baseball player in the history of the world?

Or the idea that if only 50% of your business decisions are correct, you’ll have a billion dollar business.

Or the idea that, in the hands of an artist, even the wrong note can be turned into beautiful music?

Life is improv. Not a fact test. You take the bad notes and weave them into music.

Now we get the “participation” trophy for showing up.

My Mac is broken. The easiest computer in the world to use and I broke the keyboard. Do I suffer for my sins?

Of course not, I get to go to the “Genius Bar” and get it fixed. The Genius Bar at the Apple store is the participation trophy for adults.

One day I will get good at these skills.

I guess I lied.

This is not a letter for my kids. This is a love letter to me.

See also: 10 Jobs That Pay $100k Or More (WITHOUT A College Degree)…

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  • Matt Perry

    I think sometimes it is difficult for children to see the value in what their parents can teach them. It is just a part of growing up and being independent. I hope that the you extend the chance for your children to attend the “Altucher Fellowship” even five, ten, or fifteen years from now.

    Also I have to agree from personal experience that almost everything I learned from business was after college at work through mentors willing to give up their own personal time to see me succeed. I hope one day you write down a more detailed outline of your idea. It has given me a lot to think about, thank you.

  • Schools teach nothing of value. I mean… REAL value.

  • Han Xu

    Will a school atmosphere facilitate learning these skills if I have them in mind? Is there a price point that makes school a good investment?
    I’m in the process of applying to two computer science masters programs after working for 4 years. One program is in the Netherlands at the cost of 18k Euros, the other is the online offered by Georgia Tech at ~10k USD. Any advice or perspective would be greatly appreciated. Thanks,

  • bartolomeo 1

    “Find the topic that sets your heart on fire. Then combust.”

    Well… how do i find the topic ? I am switching my passions for the last 8 years. I dont consciously want to do this, but i am losing my interest in a topic after some time before i really mastered it…

    right now, i dont even want to start with something new because i am afraid of losing the interest in it after an unknown amount of time and then consider it as another waste. any tips james ?

    • Leo McKenzie

      Look into ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ by Cal Newport (whom James has featured on his show), and then Deep Work by the same guy.

      Good luck.

      • Jeff Kaguri

        Nice, but where can i get free copies?

    • Jeff Kaguri

      Just combust. COMBUST pls

  • This was very inspiring. We home educate and our aim is to focus on “life skills” not “school skills” https://goo.gl/quRenu It’s quite challenging at times but the flexibility we have makes it worthwhile. It’s also empowering because our success or failure is squarely on our shoulders. Since it’s our life, we pour everything we have into it because we want to kick butt :o)

    Thanks for the interesting article.

  • Chris Manacmul

    I don’t see the graphic on this post.

  • Sonia Garces

    thats a letter to Yourself James

  • Virginia

    And this is exactly why I homeschooled. Shame the only thing missing was the Altucher Fellowship.

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    • Jeff Kaguri

      Wow, i havent seen any of home schoolers. How are you feeling about it?

      • Virginia

        Wouldn’t have it any other way. They learned to fail but also learned to pick themselves back up and get on with life. They learned to not let failures define them either. They learned that getting A’s is not the be all, end all……..that who they are is more important and striving to be the best people they can be in self education, business and life in general is not supposed to be an exercise in perfection. They choose what they think is good or not, for themselves. There is a book out there and while the authors name has completely escaped me, it is called Dumbing Us Down. It explains in detail why formal education is a complete failure and is much along the lines of what James is writing about here. He’s nailed it.

  • Scott Totten

    Dear James,

    Thank you for sharing this post and list of skills. I always enjoy your writing because I find it thought-provoking and informative. You help me to question my own thoughts and improve upon them.

    As a former educator (currently camouflaged in a salesman’s body), I find it my personal responsibility to continue to improve the methods by which we provide schooling. As a society, we need to work together to “stop the noise”. This video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY), by Sir Ken Robinson, started to help me to question the “noise” in schools. The noise currently in education (and in place for far too long) include the silos of subject area, subjects being for the same amount of time each day (and at the same time every day), grouping by age, standardized curriculums, teaching and testing, and the same kids having the same teachers every day for a year (just to name a few). Unfortunately, we keep these in place because it’s easier for adults, not best for kids.

    We have a responsibility to provide a better education now than was provided for us during our childhood. As John Dewey once said “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” My son is not yet school age, but when I compare his education with mine, sadly, I think the only difference will be that he will need to withstand more standardization (testing, curriculum etc). My hope for him seems very similar to what you would like your daughter to experience.

    Some of the best learning that I have done during my adult life has come as a confluence of the skills that you mentioned in this post, with many of these skills being learned and improved after I finished my “education”. I am currently working through a “reinvention”, I have moved from the education sector to software sales and am learning more about how to sell, how to master a field, how to fail and how to negotiate. As time passes, and I continue to expand my perspectives and skills in my new position, I realize how much selling I’ve already done in past jobs. In my experience, there are a few skills that I have found to be helpful that I think might be missing from your list.

    1. Reflection – Taking time to evaluate your past experiences, what you can learn from them, both good and bad and then determining the best way to move forward.

    2. Taking Action – How can I take the theoretical knowledge that I am gaining and apply it to situations and opportunities in my own life? It’s really easy these days to get stuck in rabbit holes and spin your wheels.

    My online and offline networks have allowed/supported/enhanced and emboldened my opportunities to grow. I now have a number of mentors, have attended conferences (Educon, ECET2NJPA), connected on Twitter, written blog posts, read books (“Give and Take” by Adam Grant, Creative Confidence by the Kelley Brothers, Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss) read blogs and listened to podcasts (yours, Pat Flynn, and Ramit Sethi). Those experiences have helped me to grow as an individual, learn new skills, and question the way that I am living. These opportunities will soon be a possibility for a majority of the world’s population. For this, I thank you and all of the others who have helped me and will continue to help me, along my journey.

    There are a ton of great resources available for those who enjoy the challenge of learning throughout their life. I loved seeing your list of what your college replacement/enhancement program would include for your daughter. So much of that journey could be personalized for her specific interests, passions and skills.

    Possibly the greatest gain that we have made over the last 20 years is that with the proliferation of the internet we are eliminating the gatekeepers/middlemen of progress and opportunity. “Just recently we surpassed more than half of the earth’s population gaining access to the internet. A number that has grown 80% in the last 5 years”. (http://wearesocial.com/blog/2017/01/digital-in-2017-global-overview) As this number continues to grow, it’s going to be a flat-out game changer.

    A few questions for you as a result of reading this article.
    1. If someone else, with different experiences, expertise, biases and understandings created a 15 essential skills list, how similar would it be to yours and what can we learn from the differences?
    2. Maybe that person would only have a list of 10. What can we learn from that?
    3. If you have idea sex with this list, what does it create? (Other than an almost infinite list of possibilities)
    4. If you had to add a 16th essential skill to the list, what would it be?
    5. Would you be willing to discuss these ideas, in more depth, at your convenience (TW:@4bettereducatio)? I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn through a deep dive of these concepts, learn from your expertise and experience and use that knowledge to help other educators and students.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my response.


  • Scott Totten

    Did I do something wrong? I’m not sure why my comment got removed?

  • Corey Hinde

    YOU are an idea machine Mr Altucher and I love your content!!

  • Let’s start an online school with certificates if you have a kick-ass idea approved by James Altucher????

    • Jeff Kaguri

      Coursera and udemy are doing great in these. Good luck!

  • Crazyworld

    How will you produce cash flow statements for your company? Or design a building? (for example)

    • Jeff Kaguri

      Hire an accountant and an engineer. You can learn the basics of finance/accounting on personalmba by Kauffman

      • Crazyworld

        So you go from high school straight to hiring an accountant and engineer?
        And where does the accountant or engineer or architect come from, without anyone needing college? Because, you know, that is such a waste of time.
        When you need a doctor, nurse, dentist? I could go on, but you get the gist. The idea is great, but “no one” should go to college is a stretch.

  • Michael Pruet

    What would be the list of books appropriate for a college age young adult? List of movies to watch and discuss?

  • Tara B

    Need the book list for each skill, please.

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  • Kimberly C

    When I got to the end and saw that you admitted that this was a love letter to yourself…in my heart I heard “Yes James! perfect climax to the story” and I intend to adopt the mindset for myself.

    As someone of the same stage of life, I’ve come to some similar beliefs. Yet, I’ve learned so much from you…a man who feels the fear but does so much in spite of it (or perhaps in defiance of it!). Inspiring. Thank you.

    Please elaborate on themes vs. goals.

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  • jpal1397

    This is what I have been saying forever. I learned more by the road of hard knocks than while in college. Typing might have been my most beneficial class looking back. Use it all the time! ?

  • Ellie

    Oh dear! I would love to be your daughter…