My formal education cost me $75,000 and taught me how to get a formal education. And that’s about it.

Image for post
Image for post
“A stack of thick folders on a white surface” by Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash

As I get older, I’m struck by the disconnection between my formal education and the nuances of real life.

In high school, I took history, biology, religion, math, German, Latin, art, literature, creative writing, and the required health class and gym. I participated in drama productions, the school newspaper, and some school sports.

In college, I took classes on administrative functions, communications, leadership, management, finance, mathematics, healthcare, philosophy, and psychology.

Until I finished my master’s degree, it didn’t really occur to me that none of these classes really taught me the skills I needed for life.

My real education really started at 19 when I left my parents’ house at 3 a.m. with a trash bag full of clothes after a conflict over a bullshit curfew.

It continued when I dropped out of college because I needed to work three jobs to make ends meet.

It continued when I had my first alcoholic drink.

It continued when I was nearly drowned by my abusive boyfriend.

It continued when I was fired from a job although I told the truth.

It continued when I became homeless.

It continued when I got my first “real job.”

It continued when I attended a young friend’s funeral after he died in a horrific car accident.

It continued when I met the right man.

It continued when I lost the right man.

It continued when I met the wrong man.

It continued when I married the wrong man.

It continued when I had both of my children.

It continued when I filed for divorce.

It continued when I nearly went bankrupt.

It continued when I had to count pennies to buy groceries.

It continued when I realized I have emotional trauma.

It continued when I began to devour books.

It continued when I moved in with someone with issues.

It continued as I raised my children.

It continued as I wrote.

It continues today.

For me, formal education was simply a formality.

A master’s degree isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if you don’t have life skills to go along with it.

When I look back on my education, I can’t remember any one particular “aha” moment. Seven years of education — and $75,000 spent — and not one memorable learning experience.

My real education has come from experience. If it were possible to categorize these lessons into some kind of program, classes would look like this:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Knowing the Value of a Dollar
  • Avoiding People who Suck the Life Out of Your Soul
  • Finding Social Supports and Cultivating Social Capital
  • The Importance of Being Resourceful
  • Knowing When to Say NO
  • Leaving Toxic People Behind
  • Which Battles are Worth Fighting?
  • Developing Personal and Professional Integrity
  • How to Feed Yourself and Your Kids When You’ve Got Nothing

…and more.

We are not one part of ourselves. I am not just an academic. I am not just a roughneck. I’m a whole person that needed a holistic education full of life’s lessons to become the person I am today.

No matter how much I attain in this life, I still see myself and everyone around me as works in progress.

We are all students of life.

Esther Hofknecht Curtis, MSM-HCA is a freelance writer living in Delaware. Follow her on Facebook — go to

Book nerd and freelance writer finding gold in ordinary places. Email me at Visit

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store