On education: my advice to my sister

My sister recently asked me what "subject category "she should pick.

To give you some context. In the Luxembourgish school system, when you are around 16 years old (yep, I'm 13 years her senior, she's still 15 for some more days) you pick a subject category1 for the next three years before you, usually, go to university. These sections are:

  • Section A: Languages
  • Section B: Mathematics and Computer Science
  • Section C: Natural Science and Mathematics
  • Section D: Economics and Mathematics
  • Section E: Visual Arts
  • Section F: Music
  • Section G: Humanities and Social Sciences

Here are some more explanations of Luxembourg's school system.

When it was my turn to choose, I went for section D., And if you've been following me for a while, this might surprise you. It has close to nothing to do with what I do now.

And this is why I couldn't give my sister a straightforward answer. I don't know. Instead, I sent her a nearly thousand words long text message explaining to her what I believe in and think is truly important.

And because someone else might need to hear this, I asked her if I could share it on my blog. She said yes, so here it is2:

On education

I've been thinking some more about what you asked me. I don't know what section fits you the most because I find it ridiculous that young people have to choose what to do with their lives, what path to go at age 16. I am 28 years old, and I still don't know where I will go in life. Also, I've seen a lot of people choosing one direction and then being stuck in it even though it was the wrong choice.

I don't believe that you're able to know what you want to do in life before living. These things only ever make sense looking back. Therefore I'd say choose a section that kinda makes sense, that kinda feels right. And use the chance to pick something at which you're good at. Because while one single bad grade doesn't matter, a lot of good ones will make the next step, university, a lot easier.

And don't get me wrong. Not even university is that important, except if you want a typical corporate-job and drive an Audi or BMW aged 30. University, like the section, only ever helps you open up doors.

But don't think that you're stuck with the university as soon as you chose one. Only a few choices in life are eternal. Look at me. I studied Journalism, and now I'm working in a marketing department, mainly writing code to analyze data. And I do believe that this will keep changing.

I can't tell you what section to pick, because three years later it might not be the right one anymore. I went for D, and after I had finished, I exclaimed loudly to my friends and teachers "never again economics ".

What I can tell you instead is this, and it is something I didn't do until a few years ago but wished I had done earlier. Learn to live with as little money as possible. And I don't mean little of yours and lots of your parents. As little as possible. No one needs new clothes every month, the latest iPhone every year, and fancy new toys all the time. No one has to go to restaurants every week, or do some wellness stuff every fortnight.

Write down two to three things that are important to you. And for these things spend as much as you want. But never, and this is important, never spend money you don't have even if you might have it in a month. (Credit cards, believe me, they're coming for you.) For me, these three things are health, education, and my friends and family. All the other things are unimportant.
Learn to depend on no one and especially on nothing. Learn to be happy on as little as possible. And save what you don't use.

If you manage to do this, you can be truly free to try and experiment. At your age, you can try many different jobs, be it for a week, a month, or only a weekend. Also, if you don't need money to be happy, you can offer to work for people for free. And then you overdeliver. They will even pay you for it in some cases. But more importantly, they'll remember your name, especially in a country as small as Luxembourg.

Try a lot of different things. Read, watch, learn widely. Only like this, you'll figure out what you care about. And if you try a lot, you can add this to your resume after high school and after university. And this will impress more than fancy grades from fancy universities.

Never stop learning. And I'm not talking about the typical school curriculum, because in all honesty, even if teachers tell you otherwise, you don't need 80% of what you're taught. And also what you learn at your university: companies stopped doing these things ten years ago.

The internet is full of resources that enable you to try a lot of things and see what sticks.

Be it on YouTube, on random blogs, on Udemy, or SkillShare.
Or find books on topics that spark your interest. Read them, annotate them, underline passages. And if a book seems like a waste of time, get rid of it. But don't get rid of anything only because it's hard. You will only learn if you get out of your comfort zone. Don't take it as an excuse to avoid difficulties. Be someone who does, who finishes things. Just don't mistake a difficult choice for a wrong choice. Again, please don't get stuck on bad decisions, only because they've been made. Only an idiot never changes his opinion.

Try, learn, experiment, find what you like. Become good in a lot of things, and great in a few of things. Then combine these. Because then, you are unique. And no one can take that from you. Don't try to be the best. Try to be the only one.

  1. We call them "sections ", it's French.  

  2. Translated and slightly edited for easier reading.