Lessons Learned: Life

A post that Adina Edelman wrote recently on LinkedIn sparked some powerful memories of my college journey nearly 60 years ago, when I was a terribly young and naïve 18-year-old who just didn’t “get” it.

My high school grades were decent, but nothing to get excited about – mostly Bs and Cs. I dutifully applied to a couple of well-known “women’s” schools that quickly turned me down, and I also applied to our state university (UMass Amherst) that accepted me (and countless thousands of others).

My folks weren’t thrilled about it, but UMass was my only option, so off I went.

My roommates were terrific, but only one was there to actually study. Unfortunately, I became better friends with the other one, and together we learned a lot about college life … but not much about attending classes. Played pool (did really well with that!). Learned about drinking. Learned more about NOT drinking. Frittered away my time there due to the lack of parental or any other kind of controls. Pretty much ran wild.

Got all Fs and flunked out. 😲 Well, if you don’t actually attend class …

Home to parents who were not amused. Worked during the day that spring and attended night school at a local state school.

Flunked out again.

Back to UMass for the summer, to continue playing pool, winning “girls’ ” tournaments and … yup. Flunking out! Three for three!

Enrolled in a Boston secretarial school (Fisher Jr. College, its name back then), and thanks to my roommate who pushed me to at least graduate, I did. Barely.

And that was the end for a number of years, until I hit my late 30s and just wanted to return, this time for real. Enrolled in night school at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., where I lived, went faithfully every semester for 14 years, and graduated cum laude. No surprise, as I was doing it because I wanted to and because … well, I was paying for it!

So why this now?

Because thinking about the lessons I learned through those few years and the ones that came after reminds me that there’s never been and likely will never be a one-size-fits-all approach to learning, success, and living a full life.

Very little that I was taught in school prepared me for life, unless you count typing and shorthand that I got at Fisher. Yes, those helped, absolutely. But the other classes? Can’t even remember what they were.

The best lessons came and still come from life experiences, mine and others’. Experiences that I can relate to – whether good or bad – help me decide how to make the right choices for myself.

Now I’m not saying college doesn’t work; it’s excellent for many, but I don’t see it as the be-all and end-all for a bright future for everyone, especially at such a young age. I would have been far better off – at least then – if I had worked for a year or two and seen the value that a college education could give me.

All in all, my pleasure from attending Stonehill isn’t because of the courses I took or the professors who shared their knowledge (although one still does stand out because he was just so real); it comes from actually deciding to do it, doing it, and knowing how much the discipline helped shape my future, one that I’m delighted to have!

How and where have you learned your best lessons? Please share your experiences with us.

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Susan Rooks
Susan Rookshttps://grammargoddess.com/
With nearly 30 years’ experience as an international workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. In 1995, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication, creating and leading workshops in three main areas – American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills – to help business pros enhance their communication skills. She also leads one-hour LinkedIn workshops (Master the LinkedIn Profile Basics) via Zoom to help business pros anywhere maximize their LinkedIn experience, offering it to Chambers of Commerce and other civic organizations free of charge. As an editor, Susan has worked on business blogs, award-winning children’s books, best-selling business books, website content, and even corporate annual reports (with clients from half a dozen countries), ensuring that all material is professionally presented. In April 2022, Susan became the Managing Editor of the Florida Specifier, a bi-monthly trade publication covering Florida’s diverse environmental industry. And although the focus is on Florida’s issues, many of these same challenges are found elsewhere around the world, so the readership isn’t limited to just Floridians or those interested in that state. But in all these endeavors, Susan’s only goal is to help everyone look and sound as smart as they are.


  1. Susan – A great message. Graduating HS and going right to college is typically presented as the only pathway. I regret not taking a gap year, but regret is like having one too many slices of pizza: it just leaves you really uncomfortable. I think that some sort of national service would be a great option. POTUS Biden is thinking about bringing back a version of the C.C.C. Why not? Why not make that part of the equation of “free college” that he’s also talking about. Why should college and not trade training be free? Oy….

    Anyway, you turned out great because you watered your seed-of-purpose-and-value when you were was ready. Well done.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story, Susan, not one I would have guessed – which speaks more about my lack of imagination than anything else.
    I am so happy for what made you cross my path here on LI, not that I can recall when or who. As an ESL immigrant whose only formal learning of English was in 5th-9th grade with most emphasis put on speaking, not writing, your funny, insightful, easy to remember posts taught me more about punctuation and pitfalls than I can put into words. Who cares when we learn – as long as we learn.

    • Wow, Charlotte — talk about not knowing someone’s background! You’ve mentioned not thinking your English was good a couple of times, but I never realized it’s not the language you grew up with! (That’s a compliment, by the way … ☺)

      And how on earth would anyone know my background, or yours, or anyone’s? We’re human, so there’s that connection, but beyond that? No lack of imagination, just no information to process the knowledge.

      Thanks as always for supporting my efforts here and on LinkedIn. I always look forward to seeing your comments!

  3. Susan: How well I can relate to this! When I was wandering around ‘at loose ends’ as the saying goes post-high school, I applied to Ohio State and was accepted simply because, as a bona fide graduate of an Ohio HS, they had to take me. After two years I was drafted, this being 1968, and sent to Vietnam. The whole experience sent a strong message: We learn, and find ourselves at different paces, and only after experiencing different things. Thanks for posting this. As a non-fiction writer who needs editorial help from time to time, I’ll jot down your name etc.

    • Thanks so much, Byron! Great to hear from you, and I know I’m not alone — never thought I was — in wasting a few years trying to figure out my life. Lucky for me, I did learn a few things … :-)

      Happy to help whenever! You can easily find me on LinkedIn; heaven knows I’m there enough!

  4. Dear Susan,

    You really have a story to tell. Goodness me. However, you came through and now benefit others with your real, practical skills. And you do it because you want to.

    Unlike you, my friend I never passed any exam! My Dad spent a fortune on private schools, boarding prep-schools to no avail! I think my only award was winning third prize for gardening at Kingwell Court boarding-prep school. More recently I found out why I was essentially bad news when it cam to any structured learning! Born left-handed and ‘moved’ to right-handed. Simple (relevant at the time, could do better etc) issue. The brain has to ‘change sides’. And on that point I was useless at any sport that involved hitting anything accurately! Eventually I found I could communicate with people and ultimately the joy of writing. Also the joy of engaging with people from other countries; learning about there culture. Susan, your article is so rewarding to read and of course made me write far too much about ‘yours truly’. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • So many things we didn’t know enough about back then, Simon — like never trying to create a right-handed person who isn’t normally that! Whatever made anyone think that the “correct” way was to be right-handed? Yikes.

      And we all have a story — stories! — to tell, Simon! Look how you just added yours to mine, and we both learned a little more. Thank you, Simon; I always enjoy seeing your stories, pictures (and especially of you-know-who), and the landscape that surrounds you.