As we sat at our tiny desks in grade school, contemplating what fuzzy stickers would round out our sticker books, we had teachers cramming all sorts of knowledge into our heads. Multiplication tables, the Emancipation Proclamation, photosynthesis — every new fact was the be-all, end-all of humanity.
Sure, some of what you learned is vital to everyday life. But there’s a lot of information occupying space in your brain, waiting for you to attend bar trivia to prove its utility.
While we’re in school, book smarts are exalted. To get into college, you have to have a high GPA. To have a high GPA, you have to study and memorize a lot of facts and formulas.
Once we graduate, though, book smarts often become less and less important. We instead rely on street smarts, a mixture of common sense and the basic ability to follow your instincts.
Street smarts are essential for survival, and their impact will likely last far beyond anything you get from a textbook. They’ll bail you out of the weirdest situations you encounter in your life. Here's 4 reasons why:
1. You need to learn how to read people, not just books.
Imagine you’re in a bar and someone really hot catches your eye. Do you:
A) Offer to buy him or her another whiskey? B) Dazzle him or her with your knowledge of the periodic table?
No one is dropping their pants because you know what Atomic Number 82 is (Lead, for anyone who believes otherwise). If you want to get ahead in life, you definitely need to know how to read books, but you don’t necessarily need the knowledge in those books.
It’s way more important to be able to read people. The relationships you forge are your primary accomplishment in this world. They’ll help you get a job; they’ll help you keep that job. They’ll help you get a SO; they’ll help you keep that SO.
If you can’t read people, you’ll struggle to communicate, making it difficult to befriend people and keep them in your life.
2. You need to know how to get home safely, not just the names of the streets.
Memorizing every name of every street on your walk home is quite a feat. Being able to give directions to a destination is pretty impressive. But if you can’t suss out a dangerous situation, it’s all for naught.
Street smarts are the best safety detector. The moment the vibe changes from good to sketchy, your instincts kick into gear.
When you feel unsafe, it’s street smarts that prompt you to hide your phone in your pocket or take out that can of mace, just in case. Hell, it’s street smarts that motivated you to buy that mace in the first place.
The savviest parents know the difference between book and street smarts. They know it's their responsibility to teach logic so their kids can get out of the many jams they’ll inevitably encounter.
3. You need to problem-solve, not just recite facts.
There are certain careers where knowing the name of a random boat in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will come in handy, but the majority of us aren’t in those fields.
Instead, our jobs require problem-solving skills. We need to figure out how to meet deadlines or get clashing personalities to work together. We need to persuade our clients to pay us on time, or our bosses to give us a promotion.
If we get into an argument with our friends, we need to know how to smooth it over. If we let our parents down, we need to find a way to get back in their good graces (and earn some extra good will for the next time we mess up).
You can’t find the answers to those dilemmas in a book. Life experience helps you solve them.
4. You need to know how to handle life questions, not just exam questions.
When is the last time someone outside of school asked you what the tangent line of a curve is? Never? That’s what I thought.
Once you graduate from college, written tests are done. No one is going to ask you to fill in a Scantron bubble to display all of the knowledge in your head. As soon as you get your diploma, you can throw out that Number 2 pencil with the confidence that you’ll never need it again.
With exams behind you, you’ll need to answer much more important questions: Life questions.
What am I doing with my life? Is it ever acceptable to lie to a loved one? How do I even know I love them? How much alcohol can I drink before I blackout? Should I pick a fight with the rude guy at the bar?
Without street smarts, you’ll never know the answers to these important questions. Street smarts provide the logic and instinct to forge your path in life. They translate knowledge into power.
Want to know the epitome of embracing street smarts? The Gallaghers. What this family lacks in traditional polish, they more than make up for in having each others’ backs. SHAMELESS stars William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum. New episodes Sundays at 9pm ET/PT, or watch anytime by downloading the SHOWTIME® app.