Christmastime in the Emerald City

{May 22, 2008}   How To Survive In Real Life – What University Didn’t Teach Me

I’m going to qualify that header with a little bit of information: I dropped out of University after my first year. Yeah, I know. Me, the prodigal child who went to gifted school, was in all advanced classes and spent most of highschool on the honour roll.

Was it too hard? Well it kicked my ass, but I probably could have plowed through – I passed a history course without even going to the exam, clearly I was doing something right. Did I spend all my money and time partying? No. I was poor and didn’t like anybody in my residence building. Did I decide to switch my major from Forensic Psychology to Interpretive Dance? Kind of, I guess. I did spend a fortune going to the best school for makeup artistry in North America before realizing that the Toronto beauty market is completely oversaturated. But hey, people spend that kind of money on vacations and I acquired some serious skills. No regrets at all. So why did I drop out?

Because it sucked.

Plain and simple, I didn’t like it. It’s not that I don’t have the wherewithall to haul my ass through difficult times in the hope of a great future ahead. I just didn’t see a great future ahead. Sure, I could have had a career as a forensic scientist, growing slowly more obsessed and insane (my fellow apartment dwellers were disturbed by the “motivational” photos plastered to my wall on the rare occasion I opened my door). But I lived with this lingering fear of spending all that time and money only to change my mind. I saw so many people achieving degrees only to find them useless, and so many people doing alright without them. I’m not saying higher education is useless. I’m just saying I was disillusioned. Everything I learned was through textbooks, holing up in my tiny bedroom for literally months at a time. The daily get up and go process, the classes and interaction with other humans only served as an example of why an education doesn’t make you smart. So I shunned it all very quickly, moved out on my own and threw myself into the real world for a whirlwind tour of poverty, uncertainty, adventure, heartache, exploration and a few good life lessons that all the overpriced tuition in the world could never have afforded me, and as is becoming increasingly obvious, has not been afforded to a great many of the more educated ‘others’.



When it comes right down to it, your electric bill is the last one that needs to be paid. At least in Toronto where they will go for over a year before sticking that orange tab of paper on your door. On a related note, your account number is attached to your address, not you personally. So when you move, it’s not a very good idea to keep making online payments to the old account number because even though you will be credited for it, it’ll take them a year to figure it out and it’s a super pain in the ass.





 To prevent crack addicts from rummaging through your shit, don’t put out your recycling until you hear the truck coming. Empty beer cans are like gold. This of course, depends on where you live. If you can’t figure out whether or not you are surrounded by crackheads, you should probably just give up and wander into traffic. They don’t all look like Dave Chapelle, by the way.



There is no greater skill than being able to lie.


It’s all about who you know. I got this job because someone I made a brief impression on called me up to offer it. Talea got her job because I got that same someone to call her. At our previous place of employ, I was promoted from lowly phone monkey to reception because Talea knew me and my hyperorganization. Sure, the job was posted and technically available to anyone, and plenty of more educated and more senior people were a little miffed, but at the end of the day people hire you, not your resume.




Experience trumps education. I suppose some kind of college degree in business administration (What the hell do they teach in those classes? How to file? Did we not learn the alphabet and therefore how to alphabetize in kindergarten?) might beef up my salary. But if I walk into an interview with years of customer service and a list of references attesting to my skills, that meek little girl in her first suit and a newly framed degree doesn’t stand a chance.


Don’t bring your parents to a job interview you stupid, stupid twit.


You really, REALLY don’t need a swiffer. 




If you live in a sketchy place, make friends with the scariest looking person you can find. Again, it’s all about who you know.

You have to start doing the job you want before they will start paying you for it.


A four apartment quadplex with simple slots at the door for mail is going to be more secure than a two level series of bachelor apartments with 12 locked boxes. The former indicates an established level of trust. The latter…well, lets just say that I can still go back to my old apartment and open up most of the mailboxes with my fingernail.




Knowing city by-laws like the back of your hand is very useful, especially with jackass neighbours. Also become familiar with any rules and regulations pertaining to renting and lease agreements. Landlords will fuck you the minute they can.






When scouting for a dwelling, check all the taps and flush the toilets. Sure it might have a great view and tons of amenities, but you won’t care so much about the concierge service when you have cold shampoo running in your eye and you end up tripping on the shower curtain and are found by the paramedics staring blindly up into the still running ice cold spray. “Oh God, my eyes!” should never be anybody’s last words.



Learn how to break someones nose. You probably won’t ever have to, but it’s a good skill to have.

Not doing your own laundry by the age of 20 is wrong. Sending your laundry home to your parents makes you a sad, pathetic individual. Girls at school, I’m talking directly to you.



Find a good doctor. Don’t assume they all know what they’re talking about,   because a frightening percentage of them don’t. That nagging feeling of frustration like you’ve spent three hours trying to assemble a shoddy piece of Ikea furniture except you’ve been doing nothing of the sort? Yeah, it’s not the product of allergies and isn’t going to go away any time soon. It’s probably the sinking realization that you’re grown up and have to start acting like one, but you should still do something about it.



A good pair of heels can get you further than you think. So will a good tie and a good set of cufflinks. So will a chainsaw.

Get it in writing. People will doublecross you for a latte, nevermind a dollar.


If you’re getting calls from a collections agency, you probably already know that you’re fucked. You don’t have to stay on the line with them or let them scare you – feel free to hang up, laugh maniacally or make animal sounds. See that guy there? He’s screaming about the Manson muders and their relation to his mothers favourite Borscht recipe. And he’s having a grand old time. You can too!



Your printer didn’t just run out of ink on the day that you’re expected to bring a resume to an interview, and you don’t have a family emergency. For the love of all the is decent, just learn to say “I’m no longer interested in the position.” You’re not going to hurt anyone’s feelings.


Stop being afraid of hurting the feelings of people you are never going to see again. It’s very liberating. Feel free to walk out on a bill when the service was really that terrible. You don’t have to be nice to your ex. That pizza guy doesn’t need to be tipped 20% unless you have the same delivery guy all the time. If you do, make friends with him, man, make friends. You never know when a pizza guy is going to come in handy.




Nobody is interested in your regurgitation of the social theories you learned in school. If confronted with such a character, ask them if they’re going to introduce any original thoughts any time soon or if you should just break out the Communist Manifesto and get it over with.


If a taxi driver forgets to put the meter on, you don’t have to pay him out of sympathy. In this and in many other situations, asking for a name or employee number will get you a hell of a lot. If your cab gets in an accident you do not owe him anything other than a screaming shitfit. Learn how to throw a screaming shitfit, they can be very, very helpful. If your taxi driver happens to be a squirrel, pay the fuck up. Squirrels will lay the smackdown.



Return policies in most stores are more flexible than you think depending on how long you are willing to stand in line and argue.



Your first apartment isn’t going to come with a garbage can, toilet paper or a mop. You’ll also find yourself amazed at all the shit you need that you would never have thought of. Whether you’re a do-good bakeasaurus rex moving into a cute little condo or a hash smoking layabout living in the slums, YOU WILL NEED ALUMINUM FOIL.




A life well lived is the best revenge, but paired up with a wad of spit in the eye it’s damned near perfect.

And lastly:






kittymao says:

damn fuckin ‘straight, dood.
I spent almost FIVE YEARS in college- $50,000 in debt, thxsomuch- and the BF has a only a highschool diploma and makes $7 an hour more than I do.

Though I did learn one thing FROM college, not IN college- Don’t put IcyHot on your back and then take a shower. Makes the stuff creep into interesting places…

Ginny says:

Holy. Shit.

You have nothing left to learn. Proceed directly to your 40’s.

@ kittymao: I know right? I’ve always been an academic, and I’m not going to knock anyone going in for an architects degree but man…there’s some things you can’t help but notice and there’s a nasty fucking trend going around and that trend is USLESS EDUCATION. You know, University was never intended to get jobs, it was about the love of learning. I think they should still be like that, and those of us who have rent to pay should be able to just pick a career and go take a course. “How to be a Forensic Psychologist” and nevermind the calculus I’ll never use. “How to be an Engineer” and nevermind the damn social science.

@ Ginny: I know 😦 Sometimes I feel like I’m already there. But I’m also glad I’ve already figured most of this out and I’m not going to spend the next ten years realizing that flour does in fact run out despite whatever impressions your mothers kitchen gave you. Parenting on the other hand, I know nothing about. THAT’s going to be fun 😛

talea says:

I love this list. I want to write my own, but I’m afraid you would mock me incessently (I spelt that wrong…I don’t think spelt is a word….I spelled that wrong) and everyone would be like, ‘Didn’t Emerald already post this?’ and then I’d have to tell them all to shut up cuz they’re stupid.

I remember moving into my first place and being like, omg…no garbage can? no toilet paper? I had never questioned those things.

Also, I’m a PRO at throwing a shitfit. I have tons of free shit to prove it.
Knowing city bylaws is priceless. That way you know just how far you can push it when you feel like fighting with the bylaw officer. I was great friends with the one in Vaughan, since I was called in nearly every day for parking my car on the street. Whatevs.

Lastly, Swiffers are for douchebags. Sweep your floor assholes!

Josh says:

This was an awesome post em, very insightful. I may do one of these myself and go ahead and join you and Talea. Swiffers are for pussies, shop-vacs are the way to go. They can suck the chrome off a bumper. You can clean up broken concrete with those fuckers. I’d like to see you swiffer up broken glass in a puddle of water. Not gonna happen captain.

I pretty much agreed with everything except the social theories part, but that’s probably cause no one I know really discusses social theories.

Pure Evyl says:

That last one hit the nail on the head. I have met far too many educated idiots in my time.

@ evyl: Totally. Idiots with a piece of paper are bad enough, but idiots who flaunt their piece of paper like it makes them King Turd of the Toilet Bowl should be kicked.

@ le boyfriend: The ability to suck chrome off a bumper eh? We will discuss this further at a later date.

@ talea: Dude, you are my shitfit inspiration. I lub you.

@ talea & le boyfriend: DUUUUUH, of *course* you should both do a post like this. I mean, combined we probably know everything there is to know, including why hot dogs come in packs of 12 and buns come in packs of 8. Or maybe that’s reversed, I don’t eat hotdogs.

Billy says:

That was just gold. I have written all your lessons down on bevnaps and safely put them in my shirt pocket.
PS- Thanks for the help with my name link. That would have taken me forever to figure out. Nope, nope….I would have never figured that out.

2lazydogs says:

Damn skippy. Why couldn’t have someone told me all of this before I spent gazillions of dollars and five years of my life just to refine my drinking skills?

May says:

Great post, Em. When I moved out of my parent’s house, I moved in with Old Man Shank, he thinks of all this stuff because he was born knowing pretty much everything. He really is quite handy to have. 😛

Shop Vacs are kick ass!

romi41 says:

Very glorious post Em 🙂 . I have met far, far, FAR too many educated-head-up-ass-fuck-heads in my life, and still I stare at them in absolute puzzlement knowing that they are completely incapable of typing a concise, grammatically correct business email.

On the flip side of the coin (and I think I’m the first on this comment thread to go here), education can indeed…be useful AND compelling to a prospective employer, you just have to know how to spin it. It’s all about the spin baby. For example when I finished university and found myself “cashiering” at Zellers in Kitchener (ya, Kitchener..seriously) thinking “holy fuck am I gonna be a lifer”, I somehow scored an interview for this Advertising Media Firm, which was pretty fucking uppity, corporate, “image conscious”, the whole nine yards…I walked in there with my ZERO office experience and the first blazer I had ever bought, and talked about…school. Case studies, teamwork skills, achievements in Marketing courses…ALL topics which were totally beefed-up by “half truths” etc., but somehow I scored the job. Then when I walked in the office on the first day staring at a few other newbies who were level-par, (newbies who had PAGES of resume-experience vs. my “nothing”), I kind of…sort of….laughed…maybe University wasn’t so useless afterall…

…wow, why am I still talking? 😉

Oh ya, as I was saying…*ahem*…the University-degree came in handy that time, but the irony would be: my passion for my “degree topic” is relatively non-existent…hmm…I’ll have to figure out this personal-issue sooner or later….

Oh and also, you are right: you don’t need an education to be smart, but you most certainly need to be smart if you’re going to have an education…otherwise you become the head-in-ass guy/girl and no one in the office will go for drinks with you…LOL… 😉

PS: or maybe everything I said in this entire comment is a load of crap and I only got hired to fulfill a “brown people” quota, what the fuck do I know….?

Good day 🙂

@ Billy: A few tattoos a la Memento is probably a little more difficult to misplace than cocktail napkins, but whatevs. And no prob on the name thing help, a kindly passerby helped me so I now consider it my duty to pass on the cheer.

@ 2lazydogs: Don’t underestimate the value of good drinking skills!

@ May: “Old Man Shank” ha! He does seem to just pretty much know everything in that extra quiet awesome sort of way.

@ Romi: I know dude, what is WITH the grammatically incorrect emails? My god man! And yes, a decent education can certainly come in handy, and there are plenty of jobs where you DO need an education. It’s just unfortunate that we assume that we are going to walk out of a four year nightmare clutching our little pieces of paper assuming all will be well.

“Learn how to break someones nose. You probably won’t ever have to, but it’s a good skill to have.”
I’m going to get right on this one.

@ cowgal: My only non-experienced advice comes from the very scary ex-militia who taught me, and his advice scared me. So um, tae-kwon-do jes?

David says:

OMG greenie, what a masterful post! Thank you for writing it 😀

I say proceed directly to your 50s.

I too am a dropout. I managed to drop out of college twice in 3 semesters, and while I’m thankful for some of what I learned there, I learned so much more from failure and the subsequent drift of my life. Irony is that I have been working at a perfectly lovely little private college for the last 10 years and really appreciate the opportunity to help students in whatever way I can, mostly with their computer problems.

Lubrication IS really important, and so is learning where NOT to waste your precious energy on the assholes running rampant on the planet. It’s fucking tricky, since we may be assholes ourselves sometimes.

But anywho, have you heard No, Virginia yet? Please tell me what’s your favorite song.

Most topics have been cover and recovered quite well, so, nice post. 😉 Both entertaining and insightful. 🙂

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