From climbing the monkey bars to climbing the corporate career ladder, each stage of life plays a unique role in developing our character. When we think about the most defining moments of our education and professional development, most people recall classes like public relations 101, endless hours drafting a senior thesis, excitedly pouring coffee at a summer internship and finally scoring a job.

Although these are all important milestones, there are equally-important life lessons that came much earlier that are used every day (and often overlooked). As students around the world head back to school, we’re reflecting on the tried and true takeaways from our own classroom days.

First day of school

On the first day of school, we always spent a little extra time getting ready, picking the perfect outfit and packing a lunch box sure to impress the other kids. Although our childhood motives may have been to make friends or snag a seat at the popular lunch table, we learned the importance of a strong first impression. As adults, we invest that same energy in perfecting our meeting materials, memorizing our elevator pitch and always being prepared for interviews, new business meetings or client presentations.

The cafeteria

This is where every modern-day business leader made his or her first big trade negotiation. Whether it was Lunchables for Dunkaroos or Capri Sun for SunnyD, we learned the basics of networking and supply and demand. The best elementary entrepreneurs learned the art of trading up by putting crafty sales pitches on mundane meals like leftover meatloaf.

Luckily, we no longer need to fear this mystery meat or barter a crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For lunchtime meetings where everyone can find something to order, opt for super trendy cafeteria-style food halls popping up around the country.

High school cliques and bullies

Throughout the years, many students find their niche and settle into a routine. In the Hollywood movie high school setting, all students are seemingly designated into certain group dynamics or stereotypes that haunt them forever. Movies like “Mean Girls” depicted lunch room labels that ostracized anyone who didn’t fit their version of the norm.

Unfortunately, bullies may never completely disappear. Anyone who has ever dealt with a bully learned the importance of standing up for themselves, their friends and their beliefs. Loyalty and courage in the face of adversity are strong leadership characteristics and essential for success as an adult. Protecting your brand, joining the conversation and making your voice heard ensures that reporters and other audiences see the whole story.

Recess

Everyone is good at something, but no one is good at everything. Getting picked last at P.E. or knocked down in dodge ball isn’t fun; nobody likes to lose. Handling confrontation and learning how to get back up when life knocks you down prepares kids for the future. Trying new games and sports helps people find success, learn to accept failure and develop strong teamwork skills.

In school, playing nicely with others was required and not following the rules resulted in detention or time out. Coaches used strategy to highlight the bigger picture and exemplified how to win with grace and lose with dignity. Successful adults understand the balance between being a competitive leader and supportive teammate. Strategic foresight is essential for business development and the ability to quickly respond to different scenarios is the foundation for crisis planning and communications.

The Golden Rule

Starting in kindergarten, we’re taught to do unto others as you would have them do to you. This simple practice is the baseline of integrity, a PRSA pillar, and the foundation of building good business and personal relationships. Although the author is disputed, the sentiment for the famous saying remains, “you may forget what they said but you will never forget how they made you feel.”

Kindness goes a long way, and just as a bad first impression leaves a lasting sting, being a bully or bad business partner will also burn bridges and affect your bottom line. Consider this: would you ever partner with or vote for a person who once gave you a wet willie or swirlie?

Locker room talk

Bathroom bullies weren’t the only challenge in high school. The locker room was the place where gossip spread in a totally juvenile manor that would never happen at the office water cooler or break room…. we hope.

We all know that “locker room talk” is cheap, and have heard that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Teaching kids to be resilient is important, but as adults, we know that words really do matter.

Slander and libel are serious offenses and negative but true words can be just as damaging. We learned how important reputation management is at an early age. Whether it is combating inaccurate or offensive social media discussions or persuading public opinion after a bad online review, we’re often faced with the same childhood challenges in a new location.

High school stereotypes

As a kid, we all wanted to fit in. Now, and especially in the public relations industry, we can celebrate what makes us different. Here are a few good lessons we learned from each of those stereotypical high school labels:

  1. The gossip queens: They just couldn’t resist the urge to let out their inner storyteller. As adults, they are news junkies or journalists who are always the first to know the latest scoop and determined to break the next big story.
  2. The jock: Nobody wins the state championship without being willing to run the extra mile and show up early for two-a-days. Hard work, determination and a go-getter attitude are winning characteristics for leaders of all levels.
  3. The cheerleader: This person finds the silver lining in all situations. Even down 20 to 0 in the fourth quarter, the cheerleader never stops believing and encourages the team to do their best and most innovative work.
  4. The nerd: If being good with numbers, wearing glasses and making good grades is dorky, then we don’t want to be cool! This person was goal-oriented and driven from an early age and not afraid to be who they are.
  5. The yearbook editor: This person always had a camera glued to their face and is most likely a social media influencer or photographer now.
  6. The dropout: Keep tabs on this guy because he may be the next Steve Jobs starting a ridiculously successful startup in his parent’s basement.
  7. The teacher’s pet: We can forgive someone who was a suck up in high school, but as an adult, please find a better way to win favor with your boss.
  8. The overachiever: This person probably has a type A personality, pays extreme attention to detail, carries a color-coded planner and enjoys spending too much time perfecting a PowerPoint presentation. If you know this person, we’re hiring!
  9. The “bad” kid: Aside from disrespecting authority, there’s nothing wrong with breaking the status quo. Flashing creativity and daring to be different makes life more fun.

Now that we’re all grown up and finally able to afford the vintage NASA lunch box our parents wouldn’t buy us, let’s use these simple childhood lessons to make the world a better place.

Try hard. Be kind. Share. Make new friends. Tell the truth.

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