Are You Missing Something Obvious and Very Important?

“People spend way too much of their money and time on stuff, when they could be spending it on memories,” my friend said.

I reacted in surprise, “That’s the number one thing you’d tell people if you had the chance to really change their life?”

“Actually,” he responded, “the question you asked was, ‘what is the top financial advice I’d give people that would greatly improve their lives.’”

“Right,” I said. “I’m researching entrepreneurial education in our nation’s schools, but your answer seemed like bigger advice, touching every facet of life.”

“Well, it could be, I guess. But where finances are concerned, caring less about stuff and more about relationships, people and memories—that’s the best advice I ever got. And I’ve followed it. It’s brought most of the happiness in my life, along with service, which is also a kind of making memories.”

The Honeymoon vs. The Dress

A few days later, I was reading in Psychology Today magazine and I came across an interesting little sidebar feature. The title was something along the lines of: “Why splurging on the honeymoon instead of the dress is tied to greater happiness.” It immediately brought to mind the earlier conversation, so I closely studied the article.

“Philosophy, religion, and now science instruct that the road to happiness is paved with experiences and not material goods,” I read. Then the article listed various scientific studies proving the point in a number of ways. “Research has consistently shown that most people will be happier when they spend money on a concert ticket than an iPod,” it summarized.

I nodded as I read, remembering what my friend had told me. He had just returned from a family trip abroad, and he was full of energy and excitement about good times with his wife and kids. And just this week , my brother-in-law told me how much fun it was to skip the consumer aspects of Christmas last month and take his kids to Mexico to build a school in a small tribal village. The kids thought it was by far the best holiday season they’d ever had.

Memories, not stuff.

Honeymoons, not dresses.

Concerts, not iPods.

Service, not presents under the tree.

The Ninth Key?

(just kidding, but it’s still a valuable thought…)

“It’s like a Ninth Key of Great Education,” I said to myself out loud. After I laughed, I found myself thinking about it more deeply.

It actually sounds a lot like “Structure Time, Not Content”—with experiences being the fabric of time and content being the same as stuff.

More importantly, structuring time is precisely the act of focusing on experiences. People who do TJEd well tend to do certain things.

  1. First, at least one of the parents reads classics, thus setting an example.
  2. Second, the family reads great and fun books aloud together on a regular basis.
  3. Third, they study the books on TJEd and follow the principles, and they re-read these books and keep applying the principles in new and better ways over time. [On a personal note, Rachel and I re-read the TJEd books too, and when we stop doing this for a few months the quality of education in our home always slips a little until we get back to them.]
  4. Fourth, and this is a big one, successful TJEd parents and teachers do weekly brainstorming where they list on paper (or discuss out loud) each of their students, ask what they most need right now, and make plans to improve their education.

This is where the experiences come in.

Know, Feel, Do

Ask yourself, “What experiences does Johnny (insert the name of one of your students here) need in the months ahead?” Brainstorm a list and write down your ideas. Then repeat this for each student in your home or class.

This will drastically improve your mentoring, and their education. What experiences does Mary (insert the name of your student) need? Make a list.

What experiences does Tommy (insert the name of your student) need, even though he’s only 9 years old? Has he ever gone to the library and just perused books for a long time and thought about what he’d love to read? Has he ever used the phone book? This sounds silly, but has he? Has he ever taken a bubble test and learned how it works? There are fun tests he could take that would teach him this skill. Has he ever been to a huge concert or professional sporting event? If so, have you talked to him about watching the crowd and learning about people from the experience?

The sky is the limit in what experiences he might need. As his parent and/or mentor, it’s time to ask this question—and then take action.

This is serious mentoring.

While you’re at it, what experiences do you need this year? Take the time to brainstorm and write your answers to this question. This will greatly improve your whole year if you take it seriously, ponder, brainstorm, and then make good plans. There are experiences you haven’t had and really need, and soon. This is true.

So do something about it. Right now.

And then do the same with your children and students.

Nothing will decrease your sense of overwhelm or overwork as well as doing something fun that gives you an exciting, positive new experience. Nothing overcomes whatever educational difficulties you’re facing as well as making great new memories.

Education is supposed to be all about living a great life, and it should be among the very best, most exciting, most enjoyable parts of life. What experiences do you need this year? Figure out the answer, and then make them happen. This is a key part of structuring time, not content.


What if your weekly planning had just a teeny-weeny bit less to do with the what you were going to cover, and more to do with how you wanted them to feel, and what memories you hoped to create? Do you think learning would suffer? Would retention perhaps increase? Would interest and relevance lead to a greater love of learning, a deeper passion for self-education? What’s the downside?

It’s worth considering.


Note: for ideas on how to implement a Love of Learning Kidschool experience, see section I, Core and Love of Learning, in Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning. For ideas on how to key into the passion and purpose of budding youth scholars, see Thomas Jefferson Education for Teens. For a 4-year plan to optimize Scholar Phase, see Hero Education.