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Learn What NOT to Do in Ben Stein’s How to Ruin Your Life

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When you go to college, you can learn a lot more than what your syllabus lists. You learn industry skills. You learn how to advance your career. You learn how to achieve your goals.

These are the sort of things you want to learn whether you’re attending school or not. After all, who doesn’t want to learn how to become successful? These are the kinds of insights that fill books. Just not all books.

Lawyer, economist, actor, and author Ben Stein takes a unique approach to the typical “how-to” format in his book titled How to Ruin Your Life (2002).

This is just the first book in Stein’s How to Ruin . . . Book Collection. His other titles include How to Ruin Your Love Life and How to Ruin Your Financial Life. At 110 pages, How to Ruin Your Life succinctly discusses 35 different ways to sabotage yourself. These range from “don’t clean up after yourself” to “be a perfectionist.

For college students who spend all of their time learning how to study, how to work, and how to achieve balance in their busy lives, How to Ruin Your Life is a funny and refreshing book that offers good advice in reverse.

We’ve combed through Stein’s book and picked out the tips that are particularly relevant to students. The following sections offer some perspective on the relationship between learning, knowledge, and self-concept:

  • Don’t Learn Any Useful Skills
  • Don’t Learn Any Self-Discipline
  • Convince Yourself You’re the Center of the Universe
  • Know That You’re the Source of All Wisdom
  • Have No Respect for Age or Experience
  • Do It Your Way
  • Whenever Possible, Say “I Told You So”

These sections are all followed by a brief essay describing each bit of “advice” in more detail. “Yes, it’s true that there’s a mountain of experience and data that tell us that education and skills are the tickets to a secure, happy life. But none of that applies to you,” Stein writes under “Don’t Learn Any Useful Skills.” “You’re special, unique in every way. Just coast by on your wit and good looks” (2).

By reading between the lines, you find that the above group of essays says something profound about learning. When it comes to pursuing success, gaining knowledge isn’t enough. What’s more important is learning how to gauge and value your own talents as well as those of the people around you. The world is a collaborative environment, so don’t lose sight of the whole picture.

But you can always assume you know everything and just ignore the learning opportunities you come across. That is, if you want to ruin your life.

Gain more wisdom by reading Ben Stein’s How to Ruin Your Life, and learn more about his commencement address at AIU's graduation ceremony at Navy Pier on July 28th.