Columnist Elizabeth Davies offers some advice about learning and life.

I wish someone had told me I would never need to recite the Gettysburg Address.


In fact, there are a lot of things I wish I had learned in high school. My brain space could have been occupied by real-life information, instead of parallelograms and prepositional phrases.


I could have used a lesson in the bureaucracies of college and a course in nailing job interviews. I could have done without all that information about cumulus clouds and frog biology, and instead learned how to survive basic office politics.


It’s been 13 years since I graduated high school, so I’ve now been out of school for as long as I was in school. No knock to the school system, but the second half of my educational journey has been much more thrilling.


For the first time, I’ve been able to learn the things that I was curious about. I’ve found out what happens when you choose to ignore life’s lessons, and I’ve watched in awe as my theories went into practice.


The great thing about graduating high school, I realized, is that you finally have the chance to truly begin learning. And it’s positively fascinating.


If you graduated high school this year, you’re likely headed down one of two paths: college life or the working world.


In both places, there is one guarantee: No one will care about your future nearly as much as you do. From professors and bosses to counselors and co-workers, everyone has their own priorities.


You’re not one of them.


Change that. Make sure you’re on their to-do list. Engage them in conversations, enlist their help. And remember that few people are out to help you just so they can earn a Scout badge: Figure out how helping you will benefit them, and pitch your request that way.


Get smart. There’s a funny thing about moving beyond high school: You begin to learn that you don’t know it all. In fact, you realize that you don’t know much at all. The sooner you figure that out, the sooner you’ll be willing to take help from those oh-so-clueless adults around you.


You just might find they’re pretty tuned in, after all.


Ask questions. Some things, like fashion and television shows, change with time. Others — politics, manners, career advancement and basic life lessons — are timeless. Don’t wait until you’re halfway through life to figure that out. Find someone who already is halfway through life — or further — and learn from their mistakes. Why make fresh ones all on your own?


Don’t wait to search for your passion. Find something you love now, and figure out how to become the best at it. The older you get, the harder it becomes to chase your dreams. Your bills only get bigger with time, and your burdens only become heavier.


Fail. Fail big and fail now. If you haven’t fallen, it’s probably because you haven’t jumped. Ignore the fear, and give life your best shot.


Above all, remember that life is something you only get to do once. Don’t pass up the best ride in the amusement park just because no one else is going.


That crazy-high roller coaster is where you get the biggest thrill — and the best view.


Elizabeth Davies’ column runs Thursdays in People of the Rock River Valley.