Tuition in the College of Hard Knocks (Tarot of Michelle)

If the educational value of a mistake is equal to or less than college tuition, I’m ahead.

The story of “Tuition in the College of Hard Knocks” begins many years ago in Tucson, Arizona. Wanting a larger, desert-worthy vehicle, I bought an ugly olive-colored vintage International Harvester Travelall. I dubbed it the Queen Mary as it was about the size of an ocean liner and bobbed around on the swells of the pavement like a huge land yacht. 

Illustration by the author

The Queen Mary purchase was a mistake. I sold the truck at a loss of several hundred dollars. It occurred to me that (at the time) the loss was equivalent to the amount of several college credits.

“Tuition in the college of hard knocks” is an old American colloquialism that basically means “lessons learned through adversity.” “The college of hard knocks” is life, and tuition is the impact on us of the mistakes we make. Money isn’t the only measure of value or impact, of course! Some of my mistakes don’t have a price tag attached; some do. This card is strongly correlated to “Everything Is a Learning Experience.”

When I do make a mistake that costs me money, and I’m beating myself up about it, reframing it as a learning experience by calling it “tuition in the college of hard knocks” helps me put it in perspective. If my mistake doesn’t cost more than college credits, I consider it the price of a lesson learned. 

To be sure, I do try to “pay” lower “in-state tuition rates” for my mistakes; I try not to make expensive mistakes. If I do make an expensive mistake, “paying” higher “out-of-state tuition rates,” I’m unhappy about it, but it’s still framed as a learning experience. 

The older and wiser and more stable I get, the fewer mistakes I make, and their impact is lessened. Sometimes my mistakes even come at the much lower “staff tuition rates” which is the ideal situation. As long as it’s in the range of “tuition” (and not “catastrophe”) I can deal.

A story behind one of the cards in The Tarot of Michelle. Follow the developmental art as a Patron on Patreon.

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