8 Reasons Being 'Street Smart' Is Always Better Than Being 'Book Smart'

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woman with street smarts

Book smart versus street smart: Which one is better? This question keeps many people up at night. (It's certainly been keeping me up. Or, maybe it's my heater that has decided to start rattling every night at 4 a.m.)

As someone who grew up in an Indian family, a good education was vigorously emphasized (read: drilled into our brains incessantly). This isn't a bad thing. Being book-smart is essential in certain situations. Getting into law school. Performing brain surgery. (You don't want someone who got a D in brain surgery operating on your noggin.)

There are other times when being book smart is useless other than to impress your friends with how worldly and intelligent you are. Nonetheless, street smarts trump book smarts any day.

What does it mean to be street smart?

Being street smart means possessing practical knowledge, adaptability, and awareness of the social intelligence and dynamics, and risks in everyday life. Street smarts are often associated with common sense and urban environments.

Street-smart individuals can navigate and survive challenging situations by relying on their intuition, quick thinking, and ability to read people and situations accurately.

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This term is often associated with individuals who may not have formal education but have developed valuable life skills through experiences and interactions. Being street smart is crucial for understanding and responding to all types of situations that may not be taught in textbooks or formal education settings, helping individuals thrive in real-world scenarios.

In other words, book smarts means knowing that tomatoes are a fruit. Street smarts means knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

Here are 8 benefits of being street smart.

1. Survival skills cannot be taught in a book.

Not to brag, but if I had to rate my survival skills on a scale of one to ten, I'd go Nigel from "Spinal Tap" and choose 11.

In my lifetime I have:

  • Been stranded in the Pyrenees, forced to roll down a mountain, run across a freeway, get a taxi to the next stop, convince him to cut me a deal since I didn't have enough money, and when that didn't work, write him a check which I signed Mickey Mouse (yes, scamming is bad, but I was a broke college student).
  • Moved to Ireland after having my wallet stolen on an overnight train and with less than $100 on me, and with the prospect of imminent homelessness weighing on me, found two jobs and an apartment in an hour.
  • Talked my way out of several speeding tickets.

Not a single thing I learned in school helped me in any of those scenarios. What helped is an innate belief in myself and the desire to win, succeed, and survive at all costs.

2. Many successful people dropped out of college.

According to an article in "Forbes," most of the mega-wealthy such as Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates didn't succeed because of a degree. Their success came from an inner drive and ruthless ambition.

Because, let's face it, you're not going to make the next great technological invention or change our culture by coloring within the lines.

3. Street smarts make you adaptable.

Book-smart people are great for teaching you a specific skill. But what happens when something goes awry in the real world as it often does? You can't rely on the formula you learned in math class.

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4. People who rely on street smarts take risks.

Risks are essential in life. Whether it comes to dumping the fiancé you know isn't right for you or quitting your job to start your own business, the risk is a necessity for growth.

Imagine if Dave Grohl accepted Tom Petty's offer to play drums for him, or Amy Schumer agreed to host "The Daily Show." No Foo Fighters and no "Inside Amy Schumer." And that's a scary thought.

5. Street smarts teach you about people.

Being able to read people is advantageous in a work setting. Impressing your employers, networking, and knowing how to understand the nuances of people's behavior can be used to your advantage in the workplace.

Just a quick look at any given presidential race will show that it's not often the smartest person who wins, but the one who's sharper when it comes to relating to people.

6. Being street-smart can keep you safe.

When you're walking down the street, it helps to be cognizant of what's going on around you. Does that guy talking to himself seem dangerous? Is the person behind me walking a little too quickly?

When it comes to safety, street smarts will help you get out of a jam, not book smarts.

7. Problem-solving comes easier.

The most valuable knowledge you can gain comes when you're in a sticky situation. Psychology class is great, but nothing will make you learn quicker than dealing with an angry client.

Did your computer crash in the midst of designing their new website? Did your inventory shipment go missing? You'll have to figure it out without letting them see you sweat.

8. You become a quick-thinker.

Facing unexpected challenges might be disorienting for some, but street-smart people have garnered their education from real-life encounters, diverse social groups, and various circumstances. Their experience and intuition enable them to adapt quickly, making them highly resourceful.

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Rachel Khona is a lifestyle freelance writer and entrepreneur whose work has been featured in Playboy, Penthouse, The Washington Post, Maxim, Allure, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Bustle, and The New York Times.