Be street smart, not book smart!

Smart Concept

By Younas Chaudhary

Book smart describes a person who is generally intelligent, well-educated and does well academically but deals with situations (especially difficult situations) by making decisions based on facts, knowledge or insights gained primarily from books. Street smart describes a person who has good common sense and gains knowledge from real life and personal experiences.

I believe that everyone cannot be street smart. It is one such quality that is instilled in you based on how you grew up and by facing difficult situations starting from a young age. You cannot learn to be street smart if you are not pushed against the wall.

After I moved to Canada, a Canadian entrepreneur, Bernie Lofchick, taught me the basics of being street smart in the mid-seventies as a young entrepreneur. Lofchick was the king of selling pots and pans through his company, World Wide Distributors, and I was one of his several salesmen in Edmonton whose job was to convince young homemakers to buy pots and pans in a tight market.

Every day, I would set out in my old car filled with Queen Anne cookware. The cookware was priced at $500 a set, and I had to work hard to convince people to buy it. Being a brown immigrant with poor English and having no formal training, the odds were stacked against me, but I succeeded by being street smart, a quality that the other salesmen lacked.   

 In recognition of my success, Lofchick flew me to his home in Winnipeg, an honor given to only a few of his sales staff. Lofchick was a great salesman and an outstanding motivational speaker who would often yell: “Take charge” “Hip hip hooray” “You are going to sell it all.” They were inspirational phrases for a young immigrant who was taught to settle for something less and predictable in life.

Lofchick’s training encouraged me to think about my future. I started several side hustles to try to build my own future and a better life for my family. Everything was an experiment in life and if I failed at one, I would start another without worrying about my failures.  

I still wonder how life would have been if I had not battled the odds in my early childhood  in the village where I went to grade school, and later in the small city where I went to middle and high school. I was bullied in schools for different reasons and I had a difficult time academically. Later in life, I struggled in a foreign country with my initial jobs. All my experiences from a child to a young man caused me to think out of the box and drastically improve my own street-smart skills.

If you are street smart, you will have the confidence to take quick and calculated risks. But, if you are just book smart, your education will most likely not help you to build a reliable, positive or a bright future. College degrees will teach you to think inside the box (that is 1+1=2) but real-life experiences will help you think outside of the box (that is 1+1=11).

I urge parents to encourage real life experiences in their kids lives by making them participate in family gatherings. Such basic human interactions in a kid’s life will surely make him street smart. To develop kids who are street smart, they should be disciplined and trained in some of the following ways:

  •  Parents should spend time with their kids and talk to them. Your kids may have different experiences if you leave them in the care of  close family member’s or other individuals. Try to be with them and always be a good example for your kids.
  •  Require your kids to wake up early, make their own bed, brush their teeth, bathe, change clothes, and do their chores. Encourage them to be part of their community so that they can host neighborhood lemonade stands, conduct garage sales and car washes, help neighbors,  and spend time with sick family members. Teach kids various chores at home and encourage them to be good examples to others.
  • Teach kids personal finances and budgeting, by providing them fixed pocket money. Provide kids options of side hustles so that they are equipped to work while going to school.

Be street smart and not just book smart!

Lastly, I want to send my sincere and deepest thanks to all the unsung heroes among us such as medical workers, supermarket workers, delivery workers and so on, whose selfless dedication, efforts and hard work are helping America and the world battle against the Coronavirus.

Find out more about me in my best-selling book “From dirt roads to black gold.” Note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book will help people in need through my foundation, the YBC Foundation


The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now or will be affiliated.

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