A shelf of books at The School of Life.

The School of Life: Good Ideas for Everyday Life

There’s a good chance you’ve already heard of The School of Life, perhaps via their wildly popular Youtube channel, which displays videos with such titles as “How to Choose a Partner Wisely”, “Why You Still Have Time to Change Your Career”, and ‘How to be a Good Listener”. Describing The School of Life is a bit difficult: they’re not simply a self-help group nor are they lecturing philosophers or psychologists exactly. Broadly, they’re an organization that tries to answer the great questions of life. They’re based online and in 12 physical locations around the world. Thomas Biller runs the Berlin chapter, which he opened in April of last year.

“We offer different kinds of events. We have classes and workshops about topics from relationships to work, how to find a job you love, how to make relationships work, how to deal with conflict… everything that is related to the main topic of emotional intelligence. We try to deliver good ideas for everyday life.”

What’s more, the advice is so universal the content doesn’t differ much between the global chapters. From Sao Paulo to Amsterdam, The School of Life explores basic human truths about the self, relationships, and work. They hold classes and workshops about three to four times a week and they also organize major events where public figures, like The School of Life’s founder, Alain de Botton, will come and speak. They also run workshops specifically for companies:

“We also offer workshops and programs for companies. These are trainings about topics which are important for companies… communication and self-knowledge, because we truly believe that self-knowledge is the key to a better work life. This is true for companies and for individuals. We’ve met with a lot of companies and they’re very excited about this kind of approach.”

You can take a look at The School of Life Berlin’s calendar here.

The School of Life is its own publisher and sells an array of books and card games related to the aforementioned themes. These help you practice the lessons you’ve learnt as well as engage socially with your peers. “It’s a playful way to get talking about these kinds of topics,” says Thomas. Did we mention they also make great gifts for friends and family?

Before opening The School of Life in Berlin, Thomas was a film producer for over 20 years. In 2011, he decided to leave the industry and pursue opening a restaurant. To gain culinary knowledge, he interned at several restaurants in Germany—both modest kitchens and Michelin Stars. Finally, he ended up studying at Le Cordon Bleu in London, one of the world’s top chef schools. This is where his path took an unexpected turn:

“I used to live in Bloomsbury and every day on my way from my flat to the school I passed The School of Life. One day, I looked at their programme and I found it very inspiring… to combine knowledge from literature and philosophy and to bring it to everyday life. I liked the concept and I wanted to start a company, so I combined my interest in philosophy and literature with my interest in becoming an entrepreneur.”

While The School of Life is known around the world, there are still people who are unfamiliar with it. Thomas says describing what they do can be difficult. Some people assume they have a religious affiliation or are a charity and therefore it needs to be made clear that The School of Life is founded on knowledge derived via academic study as well as human intuition:

“The funny thing is that there is a lot of knowledge about relationships. We know when it’s working and under what circumstances it won’t work. You can know and apply these things, but you have to actively reflect on them. We try to make the knowledge we all in some way already have more accessible, so you can build on it more consciously in your relationships.”

The School of Life also offers some specific approaches. For example, treating your partner with the care and compassion you would treat a child with, since everyone brings their own past suffering to a relationship. Studies have also supported this, proving that couples who treat each other with patience, answering one another’s bids for attention, experience longevity.

Thomas is very glad to have founded The School of Life Berlin, citing many benefits:

“I meet very, very, very interesting people. I meet writers, thinkers… I work with a lot of highly engaged and smart teachers and it inspires me every day. I’m also quite glad that we have so many participants here at The School and the feedback is really great. We are very proud to know that people are leaving and taking something home from their evenings here. I think what we have is a place where people can come together and talk in a comfortable and safe atmosphere. You don’t find this kind of place very often.”

As for advice for new entrepreneurs? Thomas thinks it’s important for someone starting their own business to believe in what they’re doing, because it takes a lot of hard work and there are large obstacles to overcome. Focusing on money will not bring you success because you will lack the intrinsic motivation and joy that comes with doing something you love. He also advises to surround yourself with people you enjoy spending time with: these people make great colleagues and teachers.

We’re happy to say The School of Life Berlin has been with SumUp since the beginning:

“We started with SumUp because we wanted a very easy solution, without any long contracts. I think I saw it at restaurants, for example. And indeed, it is easy and the reporting is perfect.”

Blog author

Christine Lariviere