16 things street-smart people do that can’t be learned from books

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Street-smarts is all about surviving and thriving in the real world. 

When all the abstract ideas and theories are said and done, how do you talk, act and make decisions in your day-to-day life?

At work, at home, in every situation you find yourself, street-smarts give you the ability to make a better life for yourself and those around you. 

There’s nothing wrong with being book smart, in fact it’s great. 

But by learning to implement the practices of street smart people in your daily life you can become doubly empowered and effective in everything you do. 

Let’s dive in. 

1) Walk the walk

How you physically walk matters enormously. 

It’s not just important for your organism in terms of posture, breathing and your sense of confidence:

It’s incredibly important for how you’re perceived by others. 

Your “power-level” is something people see as soon as you walk into a room. To be specific they see it before you walk into a room (or anywhere) by how you walk. 

Walk with power.

“Sometimes, all it takes to stay safe is a don’t-f*ck-with-me walk,” observes Carolyn Steber

2) Limit trust and gullibility

Street-smart people are the opposite of naive

They limit trust and gullibility and wait to see real value or reliability before committing to anything. 

A relationship, a business opportunity, a new place to live, you name it. 

Any promise whatsoever, especially one that seems too good to be true? Their attitude echoes the immortal words from Jerry Maguire: 

“Show me the money!”

3) Find impromptu solutions

Street-smarts means being ready to adapt on the fly. 

Situations go wrong, plans change at the last minute, things break down. That’s when you switch into high gear and find improvised solutions. 

You’re not always able to find the ideal answer to anything, but you do your best to do what you can when you can! 

4) Find humor in sh*tty situations 

When the sh*t does hit the fan, street-smart people know how to joke about it. 

Being too serious elevates your stress levels and leads to catastrophizing and imagining the worst. 

Sometimes you just need to make a crude joke or laugh about how stupid things are at the moment. 

It’s all about survival. 

5) Be clever about saving money and budgeting

Street-smart folks know how to save money and budget. 

They don’t splurge on impulse or give in to buying overpriced items in order to look cool or appeal to others. 

They appreciate quality and eat well and dress well, but they also have financial goals they care about and stick to. 

6) Have high situational awareness

Situational awareness is noticing what’s going on around you. 

Street-smart people have this in droves:

Danger, opportunity, confusion, or threatening people are seen a mile off. They don’t get blindsided. 

Chris Drew, Ph. D. puts it well when he writes that:

“If you have situational awareness, you have the capacity to recognize the social contexts of what’s going on.”

7) Be assertive without being aggressive or annoying 

Being assertive relates to everything in this article:

It means being confident in who you are and standing up for yourself. 

This means you speak clearly, make eye contact and stick to what you say.

It doesn’t mean you’re aggressive, annoying or confrontational, but it does mean that you avoid overly theoretical and talkative habits that may make you come across overly academic or hesitant.

8) Avoid unnecessary confrontation


Having situation awareness has a lot to do with knowing when to stand your ground and knowing when not to (which I’ll get to more). 

A big part of that is avoiding unnecessary confrontation. 

Getting in a fight or intense argument because of your ego is always a bad move, wasting energy and draining self-respect. 

It can also spin out into dangerous consequences. 

Be street smart: pick your fights carefully. 

At the same time… 

9) Stand up for yourself when being manipulated or pressured

Street-smart people don’t let themselves be pushed around and intimidated easily. 

They stand up for themselves when a person is treating them unfairly or trying to manipulate them. 

You need to let others know that you’re not an easy mark and are better off just leaving alone if they have ill intentions toward you. 

This ties into the next point: 

10) Know when to fight and when to walk away 

Book smart people tend to think that communication or understanding solves everything. 

It doesn’t. 

You may understand the socio-economic roots of somebody’s rage or why they’re stealing from your store, but if they pull a weapon on you or attack you, no amount of empathy is going to solve the situation right in front of you. 

You need to know when to fight back or when to walk away. 

This applies to verbal confrontations as well. There are times when you need to stand up for yourself, particularly if family members or close friends are being directly threatened or harmed.  

At the same time, it’s important to: 

11) Learn how to fit in when a situation’s tense

Street-smart people know how to blend in. 

If there’s a ton of tension between two groups, they don’t dress up as one or the other, they dress in a neutral way or avoid the tense areas altogether. 

If there’s a debate going on that’s getting really angry or a dispute over money between two people, they avoid taking sides.

Street-smart people avoid unnecessary drama. 

12) Understand code switching and social context 

Part of avoiding unnecessary conflict is learning code switching and paying attention to social context. 

This is also key to scoring opportunities and potential that can help you in real ways in your personal and professional life. 

Code switching means talking and relating in different ways depending on the context. 

You don’t have to change who you are or what you stand for, but sometimes it is necessary to adjust how you speak and interact with people based on who they are. 

This is just the kind of practical knowledge that books fail to really explain…

13) Know a good deal from a bad deal very quickly

Street-smart people are much harder to scam than book smart people. 

That’s because a highly book smart person is more likely to be dragged into a sophisticated scam if it’s highly complex and convincing. 

For example, if an experimental drug is offered to a highly book smart person backed by government agencies and major companies (who don’t have legal liability for it but are massive and mainstream), he or she is much more likely to go for it. 

The street-smart person will be immediately suspicious: 

Why would a for-profit corporation and the kind of government who drums up wars on false pretenses want to help me or benefit me right now?

Answer: they don’t. 

14) Spot a scammer or sleazy person right off the bat

Street-smart people know that to a certain extent you can get a feeling for a person right away. 

This is often called intuition, but it can also be called somebody’s “vibe.”

“That guy has a bad vibe, man,” the street smart person observes to his friend, or;

“That girl looks amazing but something about the way she talks is just super weird, dude.” 

On the other hand: 

The book smart person is less likely to respond to a “vibe” or intuition if somebody’s credentials and outer manners are very high level. 

The street smart person gets a feeling for somebody and respects and pays attention to that feeling. It can be the difference between getting dragged into a very bad situation or not.

15) Focus on what matters instead of useless distractions

The street-smart individual focuses on what matters instead of distractions. 

They pursue their goals and don’t get too caught up in overthinking. 

They avoid daydreaming about the future or getting lost in nostalgia or regrets about the past. 

Time keeps marching on and so do they.

16) Appreciate the difference between book smarts and street smarts

As I’ve emphasized here, there’s nothing wrong with book smarts. 

There’s plenty you can learn in a book, but not all of it can be applied to daily life and practical survival and success. 

That’s where the difference becomes crucial. 

Street smarts is all about prioritizing action and real results over theory or mental analysis. 

You can be right and still get scammed…

You can have a wonderful dream but forget to budget for it!

You can be a likable person and still get dragged into an unnecessary fight that distracts you from more important things. 

This is where street-smarts come to the rescue, reminding you of what matters and how to focus on it. 

As Drew notes:

“Street smarts is the opposite of book smarts, which is characterized by high levels of theoretical and academic intelligence, but is often accompanied by low levels of practical and situational intelligence.”

10 unexpected traits that show you’re more intelligent than average

If a man displays these 8 behaviors, he’s genuinely in love