I never went to college. It’s not because I didn’t have the time or the money… It’s because I didn’t have the patience or maturity. Back then, I was an ungrateful little shit with a bad attitude towards education. I was convinced that school was for fools.
In hindsight, the only fool was me. I wish I could go back and slap my 18y/o self. (don’t we all!)
However, much to everyone’s surprise, I’ve actually grown up to become a semi-successful human being. I’ve never struggled to find work or accumulate wealth, and I’m just as competent and reliable as the next guy. I live a happy and free life.
I missed the college boat and somehow still turned out OK. How did this happen?
Limiting Belief: If you don’t go to college, you will struggle for the rest of your life.
I’ll admit that I carried this limiting belief around for many years. The universe constantly likes to remind me of how undereducated I am. Stuff like this:
- Every job application I look at shows either “college degree required” or “college degree strongly preferred”. This isn’t just written loosely within the list of job requirements, it’s the first dot point on every posting.
- When people I look up to ask me what college I went to, I’m forced to reply with “none”. Their look of disappointment and let down breaks my heart every time.
- Apparently a Master’s Degree is the new Bachelor’s. Reading articles like this one, this one, and this one make me feel extremely depressed and even further behind.
The good news is… All of these subtle messages I received throughout my life ended up backfiring. Being told over and over that I’m likely to fail actually helped light a fire under my ass and pushed me in the opposite direction. I grew determined to succeed! Failure is not an option for me. I refuse to be a statistic!
At this point in my life, going back to school is not likely (never say never). But I definitely intend to learn as much as I can and keep up with my formally educated peers. I have a theory that valuable learning can happen anywhere, anytime, and from anyone around. And I’m setting out to prove it.
Learning Time is Anytime:
It’s silly to think that the most important learning in life happens within a specific 4-year window somewhere in your late teens to early 20’s. Can’t that same knowledge be learned during other various stages throughout your life?
I think that important learning happens in the window of time between your day of birth and your day of death. People can and will be learning important things throughout their entire life. I hope to never stop learning new things, much like these senior citizens.
College learning period = 18y/o —-> 22y/o.
Actual Life learning period = Your birth ——-> your death.
Learning Location is Anywhere:
Whether it’s on a tennis court, in an office cubicle, or traveling in Jamaica with some buddies, people can pick up knowledge and learn lessons anywhere.
College classrooms and lecture halls are great learning environments for some stuff. But I would also argue that it’s equally important to study material yourself in the real world. In fact, that’s why teachers give you homework… Homework reinforces what you learned in school but in a completely different environment – your home.
Learning can happen anywhere. If you think about it, the entire world is actually just one big classroom.
Teachers Can Be Anyone:
Just the other day, my neighbor’s 3 year old daughter taught me how to memorize the planets in our solar system by singing a song. I’m learning new things from a 3 year old!
Think of all the people out there that post blogs, podcasts or YouTube videos* on how to do things. These are just regular people sharing what they know. Complete strangers can teach a lot of valuable information. Online blogs and podcasts is how I learned to invest in real estate, brew beer, and make the world’s most delicious artisan bread.
There are 7.7 billion people in the world. To me, that’s 7.7 billion teachers I can learn from. 🙂
*Fun fact: Studies show 86% of people who use YouTube do it to learn new things.
One Type of Learning Is Not Better Than Another:
Check out the below 9 types of human intelligence. Can you say that one of these is a priority in life over the others? I don’t think so!
- Naturalist (nature smart)
- Musical (sound smart)
- Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
- Existential (life smart)
- Interpersonal (people smart)
- Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
- Linguistic (word smart)
- Intra-personal (self smart)
- Spatial (picture smart)
It’s Not What You Know… It’s How You Use It:
Colin graduated college with honors, and earned a degree in computer science. IBM was quick to recruit him after school.
Sam tried college, but left after only 6 months. He hated tests and exams. After dropping out, he got a job as a bell boy at the Holiday Inn Express in his local town.
Fast forward 20 years…
Colin now works for Time Warner Cable as a TV Repairman. His job at IBM only lasted 3 years – he left because it was too stressful. He joined another computer company afterwards but didn’t last long there because “technology just changes too fast” for him to keep up. Eventually, he settled down at Time Warner Cable where he drives around in a van and does weekend shifts.
Sam, however, is now the VP of Operations at Starwood Hotels. He sits on the board of the American Hotel and Lodging Association and was just asked to do a TED Talk on emerging trends in the hospitality industry. Sam never stops learning. Promotion after promotion, he takes what he’s learned in the past and applies it to the next role. Ever since he was a bell boy he had his sights set on owning a hotel, and he won’t stop until he achieves this one day.
So although Colin started out with a higher formal education, Sam experiences more career success and will continue to do so. Why did they turn out so different?
It’s because just knowing stuff doesn’t make you successful. Applying what you learn and putting knowledge to use is what makes you successful. And continuing to learn keeps you successful as life evolves.
Think this story is an exaggeration? Ever heard of The Peter Principal? People will rise only up until their level of incompetence – no matter their level of education.
Who’s Keeping Score Anyway?
School students are graded by getting A’s, B’s, C’s etc… The higher the grade, the better the student did in that class.
Real Life doesn’t work that way though. We don’t get grades in real life. We each get to define what “success” looks like personally. And we don’t really have a right to judge others on what they’re doing.
There’s some good news to add to the story above about Sam and Colin… Both these guys are actually completely happy with their respective lives. They couldn’t care less what other people in the world are doing – they are doing what makes them happy. They are both successful in their own eyes.
Going forward, I refuse to feel bad about not going to college. I’m determined to educate myself elsewhere, and will continue learning for the rest of my life. I’m proud of my accomplishments so far, and look forward to doing even greater things in the future!
11 thoughts on “No College Education – No Worries!”
Wow, I really enjoyed this post as I have experienced several aspects of this being a British citizen living in the US. Thank you Joel!
You might not have a college degree… but you drink like you have one… speaking of which.. we need to get together soon.
When I said I’m proud of my accomplishments, I was referring to my drinking capabilities. Glad you agree! Yes, drinks soon! Just let me know when you are home for more than 24 hours and not traveling 🙂
I love this so much, especially the part about life long learning. I thrive on learning new stuff, whether youtube or otherwise (youtube really could start giving out degrees or certificates!).
I got my BFA, followed by a MFA, with a tenure in academia, now chairing a department. That said, I make ~54K a year, with small bonuses and grant opportunities and some travel money, and I’m well over 80K in college debt. So college is definitely not a path to “success” if success means all the riches (granted, my chosen field is theatre, not computer science or medicine… but the loan costs grow with the field. My friend who’s a vet is +500K in debt, my other friend who specialized in homeopathic medicine is at over a million dollars!). However, college was a path of success for me, since I’ve wanted to teach since I was 7 years old, and wanted to be a department chair since 18, when I learned that was a thing! And I’m already plotting my next projects and moves.
That said, plenty of people are going to college who don’t seem interested in, or ready to be there. It’s not their path, and that’s ok. Except society is selling it as a “must” on the path to “success” and it’s easy to get caught up in that without thinking about what success means to you… and for some reason society ask you to define a life path at 18 (and you really have to start asking- who does this benefit? It’s not the college students). My 18-year-old self was … oh, yeah, a teenager. I feel like now in my thirties I’m getting the hang of what I want… but I’m sure my 70 year old self will laugh at the naivete of that statement. Cue life time learning.
So why the hell would you feel bad about not going to college? You’re clearly doing great, and you’re paying things forward by sharing your stories. I look forward to reading about all the new awesome things you do and learning from them!
Thank you! Glad to hear you have a can-do attitude and want to learn everything also. Learning is addictive!
Although I don’t have college debt, I have definitely sunk big money into gaining some of my knowledge and experiences over the years. Does this count as paying for education? $40k at least in various real estate mistakes, trials and failures. I’ve screwed up countless times at work which cost the company and me personally thousands of dollars. Many many networking events, conferences and lunches/beers/gifts over the past 10 years definitely adds up. My feeling is most $ spent on self-education has been well worth it.
Our 70 year old selves will definitely laugh at us! 🙂 Thanks for reading and have a great day!
Definitely +1 this post. After college, the bulk of skills needed for a job happen from doing, not from learning.
I wonder how much this sense of “what if?” happens for all skills until you build up some confidence and competency.
For me, I went into programming jobs without a CS major. I always wondered how much farther/faster I’d get if I had gotten that major. Eventually I was managing a TEAM of CS majors and and this came up. An old friend of mine quickly confirmed that they hadn’t used 90% of what they learned, and many parts (especially people repeated) were learned on the job.
CS majors think “what if I get my masters”. Those with a masters think “what if I get my PhD?”. There’s always something else to get. Gaining the feeling of competence through action is, in my opinion, the best way to get out of this cycle.
Confidence plays a huge part. Most of the times I’ve felt undereducated I’m really just having a momentary lack in confidence.
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right!
I really hate seeing people that didn’t go to college feel ‘less than’ because of it. I know a few really smart and talented people that never went to college and it’s sad to me that it gets to their self-esteem or affects how smart they think they are.
College can be a really positive thing for people, but I feel like the whole system has become twisted- the levels of student debt, the pressure to go, etc.
And the worst of it is that so many people go to college because they want a high-paying career and then they don’t even learn the real-world skills they need for it.
They don’t teach the truly important things in college for the sort of life you obviously want anyway.
Anyway, it’s still always possible to go if you decide you have something you really want to learn about and pursue. I spent my first two years at a community college and it was really cool because they had people of all ages there. We tend to think of college as being for 18-25 year-olds and while that’s still the norm, it’s becoming more common for older people too.
I definitely feel ‘less than’ sometimes. But over time (and thanks to comments like yours) I’m learning to be more confident in my abilities, no matter where I learned them.
I’m definitely interested in more school later in life. My Mum went back to college when me and my siblings were teenagers. She was a stay at home Mum and now she’s almost earned her doctorate in clinical psychology. She loves school and the subjects fascinate her.
Don’t worry, once you go back to school, you can always find something new to feel ‘less than’ about. 🙂
Your mum sounds like an amazing lady!
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